International tourism grew a staggering 7 percent last year, well beyond the typical annual growth rate of about 4 percent. For the many destinations that base their economies on tourism, this travel boom is a blessing.
Other famous spots, however, have grown tired of the constant stream of travelers who are turning their beloved homes into glorified theme parks.
To take one recent example, the mayor of Florence received flack last year when he tried to keep tourists from sitting on the steps of the city’s historic churches by having cleaners hose down the steps before lunchtime. His plan backfired when the notoriously hot Italian sun dried the pavement faster than the workers could keep it hosed.
Here are some other bucket-list destinations that, due to overtourism, you might want to give a second thought. Or at the very least, plan ahead for very large crowds or more restricted access.
Amsterdam officials want the world to know that the city has much more to offer than the wildly famous red-light district. Budget travelers flock to Amsterdam daily to enjoy the nightlife and party scenes, congesting the beautiful canal areas and drowning out the locals. The city has pushed back by implementing higher tourist taxes and halting construction of new hotels in the busy canal areas.
Early last year, agreements with Airbnb were made limiting tourist stays in Amsterdam to under 60 days, and there’s been recent talk of reducing that even more. Taking it a step further, popular “bierfiets” bikes (essentially a mobile beer bar fitting up to 12 people) were outlawed after the city received thousands of complaints from locals.
Residents have made it clear that the rowdy guests utilizing the city of Amsterdam for their partying needs are no longer welcomed.
Nicknamed “The Pearl of the Adriatic,” this small Mediterranean town boasting stunning coastal views and towering sea cliffs shot to the top of bucket lists everywhere when it became a filming site for “Game of Thrones.” The city has become an especially popular cruise ship destination, with tourists taking advantage of numerous film location tours .
But recently, after UNESCO warned that the city risked losing its World Heritage status if it continued to let the large number of tourists go unchecked, Dubrovnik’s mayor pledged to crack down on tourism. UNESCO suggested limiting the number of visitors to 8,000, but Mayor Mato Frankovic is going above and beyond, capping the daily number at 4,000.
Santorini is the Aegean paradise of travelers’ dreams – 2 million travelers a year, to be exact. That’s quite a heavy load considering the island’s minuscule square footage of just under 30 miles. Officials in Santorini have become gravely concerned over the environmental impact of the growing number of travelers being dropped off daily, who during peak season wreak havoc on the tiny island’s resources.
Santorini’s mayor, Nikos Zorzos, has been forced to limit the number of cruise ship passengers to just 8,000 per day (the island had previously been hosting upwards of 12,000 tourists per day). Cruise ships arriving in Santorini are now required to stagger both dates and times so as not to congest the ports and streets.
You’d be hard pressed to find an Italian travel itinerary without Venice on it. However, the very picturesque waterways and narrow streets that have made the city so popular have also led to nearly unlivable conditions for residents during the busy seasons. Last November, the city began rerouting massive cruise ships from the historical city center to an industrial port. Three years prior, ships larger than 96,000 tons were banned from the city entirely.
In April of this year, Venice attracted attention when the city moved to install temporary gates to limit the number of tourists in certain areas during a busy four-day holiday weekend. The plan helped to redirect tourists to less populated areas, and made certain spots accessible exclusively to locals and regular visitors possessing a special city-pass card.
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Mallorca is known for its pristine beaches, but the past few years have seen a significant rise in traffic, pollution and housing prices. The island’s capital, Palma de Mallorca, has been impacted the most by unregulated tourism due to its increasing popularity.
In response, the mayor of Palma recently implemented measures to reduce the impact of tourism on residents, making Palma de Mallorca the first city in Spain to ban short-term rentals of private residencies to visitors.
Concerns over companies like Airbnb making it too difficult for locals and long-term seasonal workers to find reasonable accommodations led to the decision. The town of Palma attributes 80 percent of its local economy to the tourism industry, with the largest contribution occurring in the summer months from cruise ships.
