The perils of ‘overtourism’

The perils of ‘overtourism’

Like “fake news,” the concept of “overtourism” has started to creep into our language. Although still in their “teething” stage, these two terms need time to be described fully in dictionaries.

But their impact is already strongly felt in our life and they are certainly here to stay.

The concept of “overtourism” has started to enter our life, especially those of us who happen to live in a country like Turkey, Greece, Italy or Spain, where governments have projected “tourism” as their countries’ “heavy industry,” a “strategic target” for the future.

And, when a country faces economic problems-like Greece- tourism becomes a safety net, a God’s given gift which can be used to bring money when everything has collapsed.

“As long as we have the sun and the sea, the history, tourists will come and bring money,” is a statement that we have often heard from our politicians.

The figures prove their optimism. Barcelona, a city with less than 2 million inhabitants, welcomes around 20 million tourists every year and employs 120,000 people in the tourism sector.

In Europe, where almost half the top tourism destinations in the world are located, 2.3 million businesses belong to the tourism sector, employing around 12.3 million people.

According to the figures of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Mediterranean had an 8 percent growth in international tourist arrivals in 2017 compared to 2016 and is expected to score a new record this year.

Greece broke its previous year’s record in 2017 with 30 million tourists and expects a new record this year.

Turkey is in an optimistic mood this year too. It is looking forward to a revival of its tourism after the setback of 2015 and 2016 caused by terrorist attacks, the diplomatic crisis with Russia, and the July 2016 coup attempt.

Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said recently that he anticipates “Turkey will host 38 million tourists this year,” projecting that by 2023 Turkey will welcome 50 million tourists who would bring $50 billion to the country.

The construction sector is looking forward to more hotel complexes to be lined across the Turkish shores and for this year the local hoteliers in Antalya, are expecting 14 million tourists in their 2,300 hotels.

Yet, while the increasing inflows of tourists appear to be good news for countries’ economy, a new debate has started on the serious long term side effects that ever-growing tourism may bring upon people and nature.

Environmentalists, local communities, even economists are warning that over-investment in tourism may eventually cause the opposite effect.

The problems of overtourism are now becoming more evident and they are numerous and serious: Excessive usage of natural resources, especially water, increased pollution and traffic, lack of sufficient housing for the local population, disproportionate price increases of housing and basic goods, destruction of local habitats, lack of respect for local culture, and increase in criminality.

In Turkey, the ever-increasing availability of premium land for touristic development has caused irreparable damage to the natural habitat, yet there has been little concern to harness this galloping trend through careful regulation.

Alarm calls against overtourism have started to increase recently all over the world, not only among local communities and environmentalists but also among economic circles.

The answer to more tourism, they say, is not overtourism.

Rather, it should be a more sustainable approach to tourism, which is a carefully planned management of natural eco-systems and renewable natural resources in order to avoid permanent damage to the environment and destruction of the physical landscape.

It should be a balanced plan aimed not at the destruction of the local communities and their culture but to preserve the very reasons that make a person want to visit a foreign land.

But here we are at the beginning of another holiday season, in which few of us would think about any of the above warnings.

Most of us will just be thinking again that we desperately need a break from our frustrating urban lives.

Our politicians will no doubt be announcing that “this year we have achieved new records in tourist numbers, contributing greatly to our economy, etc.

But just give little thought to this new word “overtourism.” Unlike “fake news,” I am afraid it is real news.

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