We’ve all done it: headed to a destination with one goal in mind…selfies.
Selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower. Selfies on the Empire State Building. Selfies on the Rialto Bridge.
Let’s face it: selfies are just so much fun.
But did you know that when you take a selfie and run, you’re taking away a little piece of that tourist destination? Selfies aren’t victimless crimes. People don’t hurt people. Selfies. Hurt. People.
Okay, all joking aside. Selfies don’t really hurt people. Though you might get carpal tunnel if you take too many. Yet this idea of “take the selfie and run” tourism that has become popular among social media influencers, travel bloggers, and many, many tourists, is hurting the communities that tourism has taken over.
Tourists who only visit a site for a quick selfie contribute to something called overtourism. This is the tipping point when tourism stops helping a community and starts hurting it. Overcrowding, displacement of locals, and tourist traps replacing local vendors are all bi-products of overtourism.
The thing is that overtourism doesn’t just hurt locals, it’s hurts tourists just as much.
How Overtourism Hurts Locals
Heading to a tourist destination without any regard for the culture, wearing down historic and religious sites, and clogging streets can hurt a community. It may not sound like a big deal, but that selfie can leave a sour taste in the mouths of locals and damage the local economy. Overtourism has become a big issue in many cities and even some remote areas in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Many North American communities are feeling the tourism boom a little too much, too.
How Overtourism Hurts Tourists
No one wants to have to bitch slap someone just to get close to the Trevi Fountain. Satisfying? Yes. Cool? No. No one wants to visit a city where litter is an all-too common sight. And no one–no one–wants to return home from a destination with nothing to show for it except a t-shirt made in some country with no connection to the city that bears its name on its cheap, $0.99 fabric. I can’t tell you how many tourists I’ve seen cry when they see that New York’s Little Italy has become something of a tourist trap.
No matter whether you’re a two-second tourist or someone who spends weeks in a destination, almost everyone wants an authentic experience when they travel to a new place.
The Good Side of Tourism
Tourism can stimulate a lagging economy, create jobs and encourage empathy of other cultures.
While New York City may not be a serious victim of tourism’s dark side (let’s be honest, Times Square is arguably one of the few places tourism made better), it’s still important to be respectful of a place and its locals.
This is why I started Bucketless Travel. Instead of looking at travel as items on a bucket list that you need to cross off, why not make the most of your travel by taking the time to get the know the people and the culture–instead of just its most famous icons?
On NYC in a Day, I’m restructuring my site to encourage tourists to travel more ethically. Some of the measures I’m taking to help quell overtourism include:
- Recommending an alternate lesser-known activity for every iconic attraction mentioned on my site*
- Never recommending chain restaurants
- Always recommending small and/or locally owned companies whenever possible
- Making recommendations on how to avoid tourist traps and crowded areas of the city
- Offering advice on how to be a kind(er) traveler in New York specifically–but also all over the world
- Guiding other travel industry professionals, including bloggers, influencers, and tour guides, on how to reduce overtourism in destinations
Wait–Does This Mean I Should Visit the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the Empire State Building?
Hell. No. I stand behind what I’ve always stated on NYC in a Day: you’ve gotta see these sites at least once in your life. Yet most of these attractions offer timed tickets to help ease congestion and are well-equipped to handle overtourism. The other good thing is that you don’t need to go to Liberty Island or the Empire State Building to enjoy them. You can easily see them from other (less-crowded) vantage points in the city. I also always recommend times/days of the week/seasons to visit when crowds are thinner.
When it comes to Times Square: visit as often and whenever you like. New Yorkers would never set foot here on purpose. Just whatever you do, please don’t eat at one of the many chain restaurants. Just. Don’t. While you might be supporting a local waiter, waitress, hostess, kitchen worker, or bus guy or gal by eating at a chain restaurant, most of your money is going to a large corporation and leaving the city.
These jobs will be more readily available to service workers in local restaurants when those restaurants become more profitable.
And whatever you do, please: don’t stop traveling. All of us who work in the travel industry depend on tourists to keep doing what they’re doing. Travel makes you a better human being all-round. Just try to do it responsibly.
See you in the city!
*Note: I may mention large tour companies (such as ho-ho buses), but I will never profit off these companies should you choose to purchase one of their tours.