In December last year, the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, increased its entry fee in an effort to bring down the number of visitors.
The 365-year-old mausoleum had been suffering under the effects of an estimated 70,000 visitors a day, in combination with extensive air pollution.
Speaking at the site in February, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma insisted that measures needed to be taken to preserve the Taj Mahal “for the generations to come.”
But the outcry following the increase in ticket prices was not because of a lack of concern for preservation. Domestic visitors, who had previously only been charged 50 rupees (61c) will now have to pay 250 rupees (€3.05), in a country where the annual daily wage is 270 rupees (€3.30).
International visitors meanwhile, will pay only 15% more, an increase of €14.50 to €16.50.
That’s the harsh truth about tourism: facilitating foreign tourists is often done at the expense of the people in the local communities, who are forced to deal with the aftermath of pollution, overcrowding and lack of resources, long after the peak season visitors have returned home.
In the last two years the issue of ‘over tourism’ came to the attention of the global media.
Popular tourist destinations across Europe from Ibiza to Barcelona saw a number of “anti-tourist” protests from local residents, frustrated with the impact several decades worth of unchecked growth in tourist numbers had on the local populations. The Economist reported that in July of last year, local protestors attacked tourist buses in Valencia, Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona.
In April, the Telegraph stated that 500 people attended a protest against tourist overcrowding in Ibiza Town.
“We don’t reject tourism but we do reject tourism which is unlimited, disrespectful and excessive,” said Àngels Escandell, the director of Ibizan over tourism pressure group “Prou!”
Both governments and local tourism bodies have invested in the idea that the more tourists that arrive into a country, the better. But the damages are beginning to outweigh the advantages.
Last October, the Irish Independent reported that Thai authorities stated that the famous Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh island would be closed indefinitely, in order to allow the beach to recover from the environmental damage caused by approximately 5,000 visitors a day. 80% of the coral around Maya Bay has been destroyed thanks to the litter left behind by boaters and beachgoers.
How to combat over tourism
Until government agencies and tourism boards end their focus on increasing numbers, the crux of the problem will remain unsolved.
However, those planning on traveling to key tourist areas can help avoid over tourism by partaking in “responsible” tourism.
Justin Francis, the CEO of Responsible Travel, defines responsible tourism as traveling “in ways which maximise positive impacts and minimise the negative ones”.
“Tourism can still be very much a force for good, and ensuring that local residents, habitats and wildlife benefit from your presence is an important part of that, “ he said.
Forgoing well-known tourist spots for less populated areas, keeping your money local and traveling in smaller groups may not solve the issue of over tourism, but it’s not a bad place to start.
After all, it’s a small price to pay to have empathy for the people left behind after the holiday goers return home.