Home / World Tourism / Tourism overcrowding: No magic bullet, but answer starts with long-term planning, says WTTC & McKinsey report

Tourism overcrowding: No magic bullet, but answer starts with long-term planning, says WTTC & McKinsey report


Overcrowding in tourist destinations is a complex problem which varies from destination to destination and requires long-term planning with all stakeholders to solve. Good management is crucial for all tourism destinations and can only be built on a comprehensive fact base. Popular tourism spots need to understand their situations and identify early warning signs.

These are the major findings of “Coping with success: Managing overcrowding in tourism destinations”, one of the first major analyses of the issue. Produced by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and McKinsey & Company it attempts to cut through media hype around the issue, to understand the nature of the problems at hand, and to identify specific solutions which can make a real difference on what is variously known as “overcrowding”, “overtourism” or “tourismphobia”.

The report:

  • Highlights five types of problems: alienation of local residents, constrained infrastructure, diminished tourist experience, damage to natural resources, and threat to cultural heritage
  • Identifies practical actions ranging from smoothing visitor numbers over time, spreading visitors across sites, and adjusting pricing to balance supply and demand, to regulating accommodation supply and limiting access and activities
  • Develops a system to help destinations understand their specific situations and early warning signs. With this system destinations can use the data they already have to take appropriate action. The report focuses on 68 cities and creates an overview, in the form of a heatmap, of the risk of experiencing a given overcrowding problem
  • Is based on an analysis of tourism data as well as research on specific destinations and dozens of interviews with tour operators, tourism authorities, hospitality providers, airlines, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities, and think tanks
  • Concludes that local tourism managers must work with all public and private stakeholders to develop a coherent plan to create and manage tourism growth that puts people and communities at its heart, is long term and fact based in its approach, and that results not only in positive impacts for those who host tourists, but also life-enhancing experiences for millions of travellers each year

Gloria Guevara, WTTC President & CEO, said: “Tourism is a force for good in the world. It creates jobs and economic growth. In 2017, Travel & Tourism will contribute nearly $7.9 trillion to the global economy. With the world getting richer – one billion more people will be in the global middle class by 2030 – and travel becoming ever more accessible, our sector will continue to grow. Some places capture a significant share of the Travel & Tourism pie, and may be threatened by their own popularity in environmental, social, or aesthetic terms.

The top 20 country destinations will add more arrivals by 2020 than the rest of the world combined. Where tourism growth is perceived negatively, each destination has a specific set of problems and challenges, but the common factor is that what is needed is long-term planning not short-term knee-jerk reactions. Local tourism managers must work with all public, private, and community stakeholders to develop a coherent plan to create and manage tourism growth.”

Alex Dichter, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company added “Overcrowding is easier to prevent than to recover from and the real lesson from our work is that good management is vital for all tourism destinations. This includes building and updating regularly a comprehensive fact base, conducting rigorous long-term planning, involving all sections of society, and finding new sources of funding for investments in infrastructure and sustainability.

“There is no easy, one size fits all, fix. Once destinations have sorted out the fact base, strategy, stakeholders, and funding, they must then identify and execute practical actions, both for the long- and the short-term“.

Ms Guevara continued “Our intention in producing this report is to provide a starting point for a new conversation around tourism growth, to help all stakeholders work together to find a path forward based on sharing best practice and focusing on sustainable solutions.”


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