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“The cost of crowds: How top destinations are curbing overtourism”

by Harold GoodwinProfessor Emeritus and Founding Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership

As so many politicians say when challenged about what they would do if they were in government, “we wouldn’t start from here.” This applies to overtourism. 

Overtourism is a summary aggregating concept; it describes how residents and tourists, hosts and guests, feel when the volume and behaviour of tourists have ‘spoilt’ the place. It is a generic label for a range of negative responses to complex impacts. 

We live in a finite world and all destinations have a finite capacity. Hotels, airlines and tour operators are interested in attracting and carrying more tourists to destinations. 

For a long time, ministers of tourism and tourists have been judged by increased arrivals rather than the economic and social benefits which tourism can bring. As Tourism Concern argues, in the UK, for over two decades, ‘we take our holidays in other people’s homes.’ 

Local and national governments, with the communities they serve, need to ask themselves whether they will use tourism to make a better place for people to live in or whether they will allow their place to be used by tourism, the place where they live and work and bring up their children.

Overtourism is an example of a “tragedy of the commons”, it makes rational sense for individual businesses to attract tourists and day visitors, it is good for their business. But collectively and cumulatively, this leads to overtourism. 

In my previous post I argued that Overtourism is complex – careful analysis is required. It is not possible to manage and reduce the negative impacts that give rise to overtourism without identifying the issues that cause it in particular destinations. 

Back in May, in conversation with Data Appeal’s CEO Mirko Lalli, I made a comparison with our increasing success in treating cancer. When we began to understand that different cancers have different causes necessitating different management and treatment, we began to have more success in curing the disease and extending life. 

You can watch the video of our conversation here. 

Mirko is correct in his analysis that overtourism is a consequence of “poorly managed destinations”.

Data Appeal’s analytics are useful in determining the views of visitors about a destination; for understanding the views of residents, local surveys are essential.

Careful analysis of the specific issues which have given rise to concerns about overtourism by residents and visitors needs to be undertaken. 

It is the specifics that need to be addressed. What can be done turns on the views of the local community and the industry and what regulatory powers are available in the over- touristed destination. 

The range of regulations available is generally determined by national governments. 

The priorities of national and local government do not always align. 

National government may prioritise international arrivals and foreign exchange earnings over the problems of overtourism in some parts of the country. This interview with the Deputy Mayor of Dubrovnik explores this issue. 

You may also find the interview with Vincent Niljs about overtourism in Flanders, which reflects on the issue of whether a destination will be used by tourism or use tourism for sustainable development. 

Dubrovnik has regulatory powers over the port, enabling it to control the number of ships docking there daily. Barcelona and Venice have very significantly less influence over arrivals at the port. 

There is a strong case for tourist taxes, usually imposed through accommodation, although Venice has just begun an experiment to tax day visitors. 

Tourists are temporary residents; they drop litter, and the congestion they cause needs to be managed. It is surely reasonable to expect them to contribute to the budgets of the municipality or the national park, which has to manage and maintain the space they use and often degrade.

Strategic responses to overtourism: From regulations to innovations


Vincent makes the point in our interview that most of the tourists and day visitors fit into Bruges by sharing similar values, although numbers are beginning to create problems for the daily lives of residents. In Amsterdam, the problem of stag and hen parties led to a successful demarketing campaign –  Amsterdam’s Stay Away campaign launched in March 2023 with pop-ups being activated in Britain, by particular search terms, such as “stag party Amsterdam” and “pub crawl Amsterdam”. UK arrivals are down 22% compared to 2019’s 2.4 million.

Amsterdam is also using planning regulations to push tourist shops out of the city centre to prevent a monoculture and make the centre more attractive to locals; there are plans to move the Red Light District to a skyscraper in the south of the city, although there is opposition to the move from local residents.

The city is promoting a new vision of the city to its residents: “A place of experimentation and creativity, with plenty of room for fresh ideas and new inspiration. Thousands of alternative perspectives make the city unique and constantly evolving. Find your community, revise your opinion and stretch your imagination with these initiatives that will renew your view of Amsterdam.” 

