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Senior Lecturer Elisa Burrai in The Conversation: Tourists not welcome

How to tackle the issues of overtourism in an age of overseas hen and stag parties.

Tourists not welcome

Stag and hen dos might be a modern rite of passage, but for many brides and grooms to be, these pre-wedding celebrations have gone from a few quiet drinks at the pub, to just another “excuse” for a holiday. According to the most recent survey published by the Association of British Travel Agents, 1.3m British tourists went overseas to celebrate a hen or stag party in 2015. And among the most popular destinations are Prague, Barcelona, Benidorm, Dublin and Amsterdam.

A recent poll of 2,000 UK adults has also found that stag and hen parties abroad often cost close to £1,000 per person – with accommodation and drinks among the biggest expenses This type of tourism, usually, impacts negatively on destinations because of the limited economic benefits that it brings and the social costs that it carries – such as increased crime or disrespectful behaviour.

Too Many Tourists

Nowadays, it’s easy and cheap to reach European destinations. This makes these types of experiences appealing to large numbers of tourists. But when a lot of people are all heading off to the same places, the issue of overtourism arises. This is when destinations are affected by large numbers of tourists – and it is particularly the case with cruise tourism or hen and stag parties. The consequences of a large numbers of visitors descending on a destination vary from noisy neighbours and frustrated residents, to overloaded infrastructure, environmental impacts and an increasing lack of facilities for local people – as everything is geared up more and more with the tourist in mind.

Mass tourism can also lead to increases in rental costs – which then prices locals out of certain areas of the city. This has been the case in many European cities – particularly with the rise of Airbnb. The German capital Berlin, has actually gone so far as to ban homeowners from renting out flats on Airbnb – for this very reason.

Losing the local character

According to the latest World Tourism Organisation’s Tourism Barometer, in 2017 international tourist arrivals grew by 7% – reaching a total of 1.322 billion people. This growth is expected to continue in 2018 at a rate of 4% to 5% – which is above the 3.8% average increase projected by the World Tourism Organisation for the period 2010 to 2020. This evidence shows that despite the fact that many cities are trying to put in place measures to control overtourism, tourism is still growing at an unsustainable pace. Overtourism is a result of global capitalism. This is because the tourism industry facilitates mobility, liberal markets, deregulation and limited intervention from the state. And certain forms of tourism – such as cruises, hen and stag parties and backpacking are more associated with the problem.

Responsible tourism has often been flagged as a way out of overtourism. This is because it aims to preserve the natural and built environments of destinations. It also aims to enhance the economic welfare of destinations and to respect the lives of residents. Yet, responsible tourism often sustains modern global capitalism as it is embedded in and part of global capitalist modes of production and consumption.

Volunteer tourism, for example, is often thought of as a form of tourism that is responsible. But volunteer tourism is actually a form of “moral consumption”. Volunteer tourism involves young and often inexperienced individuals working on short-term developmental projects in developing countries. In many cases, this causes more harm than good – such as dependency, exploitation and child trafficking. And in that sense, rather than addressing complex societal problems, these forms of tourism can just end up reproducing them.

A growing global problem

Too often, in the field of responsible tourism, the emphasis is placed on individuals to act responsibly in order to address societal challenges. But this focus on individuals’ role of doing good removes any moral obligation from the state or governments involved. Low-cost airlines, companies that cater for hen and stag parties, owners of rental accommodation and budget tourists seeing the cheapest holiday they can find are all pursuing their own different interests – often without much thought for the wider context they are operating in. So while it’s understandable that people want to visit beautiful places in far flung destinations, it is also important that this is done in a responsible manner. This requires a joined up approach between tourists, holiday companies, travel bloggers and governments and a rethink of the concept of responsible tourism for future generations.

This piece originally appeared in The Conversation.

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