‘Over-tourism’ requires “urgent” attention in the most-crowded destinations, says Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer.
Tanzer told Abta’s Travel Convention: “Globally, there are 40 million new tourists every year – about the size of the UK market. The top-20 destination countries account for 50% of the growth.
“There are huge benefits to this – tourism is an intense job creator. [But] there has to be infrastructure.
“We want to minimise the impacts on residents and destinations. Waste management is a big issue, and overcrowding. It requires us, as a sector, to plan long-term with destinations.
“All sorts of needs have to be discussed. How do you make sure supply-chain quality is maintained? We need better tools as a sector.
“It is a complicated issue and it is not going to be easy to solve. I don’t think it is insurmountable, but it does require urgent and collaborative attention.”
Stuart Leven, Royal Caribbean Cruises vice-president EMEA and UK managing director, acknowledged: “This is a challenge.”
But he dismissed the suggestion that the cruise industry bore a sizeable responsibility. He said: “Cruise is a small part of it”.
Leven said: “Millions more have access to travel. People are living longer and travelling more, and there is the growth of the global middle class.”
He said: “We hit more than 500 ports. Some cities are really good at this, for example Dubrovnik. The deputy mayor of the city met cruise line chief executives last year and said ‘We need to smooth out arrivals so everyone does not arrive at the same time’.
“The travel industry has to contribute to the solution, but the real solution has to sit with the destination.”
Leven argued: “It comes back to [having] a long-term sustainable strategy. Tourism is quite concentrated – half the world’s visitors go to Europe and most to the Mediterranean.
“Every destination is unique. We have to work at the destination level.”
Tanzer agreed, saying: “Various strategies can be adopted before stopping people coming. It would be elitist to try to price people out. We don’t want to start by saying we don’t want people to come.”
He noted a backlash against Airbnb and said: “There are tensions with people staying in places not created for tourists.
“It is not the sharing economy that created the problem, but it has made it more intense.”
He argued: “There could be regulation of accommodation-sharing platforms.”
Enrique Ybarra, president and chief executive of City Sightseeing Worldwide, said: “Many see it as a problem. I see it more as an opportunity.
“We can’t put limits [on tourism] or erect barriers. We have to manage flows properly.”
Ybarra said: “Some cities really have an issue.” But he suggested: “In some cities, it is a political issue and politicians use it to get votes – an example is in Barcelona.
“In Amsterdam, we try to spread tourists to other areas. There are technology solutions for monuments and museums – virtual queueing.”
He insisted: “I would not talk just about destinations. From the moment a customer is looking at a site there should be information on volumes.”
Travel Weekly is trade media partner of The Travel Convention
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