Byron Bay has featured in a European Union (EU) study on overtourism. It was one of 12 non-EU, and the only Australian destination, included in the study; and while the Destination Byron tourist symposium takes place in the Bay today one thing that isn’t obviously on the itinerary is overtourism.
Overtourism is a relatively new term that looks at the broader impact of tourism on the ‘the social, ecological, economic, physical, psychological, and/or political capacity of destinations’ according to the study Overtourism: impact and possible policy responses.
‘While overcrowding is seen by the industry as an issue that mainly stands in the way of continued growth, the impacts of overtourism can represent an existential risk for destinations around the world,’ the study states.
‘Uncontrolled tourism development can cause significant damage to landscapes, seascapes, air and water quality, as well as the living conditions of residents, causing economic inequalities and social exclusion, amongst many other issues.
‘There are many examples where the cultural and natural heritage of a place is at risk, or where costs of living and real estate have substantially increased and caused a decline in quality of life.’
One of the key issues the study identifies for Byron Bay is that local expectations and needs are at odds with the desire of the state government to use Byron Bay as a key element in attracting tourists to NSW and Australia.
‘Overtourism will remain a problem if the stakeholders on the local and higher levels do not align,’ the study states.
‘On the local level, there is a growing awareness that chasing the extra growth is undesirable but this is at odds with the NSW government’s goal of doubling overnight visitor expenditure by 2020.’
The study also recognised that the state government while using the drawcard of Byron Bay in its destination NSW advertising was none-the-less pushing responsibility for ‘local infrastructure and amenity issues relating to the impacts of tourism’ back onto local government.
Commenting on the study local ecologist Dialin Pugh said that while it recognises that the number of destinations that are experiencing over tourism are still low the study acknowledges that ‘the effects of overtourism are potentially severe, to a degree that causes cities to lose their primary function as residence. In addition to this, both natural and cultural heritage sites are at risk of losing their appeal as desirable tourism destinations due to the emergence of overtourism.’
Some of the recommendations to manage overtourism include the need to develop economic policies in the form of taxes or incentives and by way of improving economic benefits for residents, specifically those not directly involved in the tourism economy. It suggests that national governments are encouraged ‘in implementing regulations that restricts official license in the housing for touristic use in congested areas’.
Most of us have been a tourist at some point. I have travelled in Europe and been to many of those places that are being impacted by overtouisim, the ghost towns like Dubrovnik in Croatia (yes where Game of Thrones was filmed) to discover the beauty of the architecture and history but the utter lack of locals. Getting up in the morning and heading into the town centre there was a sea of tourists some wondering their own paths while the rest moved in shoals around the city following their guide. But apart the from people in the shops (perhaps some were locals) there wasn’t a heart left in the town. There were no locals but there were plenty of high end shops, delightful alleyways, tourist entertainment and restaurants galore.
The idea of overtourism provides the chance to begin to look at tourism not just as a growth industry where more tourist means more money but as joint venture between both the businesses, the locals and the environment that keeps the unique character of a place that attracts people to it. It is the locals that give the a place its character, once they are gone you just have a street full of shops, tourists and if you’re lucky you haven’t destroyed the environment.