Global News Updates

Overtourism: Opportunity amid crisis?

Events can promote interest and investment in destinations that are off the beaten path.

Overtourism has become a hot topic in recent years, and with the boom in travel (due to better air accessibility and the rise in low-cost airlines), there’s more reason to worry about how this will affect destinations. If not kept in check, mass tourism can lead to a host of problems including environmental damage and cultural erosion.

The 2019 Global Wellness Trends report underlines the issues surrounding overtourism and, in an effort to solve the problem, suggests that wellness travellers can be diverted to under-visited places to relieve pressure on famous landmarks.

In fact, those who travel for health and wellness typically seek remote locations to begin their transformative journey. Meanwhile, there’s a growing awareness among travellers that the wellbeing of a destination is equally as important as their own.

But it’s not just the wellness industry that’s beginning to care. Business event professionals are also concerned.

Adam Kamal, general manager of Tour East, feels there is a duty to deal with the matter.

“We do have a sense of responsibility towards easing overtourism and we balance our business goals and do our part by proposing and advising on venues and destinations that are not affected,” he says.

Mint Leong, managing director at Sunflower Holidays, believes meeting planners are drivers for change and can help raise awareness of the sustainable growth of a destination.

“Business event players are saviours to the overtourism problem. We have the opportunity and responsibility to alleviate the phenomenon of overtourism by driving the development to destinations that are less popular.”

Leong says that she does not propose ‘congested’ destinations to her clients and instead prefers lesser-known locations. Her agency recently organised group events in Bentong and Alor Star, both remote towns in Malaysia with plenty of cultural, agricultural and natural attractions.

In fact, a growing trend towards events with immersive cultural experiences may not only offer reprieve for congested cities, but also provide an opportunity for second-tier destinations to carve out a larger slice of the meetings and incentives pie.

According to 2020 forecasts, off-the-beaten-track destinations such as Nepal, Namibia, Costa Rica, Cambodia and Montenegro are on the rise.

Some convention bureaus are also responding to the demand. At IMEX America 2019, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau announced several support schemes to direct more business events outside of Bangkok to experience authentic local culture while contributing to the economy of rural provinces.

It’s a win-win situation for all, Leong notes. “Clients are happy to experience off-the-beaten-track destinations; the surrounding scenic spots can be developed; local economy is built up.”

Kamal feels there is a business opportunity to be gained from promoting emerging destinations. “We would have a new product or destination to offer which is not offered by anyone else and this could help drive up our profit margins.”

But the benefits don’t end after the last business attendee has left the event. Leong says that the overtourism issue presents an opportunity for under-visited destinations to stand out and attract investment in sustainable development.

It’s also a chance to give overly-popular destinations a much-needed break. “It’s good to let the popular destinations slow down or even shut down to make way for protection and repair,” Leong says.  

This is exactly what some destinations have resorted to doing. In 2018, the Thai government closed off Maya Bay (made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach) to protect its ecosystem from further damage.

This year, a Mount Everest base camp was made off-limits to tourists to resolve the trash problem they left behind. And next year, the entire Indonesian island of Komodo will be closed for 12 months in an effort to improve ecological conditions and preserve its environment.

The challenge in such a re-planning, Leong says, is the possible loss of income for local communities that rely on tourism.

“What’s important is to find and develop alternative attractions to balance out the development,” she says.