by Emma Cooke, The Telegraph, September 16, 2019
Overtourism is on the up and up. While spots like Venice, Barcelona and Boracay Beach are all feeling the effects of overcrowding, a host of new destinations are struggling too, from Bulgaria's overcrowded beach resorts to Tel Aviv's issues with AirBnb.
As overtourism gets its sticky fingers all over the world’s landscapes, both urban and natural, everyone from world organisations to local protesters have been getting involved in the fight against it. But the next wave of aid could come from an unlikely source.
Behemoth of both dreams and holidays, Disney has recently announced it will be creating a new private island resort in the Bahamas as a stop on its Disney Cruise Line.
This follows a spate of openings in recent years of 'mega theme parks': isolated worlds created for the sole purpose of accommodating tourists, many with huge brand names and budgets behind them.
These travel goliaths may seem counterintuitive to stopping overtourism, but by siphoning people into dedicated holiday spaces, they may be providing valuable relief to destinations buckling under the weight of their popularity.
Just too many people
Of course, locals have been moaning about tourists since the year dot, and tourists tramping destructively over resident treasures is hardly new. What has changed, however, are the numbers.
In the 1950s, the world saw about 25 million tourist arrivals per year. In 2018 that number has grown to 1.4 billion, and the World Tourism Organization predicts that number will rise to 1.8 billion by 2030.
In some destinations, the cracks are beginning to show. The Louvre closed in May this year as the museum workers walked out, citing management’s inability to manage overcrowding. In a statement released by the worker’s union, the message was clear: “The Louvre is suffocating.”
Meanwhile, Amsterdam has recently taken major steps to control visitor flow, and Thailand has announced its closure of Maya Bay to tourists will be extended until 2021. These are only the most recent skirmishes in a two-year war against the rising influx of travellers.
The issue is simple. Too many people want to travel and the famous cities, tropical islands and coastal towns can’t accommodate them all.
Go further, be cooler
The entire travel industry is taking the issue seriously. Overtourism was a top priority at the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) global summit in Buenos Aires in 2018, and 2019 has seen an even stronger push for tangible action.
For many tourism boards, including Amsterdam, Dubrovnik and more, this has meant shifting focus to ‘positive redirection’, in an attempt to navigate the catch 22 of wanting to promote tourism without it being at the expense of local communities.
In essence, this means suggesting quieter locations and off-season times to tourists.
But not everyone wants to be cooler and go further. Holidays, by-definition, should be a stress-free treat, so it’s understandable if consumers are reluctant to give up the (frequently weather-related) perks of travelling during peak-months, or spend hours getting out to farther-flung locations.
The answer? 'Positive redirection' towards destinations tailor-made for holidays.
A one-stop-shop paradise
Last month, Disney fans were delighted at the company’s announcement of Lighthouse Point, their new Caribbean island getaway. This is only the latest in a string of private island holiday retreats.
In 2018, CocoCay, the first in Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day Island Collection was revealed as part of a new series of exclusive private islands to be unveiled around the world, including in Asia, Australia and the Caribbean.
It’s not all about islands either. American Dream, a mega attraction featuring a Nickelodeon theme park is due to open outside New York next month, and in April ITV announced a partnership with The London Resort to create the ‘British Disneyland’.
Crucially all these mega theme parks, whether island-based or not, will include hotel rooms. The London Resort will have a whopping 3,500 rooms, while at American Dream visitors can stay in luxury cabanas with prime views of Manhattan.
Rather than a port-of-call or destination within a holiday, these parks are being sold as a one-stop-shop for all your holiday needs.
Freedom to unleash your inner tourist
The anti-tourist graffiti is on the wall. Reports of badly behaved revellers and tight-fisted day-trippers are all fueling a growing backlash against sightseers who like to follow the madding crowds.
Plan a trip to a mega theme park however, and you might be helping residents rather than infuriating them.
Disney’s Lighthouse Point, for instance, will be injecting resources back into the Bahamas via the Disney Conservation Fund.
Other companies may not be as involved in conservation work, nor will the idea of an untouched island being developed solely for tourists please everyone, but in a travel industry that's showing no signs of slowing down there are benefits to these private parks.
By keeping tourists in an area exclusively for them, they’re arguably killing two birds with one stone. Holiday-makers can have an unrestricted experience, while staying out of the locals' hair.
A win-win situation?
Though it's unlikely a Disney-run seaside adventure park will satiate anyone's thirst for the culture of Amsterdam or the floating mystique of Venice, tourists-only islands may help take the pressure off overrun beach destinations.
The benefits go both ways. 30 million people are expected to cruise in 2019, up from 17.8 million a decade earlier.
In the face of rising demand - and places like Santorini clamping down on visitor numbers - having an island’s worth of space for passengers will come in handy for big cruise brands.
Meanwhile, for destinations like New York inland parks could also be a solution to the dilemma of promoting tourism without compromising local communities.
A nearby mega theme park could keep visitor numbers thriving - and hopefully save its treasured sights from drowning under their weight.
Do you think mega theme parks could help overtourism? Would you plan a holiday to one? Tell us in the comments section below.
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