Adressing overtourism in the UK can shed light on new marketing opportunities
After Venice, then Barcelona, the challenges of overtourism in the UK are on the horizon—but addressing them could present new marketing opportunities.
Last year witnessed a pinnacle in the significance of responsible tourism, more tour operators and consumers alike have become conscious of the negative impacts mass tourism inflicts on local communities and environments. According to ABTA, this year we can expect to see an increase in initiatives that give back to local communities and ban plastics from beaches. ABTA also notes that Thomas Cook will be committed to removing animal excursions such as elephant rides from their itineraries, as a response to the growing publicity around the welfare of animals in tourism. TUI recently conducted research on the UK & Ireland market, the results of which revealed that 62% of UK holidaymakers agree it makes them feel better knowing their holiday was organised with respect to nature and the local community. Despite an increased awareness towards the importance of responsible tourism, is the scale of response matching up to the scale of the problem?
2017 was also the year that the term “overtourism” solidified its place on the agenda, publicising the damaging aspects of having too many visitors in one destination. The term, antithetical to responsible tourism describes the sentiment of locals who feel that their quality of life in the area has declined to an intolerable state. Whilst overtourism might not seem like a pressing issue in the UK, we can learn from our European neighbours in Barcelona and Venice for example for whom ever increasing numbers of tourists have caused tensions that continue to rise.
Barcelona has seen protestors take the streets showing discontent against rocketing rental prices as a result of rising visitor numbers, and has even been described as “Europe’s other poster child for overtourism last year”, preceded by Venice. Overtourism has been mounting-up for the past six decades and for Venice, its effects have made an immense negative impact on the city’s infrastructure and the daily lives of its residents. Unhappy locals who feel like their home is “becoming a theme park” called on local government officials to tackle overtourism, and as a result the city has taken to installing turnstiles at main entry points in a firm attempt to divert tourists along other routes.
The UK isn’t safe from the dangers of overtourism, in fact its challenges are on the horizon. Despite terror attacks in 2017, the UK had reached a new record of 30.2 million overseas visitors in the first nine months of last year. Outside of London (the world’s third most visited city) tourist cities such as Cambridge, Bath and Oxford have begun to feel the pressures of increased demand in tourism. As of last year, Cambridge received 5 million more tourists a year than Malta, alerting local council members who worry that the popular short-stay destination is on a path which “threatens to overwhelm the city” in the near future. Similarly in Oxford, locals claim that their home has been turned into “tourist hell, urging “there needs to be a limit”.
Whilst we’re coming to terms with the fact that overtourism is a brewing challenge that the country’s tourist cities need to tackle, different cities call for different solutions. The UK travel industry should see addressing overtourism within the country as a new opportunity to diversify its offering, and “rebrand” itself as a varied place in which foreign audiences can find genuine and desirable experiences outside of popularised tourist cities. Tourism outside of city centres and outside of peak season should be endorsed, as well as encouraging visitors to explore further afield and stay longer in areas surrounding tourist hotspots—spreading the economic value gained in touristy destinations, across surrounding areas who would benefit from the financial gains of tourism.
According to the United World Tourism Organisation, China lead as the top tourism spender in 2017 spending 258 billion USD, up 5% from 2016—and there’s no doubt that figures are on the rise. Chinese tourists may have the spending power, but they also have a choice. As a hugely influential market, it would be unwise for the UK to overlook them. Whilst Chinese tourists might have been drawn to Europe, the continent is now facing competition from destinations such as Vietnam and Thailand who market themselves and better understand Chinese audiences.
If the UK is going to encourage tourism outside of tourist hotspots, it needs to look outwardly in order to understand and speak to its audiences.
The Chinese market for example is huge, consisting of visitors from drastically different regions which vary in culture. Whilst the average Chinese tourist is likely to visit the obvious Cambridge, Oxford, and increasingly the Lake District, there’s an opportunity to present unexplored territory and lessen the pressures of overtourism in these publicised areas. As an example, the average Hong Konger who lives in one of the world's most densely populated cities would savour the tranquility of the sprawling and dynamic countryside of South Wales. Hong Kongers could trade in The Peninsula for the Gower Peninsula—an oasis an hour away from Cardiff which has taken shape as an affordable student city. What about harnessing the historic connection between Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Liverpool? The UK’s first Chinatown was built in the northern city after immigrants arrived in the late 1850s. Not to mention, that Liverpool Football Club has been donned China’s “third most popular team”.
There’s no doubt that overtourism presents challenges that the UK travel industry has to tackle, but addressing these obstacles could present new marketing opportunities and encourage the country’s industry to look outwardly in thinking about the genuine interests of its audiences. Tour operators, retailers, and airlines alike should seize opportunities to diversify, and endorse travel experiences off-the-beaten-track. Which ultimately will help to alleviate the negative impacts of overtourism in tourist cities and ‘touristy destinations’, simultaneously shaping a more even distribution of economic value gained from tourism across the country.