Some of the best cities that Europe has to offer have been plagued by a recent phenomenon: Overtourism. Popular destinations from Venice to Barcelona to Amsterdam are dealing with an overwhelming number of tourists, much to the displeasure of residents and travelers alike. Think overcrowded streets, long lines at museums, and vistas blocked by buses or cruise ships.
As more people around the world partake in leisure travel, dealing with this issue has become an increasingly difficult feat. International tourism has grown 40-fold since commercial jet traffic began some six decades ago, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization — thanks to the world's population becoming more and more affluent, particularly countries like China, India, and Brazil.
The situation has reached a breaking point. Officials across Europe are implementing different methods to promote sustainable tourism. As a new problem, though, there is no clear-cut solution.
Amsterdam increases tourist taxes
Amsterdam, for example, announced in September its plans to increase the tax on tourists to as much as €10 a night (about $12), in an effort to curb the number of stopover tourists flooding the city, and entice heavy spenders rather than low-budget travelers. It is also using marketing strategies to promote other parts of the city in an effort to spread out the crowds.
A city of 850,000 people, Amsterdam welcomed a staggering 17 million visitors in 2016, up from about 12 million five years, according to the Guardian. The uptick in tourism is only expected to continue, as Amsterdam continues to be popular for long weekends or stopovers for cruises and long-haul flights.
This has led officials to propose a split-fee system, which will add a flat rate of as much as €10 on top of the percentage of the hotel bill already charged. That rate, currently 5 percent, is set to increase to 6 percent in 2018. The extra tax applies to all hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs. The revenue from the new plan, which could add additional $150 million euros to the budget, would go to things like increased police presence and more cleaning of the litter and waste that an influx of tourists brings.
While the tax seems like it might be a deterrent for some travelers, Megan Hill, owner of Destination Fun Travel, said, “as a travel advisor, it is our job to inform them of the taxes so they anticipate it when they get there, but it certainly doesn’t hold a client back from their desire to experience a particular destination.”
How other European cities are handling the problem
Amsterdam’s problem is not a unique one – many other European cities have been grappling with more visitors than they can handle.
Spain's Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza & Formentera) will double its tourist tax on visitors to three euros (about $1.50) per person, after hosting 2.4 million tourists from overseas in July, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics.
One of the most notable victims of overtourism – Venice – was visited by more than 25 million tourists last summer. Overwhelming for the small city, the government is encouraging travelers to come during the off-season, with a reservation system that provides incentives such as discounts on museum tickets. On the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre caps tourists off at 1.5 million a year.
Additionally, the Greek island of Santorini this year began to limit the number of cruise ship visitors to 8,000 a day. Croatia, too, will cut the number of visitors allowed into Dubrovnik's ancient center down to 4,000 visitors a day and reduce the number of cruise-ship arrivals by as much as two-thirds to protect the Unesco World Heritage site.
Agents advise their clients
Lynda Phillippi of Renaissance Travel and Events said her number one suggestion to clients is to try and go during shoulder season, around March to May and September through November. While she warns June, July, and August in Europe can be a “nightmare” with scorching hot temperatures and overcrowding, if her clients are adamant about going during this time, she’ll work with them to include more off-the-beaten-path destinations.
“In general, whatever you can do to branch out is best. I do understand when people go to Italy for the first time they want to see places like Venice, but let’s divert you after and find a small town and try to build something around a particular destination or interest, like cooking.”
Hill agreed, adding “we recommend for clients to go at off times of the year, so they still get that first-hand cultural experience but don’t have the overcrowding concerns. If a client’s dates are not flexible, we can suggest certain activities or private excursions to them that may have preferred access, to avoid the long entrance lines.”
Michelle Weller with Travel Leaders, however, said she doesn’t see it affect her business. “I don’t see people asking about it, and I haven’t seen a lot of the trips cross paths [with those destinations].”
“If they say they want to go in July, let them know it’s going to be more expensive. Then try suggesting a time like October,” Phillippi suggested. Not only is it cheaper, but they’ll avoid the crowds.