What is overtourism?
Overtourism has become a catchall term for the oversaturation of a neighborhood, region, or city with tourists. Just when a place hits this critical tipping point is up for debate, but we can all agree it is a growing concern, a blight that undermines the quality of life for locals and erodes the character of the places we want to see. It creates ugly dynamics that can make beautiful cities feel uninhabitable and meaningful interactions between natives and visitors impossible.
What to do about this growing problem?
Untours focus on sending people off the beaten tourist track. Part of this strategy takes us to small towns in places like Germany and Switzerland, and to farmhouses in Tuscany, where owners receive government subsidies if they continue to farm the land, rather than convert their farms to resorts.
We try to conduct business in a way that benefits the local communities where we send our guests. We favor local owners and direct contracts with local people. We encourage our guests to shop local and small, and to honor each region’s culture and conservation practices.
Also, we like to base Untours in well placed cities that are in the shadow of more popular and touristed ones: Ideally, these are smaller towns or cities that offer access to the desirable city but have a more laid back feel, a rich local life, and are a springboard for day trips throughout the region.
Here are some of our Untours that use this strategy.
We base our Dutch Untour in Leiden instead of Amsterdam. Leiden is a charming university town laced with canals and full of life. With a weekly market, a handful of impressive museums, and a nice spread of shops and restaurants, it’s a friendly and central alternative to Amsterdam. Guests can easily access Amsterdam’s museums and a dozen other cities by rail while sidestepping the red light district and pot culture of tourist Amsterdam.
We have chosen Kenmare over Killarney for our Ireland Untour, hosting our guests in a quaint town just off of the very popular ring of Kerry. The location is well placed for exploration of the Iveragh and Dingle Peninsulas, along with the lesser known Beara Peninsula. Untourists use rental cars or hired drivers to access some of the more far flung villages on the Ring of Kerry that buses can’t reach and have easy access to Killarney National Park without all the tourist baggage of Killarney itself.
Our Greek Untour is set in Nafplio instead of Athens. The city is big enough to absorb its visitors, more so than some of Greece’s popular island escapes. Yet Nafplio’s old town is intimate enough that over a week’s stay, you can chat with its merchants and become regulars at its cafes. The new town is compelling, if not quaint. The town offers the perfect escape from Athens traffic and crowds and great access to the villages and archeological sites of the Peleponese.
These programs are one model to address the growing problem of overtourism. But the democratization of travel holds promise for all, and we all want and deserve to see the wonders and landmarks of big cities.
We find ourselves answering that demand, setting up in bigger, more popular cities like Venice, Barcelona, and Paris, where we face challenges. Sending our guests to stay there in real neighborhoods, connecting them with locals, and booking them for a week at a time, we hope to give them an authentic experience and one that does not disrupt the flow of these cities.
But more on big city overtourism in another blog. Subscribe to get our second installment in an ongoing series that examines the perils, complexity, and responsibilities of travel in the current age.