Overtourism can be defined as “the excessive growth of visitors leading to overcrowding in areas where residents suffer the consequences of temporary and seasonal tourism peaks, which have enforced permanent changes to their lifestyles, access to amenities and general well-being” (Milano et al. 2018). The impacts of overtourism include for example increased masses of tourism, the damages on landscapes and beaches, enormous strain on infrastructure and the rising prices for rents and properties. Many tourists want to experience the local way of living in an authentic way, but the residents are suffering from this as the cities are stuffed with crowds, tour buses, noisy bars, expensive restaurants and souvenir shops. Overtourism is a global issue and it’s growing all the time (Milano et al. 2018.) Dodds & Butler (2019) state that besides the residents’ feelings of too many tourists and decreased quality of life, also the visitors can suffer from decreased quality of experiences because of the inappropriate behaviour by other tourists and the loss of authenticity.
As overtourism has become an emerging issue around the world, many destination managers and governments are trying to find ways to manage the problem. To manage overtourism, it’s important to understand why the phenomenon occurs. The factors causing overtourism include for example increased numbers of tourists and the lack of controlling it, affordability (e.g. low-cost airlines), new tourist segments, focus on growth and short-term planning, competition for services, better access to media and information (including films and social sharing), lack of cooperation and imbalance of power between the stakeholders. (Dodds & Butler 2019, 6-17.) In addition, factors such as better accessibility to destinations, rapid increase of unregulated accommodations (such as Airbnb), and marketing actions targeted to large groups of tourists might contribute to an increase of overtourism. Today overtourism can be seen in many urban settings, rural areas, cultural heritage sites, natural settings, coastal areas and islands. Some well-known overtourism destinations are Venice, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Reykjavik, Dubrovnik, Taj Mahal (India) and Machu Picchu (Peru). (Peeters et al. 2018, 21-36.).
Overtourism is causing many negative impacts in destinations on environmental, economic and socio-cultural levels (Peeters et al. 2018, 38-39). According to UNEP and WTO (2005) the three dimensions (or pillars) of sustainable development – the economic, social and environmental sustainability – are also the basis for sustainable tourism development. They state that the guidelines and management actions of sustainable tourism development are applicable to all types of tourism in all types of destinations. Sustainable tourism development is not just about controlling and managing the negative effects of tourism industry, but it’s an important part of it. To express it briefly, sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities” (UNEP & WTO 2005.) So, it can be said that managing and controlling the negative impacts of overtourism is part of sustainable tourism development and discovering solutions to overtourism is taking the destinations into more sustainable direction.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss if Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can offer solutions to overtourism and if overtourism can be managed and controlled by using ICT solutions. The main reasons of why digital technology causes overtourism are described briefly and after that some ICT solutions to overtourism are presented with more detail.
Digital technologies causing overtourism
There are some studies underlining that digital technology and ICT are causing overtourism, even though this issue is often poorly addressed in the literature. For example, Peeters et al. (2018), Manjoo (2018), Bourliataux-Lajoinie et al. (2019) and Alonso-Almeida et al. (2019) state that some digital technologies are increasing the tourism masses and for that reason they are also causing overtourism in many destinations. They all mention social media as one of the factors causing overtourism, mainly due to the user-generated content and the ease of sharing one’s experiences on the social networks. According to Bourliataux-Lajoinie et al. (2019), social media is often influencing consumer’s emotions with charming pictures and by highlighting places and a way of life fantasised by the consumer – and especially when these are shared by other tourists. Social media has very strong influence when people are making decisions about visiting certain destination, and online peer reviews are often trusted sources when searching for information about destinations (Alfonso-Almeida et al. 2019).
Peeters et al. (2018) state that ICT, social media and peer-to-peer platforms are often the primary causes of overtourism as these technologies speed up the growth and concentration of tourism flows and volumes in certain areas. So, besides social media, social sharing and peer reviews, there are also other technologies (enabled internet) causing overtourism. These include the peer-to-peer sharing platforms such as Airbnb (Peeters et al. 2018; Manjoo 2018), online booking systems / e-commerce (Manjoo 2018; Bourliataux-Lajoinie et al. 2019), mobile applications and smartphone mapping (Manjoo 2018), just to mention few. All of these are increasing the tourism flows and that way causing overtourism and many negative impacts on destinations.
ITC solutions for managing overtourism
Although some ICT systems and platforms are causing overtourism, there are also ways to use ICT for managing overtourism. It is stated that digitisation holds more opportunities than risks for the sustainable tourism development (Schmücker et al. 2019). Schmücker et al. (2019) also state that the sustainability opportunities mostly relate to travel behaviour, meaning that digital technologies enable influencing tourists’ travel behaviour in a mote sustainable direction. Some concrete examples on ICT solutions for managing overtourism are presented below.
Ali and Frew (2014) mention comprehensively ICT-based tools for sustainable tourism development. These include, for example, carbon calculator, community informatics, computer simulation, destination management system, different information systems, GPS, analysis software, location-based services, tourism information system, virtual tourism and weather software. However, the authors are not focusing on how these tools would help to manage overtourism in a destination. Bourliataux-Lajoinie et al. (2019) suggest a mobile application that would guide tourists to new parts of city in order to decrease the tourism pressure at popular locations. Similarly, Pianta and Ajres (2020) write about a mobile application used in London that helps people to discover the lesser-known parts of the city. They also suggest that cities struggling with overtourism should network with each other, share data and develop an application together as this would serve all the cities as well as consumers.
Another important aspect is to collect data and study the behaviour of the tourist masses as in this way it’s possible to guide them better through the city to some alternative attractions and sights (Pianta & Ajres 2020). Zubiaga et al. (2019) studied the management of overtourism through visitor-flow monitoring, and also these results show that studying the behaviour of tourists is important in order to be able to manage them. WTTC (2018) sums up pretty compactly that technology can help to solve the problem of overtourism by: a) collecting data through smartphones, applications, Wifi and Bluetooth b) dispersing tourists to new parts of the destination with the help of applications and platforms c) speeding and managing the tourists’ flow d) supporting augmented and virtual reality features.
As stated before, overtourism is a global issue that is growing rapidly. For that reason, it’s important to think about ways to manage it. Although ICT seems to be causing overtourism in many ways, it also offers solutions for managing the problem. There are many different ICT-based tools that the destination managers could use in order to develop the destination into more sustainable way and handle the issue of overtourism, but they just need to create strategies for using these tools. More and more innovative ICT solutions are constantly being invented. Also, this paper is just a brief discussion on the subject, and leaves out many solutions that are already in everyday use. For example, it totally leaves out the concept of Smart Tourism and Smart Cities. However, as a conclusion, as can be seen from this paper, ICT should be used in managing the issue of overtourism.