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Tourist Attractions Around The World Are Dealing With Overcrowding


Here's a 2019 problem for you - overtourism. From the annoying, too many visitors trying to sneak a peek at the "Mona Lisa," to the deadly, the staggering lineup of climbers out on Everest, too many visitors in the same location is a growing problem for travelers and locals. Annie Lowrey is a staff writer for The Atlantic, where she wrote about this trend. Welcome to the program.

ANNIE LOWREY: Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: So how did this come to your attention?

LOWREY: It was actually something that I feel like I had noticed being in sort of tourist-heavy destinations myself. It turns out that this is actually a phenomenon that's happening around the world. Barcelona, Paris, Tokyo are receiving floods of visitors that, in many cases, they just can't handle. So the number of international arrivals around the world - so the number of people going to a country that they're, you know, not a citizen or a resident of - has gone from 70 million in 1960 to 1.4 billion today. So just really astonishingly explosive growth.

CORNISH: So you've talked about the root cause of this. And one is just that there are more people who are able to travel - right? - a larger middle class. But you also talk about business trends that have contributed to overtourism, especially new media. What can you tell us?

LOWREY: So there are sites like Airbnb and VRBO, which have increased what we might think of as the carrying capacity of certain cities. They've decreased the cost of staying in them, and they've allowed residents of those cities or property owners to rent rooms out, where all of a sudden it's just a lot easier to get a room; many more tourists can stay there.

Other trends that people point to is the rise of low-cost airlines, which has to do with some deregulation and the use of these satellite airports that's just allowed for a lot more low-cost travel. Another is the rise in the popularity of cruises, which will allow sometimes thousands of passengers to disembark, again, in these, like, relatively small places.

CORNISH: You also talk about social media itself, which is that we all want to show off what we've seen. So what does that mean for overtourism?

LOWREY: Absolutely. So if we think that you want to get your perfect selfie with, you know, Christ the Redeemer in the background because you're in Rio, you're talking about in some cases literal square meters of space that hundreds, even thousands, of people are flocking to get these photographs, and this has led to really, really crazy phenomena. So you know, for instance, during the California poppy super bloom this year, there were thousands of people descending on literal individual fields in certain small towns. And that's not really something that had occurred 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago.

So Instagram is certainly one of the sites that people talk about as being sort of problematic here. There's also a way in which social media and websites have created a sort of discovery function. So that previously untouched beach might become a very-touched beach because people are able to find it more easily.

CORNISH: What are local governments and communities doing to address this? Do they see it as a problem?

LOWREY: By and large, it really isn't so much of a problem. And this tends to be an issue not of regions or cities but of blocks of buildings, of beaches, of individual works of art. And so what places are doing, they are instituting tourist taxes, which just makes it more expensive to go to a place and therefore can reduce the number of people who are coming and increase revenue to that city to supply more infrastructure. They're also doing things like gating and ticketing.

So Barcelona has taken part of the Park Guell, and they've basically said, if you want to go into the core of the park, you need a ticket. We're only letting a certain number of people in per hour, and the ticket is 10 euros. And so I think that you're going to see a lot more of those types of things to help preserve these things so that everybody can enjoy them because we expect hundreds of millions more people to join the middle class so this phenomenon absolutely is not going anywhere and, in fact, should intensify.

CORNISH: That's Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic. Thank you so much for talking with us.

LOWREY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.