In Barcelona, the city government has removed Route 16 from Google maps to make it harder for visitors to find, ensuring that it is available to elderly residents.

Limiting Access

Private spaces are easily regulated. Museums and galleries have introduced timed tickets; restaurants, hotels, hostels and apartments need to be booked. Where room numbers can be controlled through the planning system, numbers of overnight visitors are controlled, and accommodation revenues and yields improve. 

Amsterdam has just banned new hotel developments to counter overtourism. “Amsterdam will no longer be issuing permits for new hotels, except for a ‘new-for-old arrangement’ in which a new hotel may only be built if a hotel elsewhere closes and the number of sleeping places does not increase…”

Public space is much more difficult to manage. 

Venice has finally introduced a daily fee to control visitor numbers. On 29 days in 2024, visitors who do not live, work or study in Venice will have to start paying a 5€ fee. 

Those who do not pay will face fines ranging from 50 to 300 euros, but authorities have said they don’t expect penalties to extend beyond that or to include jail time. Visitors will be able to pay in advance or pay once they arrive at key access points such as Venice’s Santa Lucia train station. 

Many communities will be watching to see if this can work. “Protesters waving placards reading messages such as ‘Venice should be defended, not put up for sale’ demonstrated at entry points to the old city.”


Regulating Behaviour

Italy and Spain have various regulations in place to enable fines to be imposed for some behaviours. 

For example  Rome has outlawed men going topless in public and the practice of attaching “love padlocks” to bridges, both of which carry a fine if contravened. 

Eating messy foods around tourist attractions, touching your lips against the spout when drinking from Roman public water fountains. Controlling parking, by increasing charges, reducing spaces, and making it more remote from the ‘honeypot’ attraction, has been used for years to limit and reduce visitor numbers. 


Site Hardening

Constructing facilities and locating trails and roads to reduce the impacts of visitors on sensitive soils and vegetation, and to help meet the visitors’ needs for user access.


Regulating Short-term Letting

Barcelona pioneered this approach by taking a whole-of-government approach, engaging planners, housing officials, and tax authorities. 

In July 2015, Barcelona’s municipal government suspended the processing of new permits for tourist-accommodation, student-residences and youth-hostel establishments, to analyse the impact of tourist-accommodation activities in all its aspects and to draft a special urban-development plan to regulate it. 

Ciutat Vella now has a Usage Plan designed to restrict the growth of tourist accommodation, whether hotels or apartments and a Tourist Accommodation Working Group has been tasked to complement municipal efforts to reduce the numbers of unlicensed apartments.

In the UK the tax authorities now require hosts with a listing in the UK or who are required to pay tax in the UK to reveal earnings and pay tax. “Under the current laws since data sharing began in 2018, hosts renting out properties through online rental platforms are able to make £1,000 a year before tax under a ‘tax allowance’, with any profits above that amount needing to be declared to HMRC. Those renting out a single room in their property have a much higher income threshold before they have to pay tax [£7,500] as part of the government’s ‘Rent-a-Room’ scheme.”

New rules outlined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] will require platforms to report the income that sellers receive on a more regular basis, and the information will be shared between countries that have also signed up to the OECD tax rules. The OECD rules will only be asked to share data about sellers who make at least 30 transactions a year, earning more than £1,735 [€2,000] in that timeframe. 

Airbnb lists on its site advice on Responsible Hosting including national taxes, business rates, and regional regulations and taxes in the UK and for Europe, Asia-Pacific, North America, South America, & Africa.

The Responsible Tourism Partnership website provides information on causes and solutions, and every month, Responsible Tourism News carries a section on overtourism – if you need to stay up to date on these issues, subscribe to Responsible Tourism News
You may find these publications useful 
Goodwin H (2019) Overtourism: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Tourismus Wissen – quarterly April 2019
Goodwin H (2019 )Managing Tourism in Barcelona 3rd Edition
Goodwin H (2017) The Challenge of Overtourism