Spain’s Catalonian capital has seen an uptick in anti-tourist protests in the past few years, but still, visitors continue to flock to Barcelona by the millions. It’s become the twentieth most-visited country on Earth, driving up the living prices for residents at an astronomical rate.
The influx of travelers choosing to stay in the city has forced the local government to create restrictions on holiday rentals. Residents who wish to use home-sharing platforms to rent out their accommodations must first register with the city and receive a permit.
Barcelona’s officials are not messing around either – they recently fined Airbnb almost $700,000 for advertising listings on their website that weren’t registered with the city. They’ve also restricted tourist accommodation by region in order to spread visitors out more evenly throughout the city.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Fairy pools, cascading coastal waterfalls, medieval castles...these are just some of the sights waiting for travelers on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. And now – thanks in part to appearances in the popular TV show "Outlander" and Harry Styles "Sign of the Times" music video – this picturesque Scottish paradise has become more popular than ever.
Previously isolated from the rest of the world, the island’s small population is hosting more and more people each year, and there simply aren’t enough accommodations to go around.
The more highly trafficked sightseeing spots have suffered greatly as country roads deteriorate under the pressure of rental cars and rubbish accumulates in the natural campsites. Talks of expensive tourism taxes or making the island a national park have circulated, but for now local authorities are telling visitors to stay away if they haven’t previously booked accommodation – or risk having to sleep in their cars.
Bhutan, South Asia
Although tourism in Bhutan is relatively new (it’s only been open to tourists since 1974), the country rigidly regulates its tourism industry in order to maintain the natural beauty of the destination. Rather than putting actual limits on the number of visitors allowed in Bhutan at a time, the Bhutanese have put strict regulations on those who wish to travel there.
Foreign tourists must spend a minimum of $200 to $250 (depending on the season) a day on accommodation and travel, and can only do so through a travel agent – there is no such thing as independent travel in Bhutan. All personal electrical items like computers and cell phones must be registered with the government upon arrival, and popular places require permits.
If you do fork up the time and money to travel to Bhutan, the country can only be accessed through a small number of specific towns, some exclusively by road and others exclusively by air.
Machu Picchu, Peru
This UNESCO World Heritage Site made some big changes in 2017 to regulate the over 1.4 million visitors who travel there each year. Officials implemented a timed entry system to evenly distribute tourists, with tickets specifying either an AM or PM time. Purchase of both tickets is required for those who want to spend all day at the site. Additionally, travelers cannot enter without a registered guide, and tours have been limited to a maximum of 16 people at a time.
In the past, one could wander around the site independently, but Peruvian authorities have now limited tourist paths to specific areas. The wait time to get on a morning bus to Machu Picchu can climb upwards of two hours during the busy seasons, with lines to enter the site often taking another hour.
Maya Bay, Thailand
The island of Ko Phi Phi Le is home to Maya Bay, made famous by the book “The Beach” and its Leonardo DiCapiro-starring movie adaptation. Unfortunately, the beach's precious coral reefs were being damaged by the over 5,000 people who began visiting daily. Earlier this year, officials implemented a three-month ban on tourists to save the reefs; later, they changed the status of the closure from temporary to indefinite.
Maya Beach is not the first strip of Thai paradise to be made off-limits in an effort to ensure environmental preservation. There’s also a temporary ban on visiting the extremely popular Koh Khai and Koh Tachai islands. Some marine experts are now calling for these beaches to be closed permanently.
All told, 77 percent of the country’s coral reefs have been damaged due to tourism, up from only 30 percent a mere decade ago.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands have always been welcoming to those wishing to support the preservation and protection of the area’s famous ecosystem. However, now more than ever, tourists have been arriving solely to enjoy the warm weather and beautiful beaches while leaving out the ecotours. Land-based arrivals jumped a staggering 92 percent from 2007 to 2016, while ship-based tourism actually dipped 11 percent – in part due to Ecuador’s tight restrictions on the number of berths allowed on the cruise ships entering the island.
