Addressing over-tourism

Eliza Raymond
Jul 23, 2023

Over the past twelve months, we've seen a lot in the media about 'over-tourism'.

Responsible Travel is urging us to ditch bucket-lists and seek out brave, alternative adventures. IQ Planner recommends that we seek out hidden gems in 2018 instead of travelling to the usual suspects such as Paris and Barcelona. Fodor's has developed a list of places NOT to go in 2018, which includes overcrowded destinations such as Phang Nga Park, Thailand. Instead, they recommend that you take "the road less littered and enjoy a tropical vacay away from the fray."

Meanwhile, the World Travel & Tourism Council has released a report titled  'Coping with success: Managing overcrowding in tourism destinations'. The goal of the report is to help increase understanding of over-tourism and to identify a range of solutions that can make a difference. The report identifies five potential problems associated with tourist overcrowding: alienated local residents, a degraded tourist experience, overloaded infrastructure, damage to nature, and threats to culture and heritage.

So what does all this mean for GOOD travellers? Should you avoid popular destinations altogether or are there still ways to visit the places on your bucket-list without contributing towards the five problems associated with overcrowding?

We spoke to our partner in Cambodia, Ayana Journeys, to get their perspective on this issue. Ayana Journeys is based in Siem Reap, which is home to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination and is now visited by over 2 million tourists each year.

Amy McLoughlin from Ayana Journeys shares her experience of over-tourism:

In simple, over-tourism is about mounting pressure from too many tourists in one place at one time. Like destinations all over the world, Cambodia has begun to experience over-tourism at times, particularly at our national treasure: the temples of Angkor. There are a variety of factors that may have caused this – an increase of budget flights, global exposure of the "world’s best site", and general affordability of the destination.

Responsible and sustainable travel is at the heart of everything that they do at Ayana Journeys. So we asked Amy how Ayana Journeys balances the growing demand from tourists wanting to visit bucket-list destinations like Angkor Wat with their sustainability values. She shares seven key ways that Ayana Journeys seek to mitigate the impacts of over-tourism in their own community.

  1. Keeping group sizes small and exclusive – Smaller group sizes create more intimate and enriching environments, so we are big fans of limiting how many people we take on trips at one time. Moreover, this reduces the burden of hosting our stay, particularly at fragile locations.
  2. Getting off the beaten track – Otherwise known as ‘visitor dispersion’, we value the approach of getting visitors off the beaten track. We are passionate about connecting visitors to quieter locations in respectful ways. This spreads visitors across bigger areas and brings economic benefits to communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism economy. We do this by exploring backstreets on our Secrets of Siem Reap morning tour, as well as most of our longer tours too.
  3. Exploring key sites in unique ways – No trip to Cambodia is complete without experiencing the beauty of Angkor, and the secret is out! For those seeking to escape the crowds we visit popular sites through carefully designed approaches. For example, our Spirit of Angkor exploration of the UNESCO site combines connecting you to the ‘must see’ temples, but with in-the-know time management and discovering hidden gems at the same time.
  4. Embracing the real Cambodia – As a team of curious locals, we want to connect our guests to experiences in Cambodia that we know and love. We recently wrote about our approach to ‘authentic travel’; our commitment to ‘real’ life interactions that allow you to see Cambodia through a local’s eyes. An example of this is our Sunset Foodies evening tour – much like hanging out with an old friend and being shown their favourite eateries not found on the tourist trail.
  5. Learning journeys – We encourage our guests to reflect on their impact as a traveller and provide platforms for them to enjoy a meaningful trip. Lessons learned on a transformational holiday can impact guests’ responsible travel behaviour in the future. By raising awareness about tourism related issues, travellers become informed ambassadors and activists in Cambodia and beyond.
  6. Prioritising local services – As tourism booms local people can sadly sometimes get left or pushed out. We believe local people should always benefit from tourism, and as a result, engage with as many local services providers as possible. This supports family owned and responsible businesses, as well as providing an insightful and memorable experience to our visitors.
  7. Fair trade travel – For the last couple of decades many businesses have taken advantage of Cambodia’s fairly relaxed approach to legal compliance. As a result, prices have been rock bottom and many travellers have flocked to enjoy cheap prices. As the country overhauls these systems, prices are increasing to ensure people are paid fairly whilst contributing to important things like tax. Since we founded as a company we have ensured we meet and exceed legal requirements, and our prices reflect this. We advise travellers to be cautious of dirt-cheap rates elsewhere; there is no such thing as a free lunch!

Read Ayana Journeys' full article on Addressing ‘over-tourism’ in the Kingdom of Wonder here.

Meanwhile, here at GOOD Travel we were recently contacted by one of our partners, Vallori Thomas, wishing to offer a tour of the Wonders of the World. While most of our GOOD tours focus on taking GOOD travellers off the beaten track, Vallori wanted to know if it was possible to offer her clients the opportunity to experience some of the New 7 Wonders of the World in a way that had a positive impact on the local community and environment.

After much research and discussion, we have designed a Wonders of the World trip that we hope aligns with Vallori's vision. We will be visiting two of the New 7 Wonders - the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio and Chichen Itza in Mexico. Read more about our inaugural Wonders of the World trip and how it will have a positive impact here.

Do you think our Wonders of the World trip will achieve positive impact without contributing to the problem of over-tourism? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. 

July 23, 2023
5 min read