How the Events Industry Intersects With Overtourism

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell

Our September cover and CMP Series story explores how the events industry intersects with overtourism. I admit that I didn’t know much about overtourism before our deputy editor, Barbara Palmer, and contributing editor, Jennifer N. Dienst, teamed up to give it an in-depth look. I had thought it was just a matter of overcrowded attractions, traffic, and diminished quality of life for residents in wildly popular destinations. But as I learned, it goes way beyond that, exacting a heavy toll on the environment and threatening natural resources.

And while some event organizers may think that their events are not affected by overtourism — as one planner told us, her attendees pretty much stay in the facility they contracted — it can have an impact on participants’ overall experience and drive up the costs of travel and lodging in that destination. But more importantly, as Barbara and Jen suss out, business events can be an antidote to overtourism, benefiting the destination rather than leaving behind a heavy footprint.

This month’s artist beautifully captured in his two illustrations what overtourism can look like: throngs of people squeezing through the streets toward a bursting-at-the-seams attraction.

That packed street scene stuck in my mind this month. We were working on this issue during a particularly tragic time in America — three mass shootings in the space of a week. Two of those senseless shootings took place outside in public spaces, where people gathered to enjoy what is near and dear to the business events industry. They were celebrating what a destination has to offer: a food festival in California wine country that has been held for 40 years, and a Saturday night out in an historic neighborhood in Ohio.

In an article in The Trace, which describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun violence crisis,” Alex Yablon writes that in the aftermath of the attacks, “authorities and businesses are forced to rethink how people congregate. Security begins to take priority over other values [and it distorts] how we engage with the world outside our homes.”

In the article, Yale University sociologist Vida Bajc, Ph.D., argues that nothing endangers American public space as much as mass shootings. Bajc, who studies public space and security, points out that what’s at risk is how we experience these spaces, which, she said, are “crucial to human well-being and physical health. Public space also allows people to freely interact across class boundaries — it socializes us… . Especially when shootings take place at community events or in the heart of a neighborhood, it’s an invasion of this sense of home.”

‘How People Congregate’

Overtourism and mass shootings are unrelated to each other, and they may seem unrelated to the business of events. But we don’t exist in a vacuum. In just a few paragraphs here I’ve shown how they overlap with our industry, if only in terms of practical considerations like site selection and beefing up security. At a deeper level, though, I wonder how these two separate issues will affect how and where, going forward, we bring people together.

Michelle Russell is Editor in Chief of Convene.