As consumers turn to experiences and travelling in preference to consumerism and the ownership of things, what effects and impacts is tourism or ‘over- tourism’ having on the environmental, social and eco systems of global tourist destinations?

How are these impacts costed and measured and who is ultimately paying the costs of these impacts?

Increasingly, a new consumer base has emerged in the past decade (Millennials and Gen Z combined with Baby Boomers with more leisure time) all who are now travelling more frequently and often to destinations that are unable to cope with the surge of visitor numbers. The visitors are encouraged, as they bring significant revenue into the economy, but these visitors are not aware of their impact on the local infrastructure and community in these destinations.

Global travel has boomed in the last few decades. With cheaper airfares to an increasing list of far off destinations and disruptive new ways of booking ever more available accommodation through sites such as Airbnb, tourism and traveling has become affordable and accessible for an ever-growing number of consumers. Governments and local authorities strive continually to attract tourists and visitors to their destinations both internationally and locally. Whether a vacation or a staycation, everyone is encouraged to move around and experience a new destination or visit monuments and attractions in ever increasing numbers.

So, these governments and local authorities publish ever increasing tourist arrival numbers to their countries, cities, towns, historic monuments and attractions as a positive contributor to their local economy, providing data, statistics and numbers that demonstrate that they make a significant contribution to their economy and coffers.

The increase in visitor numbers and the increase in spending while visiting can only be a good thing in their calculations, as all the local business within the hospitality sector can only benefit. But are they taking into account all of the real costs associated with the increase in tourist and visitor levels into their local economy?

The answer is no.

The burden of these costs is being met by the residents in communities globally. The growing pressure on the overall infrastructure to accommodate the large number of visitors in relation to local residents is putting increasing pressure onto residents and local taxes, energy, water, waste and transport services and even the erosion of historic sites due to ever increasing numbers of visitors which were never envisioned previously, and is having a significant impact on the burden these residents have to bear.

This situation is unsustainable.

For the tourism industry to continue to grow and for a sustainable hospitality model to flourish there needs to be a change of approach in the way the true costs incurred and the impacts of visitor numbers to the local economy are measured, beyond only measuring tourist arrival numbers and currency spent while there. The investment into all the infrastructure planning associated with building up each location’s tourist and visitor industry needs to be calculated accurately and individually, considering local resident population numbers, tax revenues, and costs of infrastructure and services needed. A strategy and plan needs to be developed and structures created of how funds are raised to meet these costs sustainably, and with a long-term vision.

Only when all the true environmental and social considerations are met by taking into account other elements beyond simple arrival numbers, such as the effects of biodiversity, climate change, erosion and the protection of national monuments can the increasing development of travel and tourism be managed sustainably and met with a positive welcome.

These cost impacts can be monetised and calculated, for example by using Complete Capital Accounting (CCA) and can be included in the calculations and budget forecasts for destination planners. After all, no one wants to destroy the very reason for the increase in visitor numbers arriving to a destination! Without taking steps to secure a sustainable tourism structure and the whole hospitality industry and economy that surrounds it, the risk is that this is inevitable. The destinations themselves will then deteriorate as infrastructure strains are felt or collapse with insufficient support funds and then inevitably, the visitors are attracted no longer, cease to visit and then all stay away.

There is so much more can be done. Technology already available can be used to monitor, calculate and assess the costs associated with real time visitor usage on energy, water, sewage waste, transport, measuring usage individually as well as peaks, so that delivery of services and the required infrastructure can be managed. Financial solutions for meeting the additional costs of the surge in population numbers to a location at a peak time are being explored, to remove this burden from the residents.

The report produced by The Travel Foundation, *’Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism’ is a necessary must read, highlighting in great depth all the issues, and offers suggestions of solutions to what and needs to be done.

We all want to preserve the freedom to travel, experience other cultures, visit sustainably and responsibly, and be able to make an informed choice on whether to visit vulnerable destinations with more thought, more consideration and more care for the future.

Businesses in the hospitality industry also have a role to play in taking responsibility for minimising their negative environmental and social impacts and operating sustainability.  To find out more, join us at:

The Sustainability Symposium – Hospitality March 5th, 2020.
Book your place

* This document is available for free on the Travel Foundation website Epler Wood, M.Milstein, M., Ahamed-Broadhurst, K., 2019. Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism