This Tuesday, Herald Travel and Sunday Travel is launching Trip Notes, a new podcast, brought to you by Intrepid Travel. Each episode, my co-host Tim Roxborogh and I will be joined by a special guest to talk all there is to know about travel, from the world's best destinations, to tips to being a better traveller and the things travel can teach us.
In our first episode, released on Tuesday, May 28, we're joined by TVNZ's Breakfast newsreader Daniel Faitaua. We talk about Daniel's former life as an Air NZ flight attendant, his first overseas trip as a wide-eyed 16-year-old, and his dream destinations for future travels.
We also deal with the issue of "over-tourism" (see the video above for a sneak preview). It's a word bandied about a lot in the travel industry in recent years. But what does it actually mean? And what can you do to help?
What is over-tourism anyway?
According to the Responsible Tourism Partnership, over tourism "describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably." Think Venice every August, and the Tongariro Crossing every January.
Where are some of the places affected?
They're the big-name, heavy hitters that you've either been to already, or probably want to go because you've heard so much about them. Places like Venice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Machu Picchu, Iceland, Santorini ... popular destinations that have seen huge increases in visitor numbers way beyond with what the infrastructure can cope. In Dubrovnik, for example, a rise in cruise ships coming in to port over summer, combined with cheap flights with low-cost European carriers and Game of Thrones fans flocking to see the real life Kings Landing, has meant tourist numbers are high and locals have moved out. Some have left because they can't bear the overcrowding, others because they can't afford to live there anymore — rents have skyrocketed thanks to the demand for rental accommodation.
What are people doing about it?
Dubrovnik has put limits on the number of people allowed within its walls each day, after Unesco threatened to remove its World Heritage Site status unless tourist numbers were curbed. This year, only 4000 visitors a day will be allowed inside the Old Town gates, and a planned smartphone app will let users know when numbers are high, suggesting alternative sights outside the city walls.
Other destinations are introducing tourist taxes (Edinburgh), banning cruise ships from mooring in harbours (Venice), or closing down to tourists completely (Maya Bay, Koh Phi, Thailand), while Amsterdam has switched its focus from tourism marketing to destination management — focusing on how to sustain current numbers, rather than looking to bring in more tourists.
What are the places to watch?
With the upcoming Rugby World Cup this year and the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, as well as the increasing popularity of its cherry-blossom season, Japan is a destination that needs to beware of over-tourism.
"It's up to the tourism industry to help mitigate over-tourism," says James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel. "In Tokyo you will also see that the government has added a tourist tax of 1000 yen ($14) to airfares. This is one way to help fund the infrastructure upgrades needed to cope with large tourist numbers ... [but] I don't think the tourist tax goes far enough. A higher tax of around $50 per person would ensure real value is accrued to the Japanese people. That will seem like a lot to some, but it's actually very little compared to the cost of travelling to Japan in the first place, and would make a real difference."
What can I do about it?
All this doesn't mean you have to stop travelling or strike Venice, Barcelona et al from your bucket list. It just means you need to be smarter and more informed about your travel choices.
If you do want to visit a place you know is over-touristed, plan to go in the off season when crowds are fewer. As well as giving you a more comfortable experience, it also helps to spread the tourism burden more evenly throughout the year.
When you're in a destination, make sure you spend your money wisely — invest in locally owned and operated suppliers, tour guides, restaurants and shops, to ensure the revenue stays in the local economy. Yes, you might have a rewards scheme with a big-brand international hotel chain, but will staying there have any benefit to the local economy? Perhaps it will — you just need to make sure you do some research before you go so you can be confident in your choices.
Remember to be respectful of the residents of your chosen holiday destination. Think about how you would feel if this was your town, your beach, your island, and modify your behaviour accordingly. That includes being aware of any cultural sensitivities, such as the way you should be dressing or behaving at religious sites or places of cultural significance.
You can also look for alternate destinations to those you see on top 10 lists. Those well-known Thai islands are beautiful, of course, but there are more than 1400 islands in Thailand so there are many other options aside from Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi. Every island and coastal town in Croatia is full of centuries of history and stunning architecture — would you even miss Dubrovnik if you didn't go there?
Being able to travel the world is a true privilege. It's up to each individual traveller to make informed choices to ensure we don't take that privilege for granted.