Tourism caps, As world population grows, so too will mass tourism. Will capping visitor numbers help or hinder?
In June this year, approximately 30,000 Icelanders flocked to France to support their team in Euro 2016. What’s remarkable is that the exodus accounted for almost 10% of Iceland’s entire population.
Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 330,000 residents spread across its vast expanse of land. With this in mind, it’s worrying to learn that an estimated 1.6 million tourists visited the country this year, far outstripping the number of residents and demonstrating a 20% increase on 2015 numbers.
As the specter of mass tourism looms, Icelandic authorities have taken several measures to curb the number of visitors including placing restrictions on the availability of Airbnb rentals.
We visited Iceland in 2011 among 565,000 other tourists, drawn by the glaciers, hot springs, hiking trails, midnight sun and northern lights. That number has nearly tripled in five years and is only set to grow.
Iceland’s upcoming problems are likely similar to what I experienced in Angkor Wat earlier this year: vastly increased crowds jostling for space in long queues and cramped spaces.
The problem is not unique to Iceland of course. World population is growing at a seemingly uncontrolled rate and with increased population comes increased tourism.
This has led industry professionals to ask: do we need tourism caps? Do we need to establish carrying capacities, defined by the World Tourism Organization as follows?
Benefits of tourism caps
Better for the environment
It’s no secret that humans are the most resource-hungry species on the planet. We have destroyed 10% of the world’s wilderness in the last 25 years alone and our rampant road building has had a shattering effect on nature. Our compulsion to travel plays a not unsubstantial part in the destruction of nature, whether it’s frequent flying or hiking popular paths that need time to recover.
Tourism caps would limit the harmful effects of mass tourism and allow the natural environment to maintain its equilibrium. Peru’s Inca Trail has a limit of 500 people per day, 200 of which are available to tourists with the rest allocated to guides and trekking staff. Whether this should be reduced further is up for debate but the existing caps are certainly an effective way to ease pressure on the trail.
Better for residents
The iconic Italian city of Venice hit the headlines this year after residents delivered a stark message to tourists. Several posters appeared in the city, warning: “Tourists Go Away!!! You Are Destroying This Area.”
Better for tourists
Tourism caps are beneficial not only to the environment and local residents, but to tourists themselves.
Drawbacks of tour caps
Implementing tourism caps will by default reduce the number of tourist dollars being spent in a destination. This could have marked consequences in countries like the Maldives and Cambodia which depend on tourism for a substantial portion of their GDP. Livelihoods could be at stake if tourism were to be reduced drastically.