Top 10 most overcrowded tourist destinations

Too many visitors in a small area is not always a pleasant experience, especially, if you happen to live in that area. When almost all of these visitors only come and go, take a few selfies, leave rubbish behind, have questionable manners (relative to the local culture), but also leave money in the region, residents may still become uninviting towards the visitors. That’s what is happening in some popular travel destinations, particularly in Europe.

Venice, Italy, view to the sea and port World Travel and Tourism Council has decided to get to the bottom of the problem of overcrowding in tourism industry. The organization wanted to find out what are the factors that make residents unhappy and how to ease overcrowding. The Council hired management consultancy McKinsey & Company to research the problem globally. The comprehensive Managing Overcrowding in Tourism Destinations report has been published, and it has vital insight about tourism in general.

Here are the ten destinations with the highest risk to become an overcrowded place.
overcrowded tourist destinations, graph by El Pais
Source data: World Travel and Tourism Council, McKinsey & Company report.
Graph: El Pais.

Color codes in the chart:
Grey: Density of tourism in the most visited area.
Light blue: Intensity of tourism.
Light grey: Degradation of experience for tourists.
Orange: Season-dependence.
Dark blue: Concentration of visits.
Light red: Pressure on heritage.

Eight out of top ten cities are located in Europe (Rome, Venice, Warsaw, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Antalya, Prague, Paris). They are destinations that have been popular for a long time already, with the exceptions of Antalya and Dubrovnik that tourism has discovered during the last 20 years or so. Only Macau and Bangkok from the top 10 are located outside Europe.

There is no easy fix to overcrowding. Most tourists want to travel to the most popular destinations because everyone else has been there or it may even be a lifelong dream. The report suggests the following actions.

    1. Find ways to balance tourist arrivals between seasons, weekdays and even hours of day.
    2. Spread visitors across sites in the region where the key attraction is located.
    3. Adjust pricing. As prices in a destination rise, arrivals will reduce. The difficult thing is that locals have to pay high prices as well, and may not be happy about that.
    4. Control accommodation supply.
    5. Limit access and activities.

Raising prices has an immediate effect on plans of tourists who have other options where they might want to travel. Nonetheless, even high prices alone don’t help as Venice can prove. It is one of the most expensive places to travel to in Europe, but also one of the most visited and definitely overcrowded. In the case of Venice, part of the reason maybe travelers who are aware of the prices stay outside Venice for the night, and only flock the streets and canals during the day.

Limiting the supply of accommodation is a common policy as well, adopted in many cities already. Hosts who rent their apartments via Airbnb and similar services are the primary targets for reducing beds available in a destination.

Despite the suggested measures, the McKinsey report expects tourism to continue to grow also in the overcrowded destinations in the short term. A major reason for this is that tourism is one of the biggest global industries, and it is a relatively rapidly growing industry. The report estimates that in 2017, travel and tourism will contribute nearly $7.9 trillion to the global economy, or 10.2 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

What to do if you want to visit one of the most popular destinations?

It is easy: Avoid the most popular seasons, and travel during the low season. Of course, there will be people queuing to the Eiffel tower, or Colosseum even if you explore Paris or Rome in November, but only a fraction from the masses of July, August or Easter.

Here are the destinations ranked 11-30 by the McKinsey report with a high risk to become overcrowded.

WTTC nad McKinsey: mass tourism, graph by El Pais
Source data: World Travel and Tourism Council, McKinsey & Company report.
Graph: El Pais.

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