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Overtourism has been a growing issue around the world in recent years, with Venice, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Iceland to name a few, all having been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Although tourism is vital to the local economy for many destinations, overtourism can have a negative impact on both tourists and local residents alike.  For example, complaints from locals in Venice and Barcelona include sky high housing prices and rising pollution levels.  It's easy to see why some destinations are struggling to balance their need to provide a great experience for their visitors while securing a sustainable model for the destination.

Looking at the statistics for the past 50 years, international arrivals have grown from 25 million in the 1950s to 1.2 billion in 2016. And yet overtourism has only appeared on our radar in recent years. (Source:  www.weforum.org)

So what are the main factors behind the recent rise?

  • cheap air fares and the growth of low cost airlines
  • growing popularity of cruising (and affordability due to levels of competition pushing down costs)
  • tourists flocking to destinations which they perceive as lower risk in terms of terrorism threats
  • prevalence of low cost marketing tools including email and social media to allow previously undiscovered destinations to raise their profile
  • growth of screen tourism with TV series such as HBO's Game of Thrones fuelling popularity for all the destinations used as filming locations eg. Northern Ireland, Croatia and Iceland
  • cheaper travel due to the sharing economy
  • increase in tourists from new markets such as China and India

However, overtourism can create opportunities for some destinations to differentiate themselves.  We already know that an increasing number of tourists are looking for something different.  Millennials in particular are looking for more authentic experiences and adventure tourism is also on the rise.  If destinations can demonstrate a sustainable approach to tourism they're on to a winner.

Oslo has hit the press recently for their bold Great Escape campaign, a collaboration organised by the Oslo Brand Alliance which includes New Mind | tellUs client, VisitOSLO plus Oslo Region and Oslo Business Region. The campaign involved scouring social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram for disgrunted tourists who had expressed disappointment whilst visiting overcrowded European destinations and enticing them to visit Oslo.

A kiwi couple, Sam and Marela were rescued from a 'vacafail' in Paris after sharing their experience of a trip to the Louvre where they were battled with crowds of visitors armed with selfie sticks around the Mona Lisa.

The couple were invited on a whirlwind VIP break which included quirky accommodation in a greenhouse,  stand-up paddling on the Oslo Fjord, use of a pair of City Bikes and of course, a viewing of Munch's The Scream, all captured on video for the world to see. The campaign fits nicely with the results of a recent survey in which Norway was nominated as the 'Happiest Country in the World'.  The Great Escape campaign was a huge success, achieving engagement both internationally and within the domestic market in Norway.

Earlier this year the Republic of Georgia (located between Turkey and Russia) pulled a similar stunt by surprising their 6 millionth tourist, Jesper Black from the Netherlands, with a VIP experience which included a police escort from the airport and a one-to-one dinner with the Prime Minister.    A video clip of the whole experience went on to win Silver and Bronze Lions at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

From our work with DMOs over the years, we have seen evidence of the tourism industry helping to preserve and strengthen local communities and cultures.  As Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization, says: “Today more than ever, ensuring that tourism is an enriching experience for visitors and hosts alike demands strong, sustainable tourism policies and practices and the engagement of national, as well as local, governments and administrations, private sector companies, local communities and tourists themselves”.

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