As a child, my summers were spent visiting relatives, lying lifeless in front of a noisy desert cooler and staining freshly laundered t-shirts with mango pulp; basically following simple routines around the house to avoid the summer sun. Flash forward past a couple of decades of intense industrialisation, pollution and irreversible global warming to 2019. The summer of 2019 has been categorised by the unbearable rise of the smoldering heat and the need to go someplace cool just to escape the temperature. Couple that with internet-fuelled wanderlust and you now have waves of people travelling across and beyond the country. Unfortunately, most tourists have the same idea on their mind and end up in large bundles at the same place, inviting undesirable over-tourism at various tourist spots.
When it comes to India, cooler sites- particularly hill stations- have been very popular among the tourists for a quick summer outing. So much so, that these places are now clogged with people. Recently, the frequency of hill station road trips from larger metropolitans such as Delhi are so high that they have led to agonising traffic jams such as the 4 km halt on the Manali-Leh highway. This is not an isolated incident. Similar places like Darjeeling, Shimla, Mussoorie, Varanasi and Agra have been victim to high influx of tourists. Some traffic jams even led to people sleeping in and near their cars throughout the night!
The most popular case of over-tourism in recent history is that of the Mount Everest trek. The trek infamous for its congested trail led to the deaths of 11 climbers this summer, attracting international flak towards the Nepal government for the issue of more permits than the path would allow. Ever since, the Nepal government has made restrictive measures to ensure safe travel.
The consequences of over-tourism have been harsh and evident. Enraging cases of destruction of property, littering and overall disregard towards the culture and heritage of the locals have surfaced aplenty in the past few years. The recent case of destruction of preserved ancient rock paintings at Karikiyoor is an example of the utter disrespect that tourists have shown to resident tribes and communities. The Irula tribe of Karikiyoor were left furious and openly blamed the tourists for the loss of their culture.
The consequences of over-tourism may be highlighted in India but is definitely not limited to it. Well-known tourist hotspots around the globe have felt the weight of the burden that tags along with over-tourism and are now introducing new laws to curb the inflow. Much like Nepal, China has adopted an entry cap policy to control the crowd at the Great Wall of China. Taking it one step further, Venice is now introducing new -and quite harsh- regulations in order to battle the ever-increasing tourism and the land and water pollution it brings with it. Restrictions have been put in place for loitering or drinking alcohol in public, riding bikes, sunbathing and even just sitting around and outside monuments. Participation in any of these could lead to cumbersome fines or even deportation! While Venice decided to whack down the iron ruler, other cities like Amsterdam have come up with ridiculous and quirky solutions to the problem. A “Wed and Walk” initiative introduced by travel collective Untourist Amsterdam allows a person to marry a local in Amsterdam for a few days and explore non-commercial venues in the city that are usually unknown to tourists. It also encourages inter-cultural exchange.
While over-tourism cannot be refuted anymore, the curiosity regarding the reason still exists. A spectrum of factors have affected national and international tours in the past decade. To begin with the obvious, the culture of a summer getaway has always been a part of Indian lifestyle. And now, the growing affluence of the middle-class in the past decade has led to more and frequent international trips. Another factor is growing travel fantasies inspired by thrilling accounts in media. Films, instagram posts, youtube videos and influencers across social media have created an aspirational lifestyle for the youth of the nation. The desire to travel the world has become increasingly common amongst the younger generation in the past few years. In addition to this, a handful of airlines are also periodically slashing airfares to make air travel more accessible, allowing more people to make travel plans. Finally, the encouragement of tourism in nations has led to initiatives and subsidies towards the hospitality sector, increasing hotels, hostels and Airbnbs in large numbers.
While nations are trying hard to combat the glaring and unsavory consequences of tourism, it is important to remember that the responsibility and accountability must be shared by the travellers.