Technology’s Role in Overtourism

Author: Jennifer Dienst       

(Photo credit Adobe Stock)

It’s almost impossible to have a conversation about overtourism without mentioning technology. A quick look around almost any popular attraction reveals that most visitors aren’t actually soaking up the view — they’re looking at it on their phones. On social-media apps, including Twitter and Instagram, influencers with millions of followers act as the modern-day Pied Pipers of tourists. Some of the world’s most Instagrammable spots have put restrictions on access to tourists — only 300 visitors a day, for example, are permitted to watch the sunset on a hillside overlooking ruins that include the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia, after officials feared damage to the site.

But some destinations are finding that they can use technology to help lessen the problem of overcrowded sites and neighborhoods by nudging tourists toward less-traveled locales. In Amsterdam — where the city removed a popular and much-photographed “I Am Amsterdam” sign from outside of the Rijksmuseum art museum to a less central location because of the crowds — the tourism bureau uses data collected from visitors’ use of a city card that provides discounts on attractions, to analyze where they go in order to understand how to ease congestion issues. The card, which meeting planners can purchase in bulk for their groups, can also be used on Amsterdam’s transport system, as well as at sites and in neighborhoods outside of the popular city center.

Tracy Halliwell

The city of London took an interactive approach. London & Partners launched a mobile gaming app in 2017 called “Play London with Mr. Bean” — drawing from the popular “Mr. Bean” British sitcom — which allows users to earn points and prizes as they visit different sites and neighborhoods around the city. “While every city needs to be looking ahead and think about how to pre-empt and mitigate the risks of overtourism, technology is enabling us to prompt tourists to explore outer boroughs and experience hidden gems in the city,” said Tracy Halliwell, MBE, director of tourism, conventions, and major events at London & Partners, which runs the London Convention Bureau.

For cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona, where iconic images are shared by throngs of tourists, Development Counsellors International’s Daniella Middleton suggests that meetings groups can offer an opportunity to change that narrative using social media during tourism’s “low” seasons as well as during visits to less popular neighborhoods.

Using popular tourism-related hashtags specific to the destination, Middleton suggested, is a way for you to take over the narrative and create “imagery of how the destination actually looks” at different times of the year. “You can start to build content to change that conversation.”

This story is part of Convene’s CMP Series, which enables readers to earn one hour of CE credit toward CMP certification from the Events Industry Council. Find the main story, “Crowd Control,” and other required reading; for access to additional CMP Series stories, go to the CMP Series page.