Overtourism was a serious problem pre-pandemic, the question now – as restrictions continue to ease, is will it return? To help answer that and explore ways in which it can be avoided, Dr Martha Honey and Kelsey Frenkiel join me on today’s episode of Inside Ideas.

They are both tourism experts, and authors who have written extensively on the world of travel. Offering a unique insight in to the state of the industry: where it was going, and where it might be heading next, they recently released their book Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future, which they edited together.

Dr Honey is CEO of Responsible Travel Consulting and co-founder and former executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST); and Kelsey Frenkiel is a program manager at CREST. Before the pandemic hit, overtourism was the burning issue on their minds.

We can take the lessons that we learned from Covid and come up with a better future for the tourism industry.

Kelsey Frenkiel

“Overtourism had been defined in the years prior to 2018, but it really came to the world’s stage at that time, and actually – I think we can credit a lot of news media for covering the problem and making sure the world knew that residents were really fed up. They were marching in the streets in Barcelona and Venice telling tourists to go home. And not only those daytrippers, in Venice it was very much the cruise tourists,” Frenkiel said. “So, in 2018 CREST started off by hosting our World Tourism Day Forum in September, which we do every year, on overtourism and finding solutions. Coming out of that event, we took some of the case studies and those lessons learned and decided to come up with a book. That year we also saw 1.5 billion tourists cross international borders and all of the projections were saying that this was going to increase exponentially.”

She continued: “We never imagined that, in the middle of writing this book, tourism would halt completely and I think in 2020 there was only something like 400 million international arrivals, which is still a huge number, but for a time it was halted completely, obviously brought on by a global health crisis. I think what we saw was that Covid 19 triggered new and unique challenges for tourism and it actually proved to us that this information was more timely than ever. So we took that opportunity to frame the book, talk about the pandemic and how this information could be used.”

The book charts a path towards sustainable tourism, one that is underpinned by a commitment to people, planet, and prosperity.

Frenkiel added: “We came up with 13 guiding principles for the future of tourism, so for example, seeing the whole picture – tourism often isn’t looked at very holistically. We used better metrics, so not just measuring tourism by the number of people visiting but what impacts they are having. Those are the kind of steps that we took to chart a better path forward after Covid, and also on the back of the responses that we were seeing from people because of Covid and the new challenges that they were dealing with. What we want everyone to know is that this is an opportunity to really reset.”

A return to a business as usual world of overtourism is something the pair don’t want to see and they say there are plenty of alternatives.

“The problem of overtourism and climate change were really the two biggest catastrophes facing the tourism industry,” Dr Honey said. Which, for some time, had been increasing calls for more sustainable and regenerative forms of tourism.

“Sustainable travel, responsible travel is actually superior for the traveller. It’s not just the right thing for the planet, or for the local community, or the environment, but it actually provides a superior vacation – we don’t need to apologise for trying to get people to do the right thing,” Dr Honey explained. “Done properly, done well – it is a superior kind of vacation. The origins of eco-tourism, which is the first sort of term within the tourism field that had a kind of ethics behind it, it was not just describing the kinds of travel, but it talked about the impact of travel and that, done well, it can be positive. From the original concept of eco-tourism we have seen a flowering of all kinds of other terms – with the most recent term being ‘regenerative tourism’ – leave a place better than you found it.”

Global citizens

The book provides a roadmap for moving tourism forward beyond the pandemic because, as Dr Honey points out, travel is vital in opening minds.

“When you travel, especially if you travel in a way that doesn’t just take you to an enclave, like an all-inclusive beach resort, but in a way that actually gets you out meeting other people, then this is a profound form of education that is stimulating parts of our brains that are not quite stimulated by classroom learning. It’s a different type of learning, experiential, and in a way it can be more profound than book learning because all your senses are involved, and so building global citizenship through travel is an extremely important reason for keeping the travel industry going, and it was threatened by the pandemic, but we are convinced that we need this as human beings, as societies.”

As people begin to travel and plan where they might go in the future, it is time to discuss what that should look like. So I am delighted to welcome today’s guests on the show to discuss a topic that is important to so many of us.

Listeners and followers of Inside Ideas can also get 20% off Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future here by using the code HONEY.

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