‘Over tourism’ poses one of the greatest risks to the travel industry, the head of the Macao Government Tourism Office has warned the Pacific-Asia Travel Association (PATA).

Macao tourism office director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes told the PATA annual summit in Gangneung, South Korea, on Saturday: “It is a painful thing to say that we are creating our own problem, but we have to face it.

“We face a capacity problem. It is one of the highest risks we face. The UN World Tourism Organisation projected annual growth in international tourism arrivals of 3.8% a year to 2020. But international arrivals last year were up 7%.

“These figures do not account for domestic travel. In China last year there were five billion domestic trips.”

She said: “The sheer numbers are causing problems – site overcrowding, transport congestion and a deteriorating quality of life for local residents.

“We believe we are doing good for local economies – bringing economic revenue, funding for public projects and benefits such as cultural exchange. [But] we need to look at it.

“Some destinations may feel they don’t have a problem yet, but we need to build tourism capacity management. We should try to relieve the peaks in demand, disperse visitors and try to reduce the environmental impact of tourism.

“In the small space of Macao, we had 32 million visitors last year.”

She said Macao has been talking to the authorities in China, its main source of tourists, about “controlled growth” and “limiting the increase”.

Fernandes insisted: “We don’t do tourism for the sake of tourism. It has to be good for communities and for tourists.

“We need to face reality. As well as doing good we seem to be doing something not so good and not delivering the optimum tourism experience.”

Minister of tourism for Jamaica Edmund Bartlett insisted: “Overcrowding is a problem of management.”

He told the summit: “It is a resource-based issue [and] a function of management.” Bartlett added: “Overcrowding will be dealt with by technology.”

PATA chief executive Mario Hardy agreed with the minister, telling the summit: “Over tourism is a term I don’t like, it should be tourism dispersal. It is [about] poor management.”

Hardy said: “We have been advocating the dispersal of visitors to ensure more places benefit from tourism for the last four years.”

Abdulla Ghiyas, president of the Maldives travel and tour operators’ association MATATO, told summit delegates: “I don’t see this as a global problem. In the Maldives, we have capacity for seven million tourists and last year we had 1.3 million. No one is going to say ‘no’ to a tourist where I come from.”