Travel industry urgently needs to tackle overtourism, disaster resilience

Crowd of people at a terrace of the Kiyomizu dera Temple in Kyoto on January 02. 2017 in Japan

Industry speakers at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) joint debate last week outlined several key challenges the global travel industry is currently facing.

Held at the PATA Annual Summit in Gangneung, South Korea, the debate addressed two imminent challenges in tourism: insufficient resilience to natural disasters, and the need for tourist limits and redistribution in over-visited destinations.

Tourist pollution is becoming a problem in popular destinations around the world; a large crowd on Kiyomizu-dera Temple’s terrace in Kyoto pictured

“There is growing concern about high cost of living, traffic congestions and the overall deteriorating quality of life because of overcapacity. We need to desperately deal with how cities can accommodate tourists, otherwise, we are not delivering the optimal visitor experience,” said Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, director, Macao Government Tourism Office.

UNWTO projects that international tourism arrivals will grow by an annual average of 4.8 per cent between 2018 and 2020. China registered 130 million outbound trips in 2017 and India 21 million in 2016. Last year, Japan received 28 million foreign arrivals, contributing to what the locals call “tourist pollution”.

These numbers call for more vigilant strategies by tourism stakeholders to control their inbound traffic and redistribute travellers to second- and third-tier cities, expressed Fernandes.

Macau has had discussions with China – its major source of tourism – to adopt “annual controlled growth to limit the increase” of tourists to the territory, she shared.

She advised that up-and-coming destinations that are not yet at capacity can take a leaf from larger destinations to adopt “adequate infrastructure” in anticipation of a tourism influx.

Faeez Fadhlillah, CEO and co-founder of Malaysia-based Tripfez, added that countries should remember to promote the cultural aspect of other cities and make tourism work for the local people, so as to prevent overtourism that disturbs local culture, creates wastage and nuisance, such as in the case of Langkawi.

Meanwhile, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, argued that a greater challenge is many countries’ lack of resilience in the face of natural disasters.

He proposed that governments needed more “public policies for mitigation” as well as “financial resources and public and private partnerships to build knowledge capacity”.

Abdulla Ghiyas, president of the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators, shared that this is especially critical in the Maldives, as a single tsunami had wiped out two-thirds of the country’s GDP – which is largely reliant on tourism – and it took more than 10 years to prepare shelters and for local communities to bounce back.

Bartlett chimed in: “We need to balance human and natural resources so that both can be sustained. This calls for innovation, new ideas and capacity building.”

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