Tourism can go one of two ways.
It can save communities, fund the upkeep of ancient monuments, and prop up entire economies. But in the era of global travel, there’s a tipping point, beyond which those communities become displaced, monuments eroded, and economies dependent – or ultimately destroyed.
Too many cooks can spoil even the most breathtaking broth, and the Dutch tourist board recently became the latest to start officially discouraging further visitors.
There are hundreds of holiday hotspots to please thrill-seeker, beach bum or culture vulture. Here’s just a few to avoid…
When overtourism became a cause célèbre in 2017-18, Barcelona was its unwilling poster child. Two summers ago, locals took to the streets to march against the 32 million visitors that were choking the city, clogging squares, saturating shops, and sending property prices soaring.
Promptly named turismophobia by the media, there followed a campaign of anti-tourist graffiti, a spate of laws restricting new hotels, and a nasty incident in which a sightseeing coach had its tyres slashed by a masked mob.
There are plenty of European cities with modernist architecture and splashes of Mediterranean sun. Why go to the one that’s actively legislating against your visit?
When Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis decimated its fishing and aluminium industries, tourism was its economic white knight. Packed with geysers, snowmobiles and extraordinary scenic beauty, an Icelandic holiday proved an easy sell, but now the lucrative Airbnb market is pricing locals out of their own capital.
Last year, the 340,000-strong island nation hosted around 2.3 million foreigners – nearly seven visitors per native.
Made famous by 2000 film The Beach – ironically portraying a postcard paradise destroyed by an influx of outsiders – an estimated 5,000 daily tourists have pushed the island’s fragile ecosystem to the point of ruin.
A cautionary tale for every Eden courting the tourist dollar, by last year, an unholy trinity of boats, litter and sun cream had destroyed nearly 80% of its corals.
The island is now closed, and you might want to consider whether any of Thailand needs trampling by an extra pair of flip-flops. 38.3 million tourists visited in 2018, and a burgeoning Chinese market means more to come.
Venice is famous for its rising water levels, but tourism may swamp the city first.
During peak times, Venice sees more than twice as many daily visitors as it has permanent residents, eroding the city’s crumbling antiquities one sandaled step at a time. With cruise liners chugging in and out of harbour, and day trippers surging through the station, around half of all visitors don’t even pay to stay the night.
Residents are voting with their feet – the population has halved in 30 years, driven out by extortionate living costs and a paucity of non-tourism jobs.
Home to the eponymous dragons – giant, prehistoric lizards pushing three metres and 200lbs – there’s something a bit Isla Nublar about the island of Komodo. Armed with leathery skin, a venomous bite, and a fearsome reputation, the dragons have long attracted a steady stream of visitors.
Unfortunately, the stream is now a flood. A new airport in 2016 increased the island’s capacity of passengers from 150,000 to 1.5 million, affecting the delicate habitat of one of the world’s most sought-after species. Komodo will reportedly enter lock-down in 2020 – the final straw came when 41 dragons were smuggled from the island and sold for huge sums of money.
You could rush to Komodo before it closes (helping destroy the very thing you’re going to see), or you could leave the poor creatures alone and swing by the dragon enclosure at London Zoo.
Tumbling waterfalls, charming harbour towns and screensaver sunsets – the Isle of Skye has everything you could want from a remote, Hebridean island.
Unfortunately, the secret is out, and Skye has become a bucket-list item for scenery seekers the world over. The irony is that much of the island remains neglected – most tourists converge on four or five well-known beauty spots, jamming the surrounding one-track roads and trampling mountainsides into scree.
In 2017, police issued a desperate plea for visitors to book accommodation in advance, as an increasing number were turning up at the police station after finding no room at the inn.
It’s painfully obvious why residents of Cinque Terre – five connected, Unesco-listed towns perched on the cliffs of the Ligurian coast – are so disillusioned with tourism.
2.5 million people scaled the slopes here in 2016, pursuing clifftop views of the Mediterranean and the pastel paintwork of houses crisscrossing down towards the sea. Many tourists have also needed rescuing by helicopter and have now been urged not to wear flip-flops.
Visitor limits and ticketing systems have long been in the pipeline, while officials may soon starts fining people attempting the paths in sandals.
Last year, the Philippines’ own President described Boracay as a “cesspool”, and he wasn’t far wrong.
Ranked the most beautiful island in the world by Travel+Leisure magazine in 2012, Boracay was closed last April after a viral video showed raw sewage pumping straight into the sea. The subsequent government task force found more than 800 environmental violations, and introduced new rules banning (among other things) vomiting in public, deckchairs, and the building of unregulated sandcastles.
Boracay has now reopened, but why not try one of the Philippines’ 7,640 other islands?