Officials are concerned that the government’s restrictions on cruise-based tours have led to the increase in land-based tours which, if unregulated, may get out of control. Although tourism has been responsible for a majority of the area’s economy, local tour companies have proposed limiting the number of visitors arriving by land exclusively to those interested in ecotourism.
Forbidden City, China
A tourist attraction named for its restrictions, China’s Forbidden City was inaccessible to anyone but the royal family for hundreds of years. Fast forward to 2015, and 15 million people were visiting annually (more than the Louvre Museum). For fear of damaging the important site, the government had no choice but to start limiting the number of tourists allowed to 80,000 daily, a constraint that remains in place today.
In addition, annual ticket holders now have blacked-out days when they can’t use their pass, and admission on national holidays requires a pre-purchased online ticket. Officials also banned snacks in certain areas in the hopes that it would limit how long guests stay at the attraction. Plus, group tours must be pre-booked online and are no longer available to be paid for on site.
As far as tourist destinations go, Antarctica is among the least visited in the world. And while that’s largely due to the continent’s extreme inaccessibility, high costs and frigid temperatures, it’s also partly by design.
The government only allows a small number of landing sites to be accessed, so tour operators must participate in a draft-like process to secure their spots. These same companies are forbidden from advertising certain destinations in their brochures to keep the locations more private. And the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators has regulations in place for where visitors can go, how long they can stay, and how close they can get to wildlife.
Over-tourism has the potential to cause significant damage to such a fragile ecosystem, but specialists agree that Antarctica is regulating its tourism industry well. Despite the limitations, tourism also remains a robust industry, contributing $300 million a year to the local economy.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
There are few better ways to take in the beauty of the Angkor Wat temple than by climbing to the top of the 10th-century Phnom Bakheng hill. Unfortunately, this experience has become a little too popular. Tour guides recall seeing thousands of crammed-together tourists perched on the hill, desperately seeking a view.
In response, last year authorities made several changes to protect the historical site from over-tourism. Now only 300 people are allowed on top of Phnom Bakheng at one time. In an effort to reduce crowding inside the temple itself, visitors are also now able to access the hill without walking through the temple first. Temple ticket prices additionally saw their first increase in 25 years, almost doubling from $20 to $37 for a day pass.
Taj Mahal, India
This iconic structure is one of the most widely recognized historical sites in the world, and welcomes an incredible 50,000 visitors and locals a day. To keep the popular tomb from becoming overrun with tourists, possibly leading to accidents, officials recently announced a three-hour cap on visits.
The Taj hasn’t had to limit the number of tickets sold per day yet – they don’t want to be forced to turn away travelers. Hopefully, the three-hour time limit will stagger visitors enough that no further action will be necessary.
The unique Italian region of Sardinia is facing a different kind of threat when it comes to over-tourism: visitors from around the world have started taking home bottles and bags of golden sand from the more popular beaches. The pilfering has become so common that officials are worried that the continued activity may lead to premature erosion of the natural seashore.
It’s no surprise that tourists want to take a piece of such beautiful scenery home as a keepsake — but Italian authorities are saying no more. If anyone is caught with sand, pebbles or shells from Sardinian beaches, they can face fines of up to 3,000 euro (about $3,482 USD). That’s a pretty expensive souvenir.
The thieves are usually caught at the airport when security searches their bags, as the sand gets picked up on airport scanners.
The capital of Italy has a lot to show for unruly tourist behavior. Fights for the perfect selfie spot, swimming in public fountains, drinking in the street, thieves dressed up as gladiators — Rome has pretty much seen it all.
The city has imposed rules to limit problematic tourist activity, and employed 500 new city police officers in January of 2019 to enforce them. In addition, temporary measures such as fines of up to 400 euro for dressing up in gladiator costumes, fines for swimming in fountains and bans on drinking in public at night will become permanent.
To limit the enormous number of tour busses clogging up the city center, government officials also implemented three separate bus zones with different time restrictions.
