In 2017, slogans such as “tourists go home” and “tourists are terrorists” gained traction and Tourism ministers across the world are worried that such protests may harm the global tourism industry.
The ministers, earlier in the month, met with hoteliers, tourist boards and trade associations at the World Travel Market (WTM) London, to tackle the root cause of the problem, overtourism – too many tourists.
According to a National Geographic piece by Jonathan Tourtellot, “this population explosion overwhelms St Mark’s Square in Venice. It pushes through the streets of Barcelona, angering residents. It forms hours-long queues in China for the cable cars up Mount Huangshan and fills all the lanes in the World Heritage Village of Hongcun (above). It paves the beaches of the Mediterranean in simmering northern European flesh. In the Louvre it blocks your view of the Mona Lisa with forests of smartphones held high in selfie mode. It pushes through the ruins of Tulum in Mexico with busloads of Spaniards, Americans, Chinese. It even creates traffic jams on the climbing routes up Mount Everest”.
At the annual United Nations World Trade Organisation (UNWTO) and WTM Ministers Summit, the tourism chiefs debated strategies to cope with the development, which is threatening the tourism trade in destinations such as Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam.
Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary General, said there have been many protests against overtourism, saying that “this is a wake-up call”
He stressed: “We have to make decisions now. We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities.
“Jobs and charity are not enough – we need to diversify visitors’ activities, reduce seasonality and raise awareness of less busy destinations.”
Ministers also met industry leaders at WTM London’s first destination investment event, supported by UNWTO.
The occasion brought together the leadership of the International Hotel Investment Forum and WTM London’s expertise to create an exclusive platform for ministers and investors in travel destination development.
Keith Evans, Vice President Hotels for Starwood Capital, highlighted Greece’s potential, saying: “There’s a good strong fundamental tour infrastructure; Greece is setting itself up as a market that has an interesting few years ahead.”
Henri Wilmes, VP Hotel Acquisitions for London and Regional investors, said Mexico is another destination that investors are watching with interest.
“Mexico has done very well in positioning the country in terms of supply,” he told ministers and delegates.
“It’s amazing what this country has to offer. It has provided the necessary infrastructure, such as airports – that is vital for investment.”