Tourism in Iceland, a country with a population of just under 350,000, has growth exponentially in recent years. The implementation of the Icelandair stopover program (where travelers can easily choose to stay in the country’s capital city of Reykjavik as a stopover to Europe) worked a little too well for the small country.
In October 2018, Iceland’s Minister of Tourism presented a report to Parliament with details as to why popular locations cannot withstand any more stress caused by over-tourism. The Minister is working on a pilot project to put into action visitor limits on certain important sites, especially in the Reykjavik area where travelers are particularly condensed.
This popular Indonesian destination saw 5.6 million tourists in 2017, and the numbers are only predicted to go up from there. The amount of visitors hasn’t been good for the Balinese environment, which was already in decline from misuse of single-use plastics (only 60 percent of waste produced on the island ends up in a landfill — the other 40% often turns into ocean pollution).
As a result, Bali recently banned single-use plastic, including plastic straws, styrofoam and plastic bags. And in January 2019, officials announced a new foreign tourist tax ($10 USD) that will be used to benefit environmental and cultural preservation.
An influx of tourists disrespecting religious sites has also started conversations within the Bali government to ban unsupervised tourists from temples, and to create a dress code for the more sacred places.
The flagship landmark inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is scaled by 60,000 visitors each year, despite the presence of a sign at the site pleading them not to climb. Since becoming open for visitors in the 1940s, 35 people have died while attempting to climb the rock, and plenty others have had to be rescued from falling.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is extremely sacred to the Anangu Aboriginal people, the original owners of the land, who were officially granted it back in 1985. After controversially being opened to tourism for 70 years, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board members voted to ban the climbing of Uluru. Yet this fact continues to fall on deaf ears.
Easter Island, Chile
Known around the world as one of the most mysterious and breathtaking sites in South America, Easter Island, known for its iconic moai statues, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995. It’s not just a quick pit-stop to get there, either. The shortest flight to Easter Island and its Rapa Nui National Park is five hours from Santiago.
An initiative which began in August 2018 is putting a limit on both the number of tourists and their lengths of stay, cutting the previous stay limit of 90 days down by two-thirds. And the new rules don’t just apply to foreigners — even Chileans (who aren’t part of the indigenous Rapa Nui people) will face a fine if they stay over the 30-day limit.
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii, United States
There aren’t many tourists traveling to Hawaii who don’t dream of waving palm trees, soft sand and swimming alongside tropical fish. Hanauma Bay on the island of Oahu offers all of that and more, but don’t expect to be able to access it any day of the week.
Older locals remember the bay before it became a mega-popular tourist destination among snorkelers, causing damage to both the coral and the wildlife that thrives off of it. As a result, officials have put a limit onto which days visitors (or anybody) can access the beach. Every Tuesday of the week the site is closed to allow the fish and bay a full 24 hours of undisturbed rest from human interaction.
Following a substantial drop in visitors attributed to the 2011 Fukushima disaster, tourism in Japan has begun to soar once again. In 2017, a record-setting 28.7 million people visited the country, and the government predicts that number to escalate significantly when Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020.
Visitors have been observed using important religious sites and private residences for selfies, and this cultural disregard has some Kyoto residents worried. In August 2018, a new law came into effect limiting private rentals through Airbnb and similar sites. Property owners must now register their residence with the government before they rent them out, causing the number of available rental properties to plummet. The city of Kyoto will only allow private lodging in residential areas during the time of year that is usually less busy for tourists, in an effort to spread the visitors out more evenly.
Tourism limitation on the Azores islands off the coast of Portugal is unique in that officials set boundaries in anticipation of over-tourism, rather than as a reaction to it.
Government officials always knew that people around the world would find out about the Azores eventually, so they started putting rules into effect as early as 2015. For example, there was an initial 20,000 cap on the number of beds available to visitors. Eventually, that number was lowered even more, to between 11,000 and 12,000 beds across all nine islands.
Going even further, the government hopes to become the first archipelago on earth to be a certified “sustainable tourism region” in 2019, offering further protection against over-tourism.
Hyams Beach, Australia
Widely known as one of Australia’s most beautiful white-sand beaches, Hyams Beach has only one parking lot — and it only has space for 400. That doesn’t stop the more than 5,000 cars traveling there every day in the summer, though.
The tiny village has seen an influx of tourists who are often unable to find accommodation and end up illegally camping on the beach, lighting fires and spreading rubbish. In early 2019, the City Council was forced to turn thousands of people away and appoint traffic controllers to temporarily reduce the speed around the area by 40 km/h.
Residents are pushing for even more limitations, such as charging a fee to beach-goers and marketing different beaches in the area, but officials say that finding solutions in the long-term is an ongoing process.
Boracay Island, Philippines
Boracay was famously closed for a six-month cleanup by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte after a spike in tourism led to its near-destruction. Now that is it open to the public once again, the government has put measures in place to help make sure that this beautiful slice of paradise never gets to that point again. For the first year after its reopening, tourism has been scaled back, only allowing accommodations for 6,000 (a far cry from its previous allowance of 19,000).
Visitors cannot enter without showing officials documentation that they’ve already booked accommodation from an accredited hotel, and watercrafts like jet skis are now banned to areas 100 meters from shore.
The beach now prohibits drinking, umbrellas, pets, barbeques, late-night fireworks, single-use plastics, gambling and even unregulated sand-castle building.
Caves of Altamira, Spain
Believed to be over 22,000 years old, the spectacular cave drawings at Altamira were discovered by a hunter in 1868, and were accessible for years to both researchers and tourists alike. But after mold was detected on the cave’s walls, likely caused by the presence of humans and artificial light, it was officially closed to tourists in 2002. For a while only scientists and researchers were allowed inside the cave, which is owned by the state, but it was eventually re-opened to a limited amount of visitors in 2014.
Once a week, visitors put their names in a pool, and five are chosen at random to see the Paleolithic caves. Donning biohazard suits and following strict protocol, the five lucky participants are allowed to view the paintings for no more than a strangely specific 37 minutes. Those who aren’t chosen to see the original caves have the option of viewing a replica instead at the museum.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Talks of limiting tourism in the five Italian coastal towns that make up Cinque Terre have been circulating for years.
In 2001, officials introduced the Cinque Terre Card, an optional pass to help tourists get around and access popular destinations. In 2016, the local government announced that they would be limiting the number of visitors to the centuries-old fishing villages by at least one million by using a new ticketing system. That plan turned out to be “just a provocation,” according to the Cinque Terre National Park’s director.
Then, in 2017, officials developed an app with real-time foot-traffic flow that helped visitors navigate themselves to less busy areas. The area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and turned into a national park in 1999.
The Lofoten Islands, Norway
Tourism in Norway has skyrocketed in the past few years, thanks largely in part to the popularity of the movie “Frozen.” Lofoten’s Uttakleiv Beach, for example, has a population of 12 citizens year-round. Come summertime there are tens of thousands of tourists attempting to access the beach deemed the “most romantic in the world” by “National Geographic” in 2001.
These visitors (upwards of 250,000) have been known to leave as much as 8,000 liters of garbage behind in a single weekend. The dozen residents eventually implemented a parking fee for tourists, which helped pay for newly-installed industrial-strength rubbish cans.
Unfortunately, that is about the most power the residents are permitted to exert, as Norway’s “right to roam” law allows tourists to roam freely and unaccounted for in unpopulated areas.
Denmark has seen fast growth in European tourism over the past few years, and the capital city of Copenhagen has born the brunt of those numbers. The city sees more than nine million tourists a year, while the entire country is only populated by about six million citizens.
The country generally enjoys its tourism culture (as long as visitors don’t break the rules or get too rowdy), but has nonetheless implemented several restrictions throughout the years. People from foreign countries aren’t allowed to buy vacation properties on coastal Denmark, and there have been strict limits as to how many bars and restaurants can be built in Copenhagen. Additionally, residential areas in the city now contain designated “quiet zone” areas.