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The end of over tourism?

When our role in nature changes from a local to a hiker or a tourist? Does it change when we cross the border of a country or a municipality? When a local becomes a tourist and when “just” a hiker? It is totally philosophical question, but with the over tourism era in parks and other natural heritage spots this question needs to be addressed to manage destinations which focus on nature as their main product.

Lake Bohinj this winter. Slovenia.

The pandemic of Covid-19 has severely damaged the touristic industry. The forecasts are far from optimistic, but national tourist organisations are not sleeping – I can say for sure for Slovenian one – and they proactively promote the Slovenian No1 advantage: pristine nature. Almost two thirds of the country is covered with forests, 58% of the country are areas of special interests (56% – Natura 2000, protected areas, natural beauty, etc.) Natura 2000 sites cover about 37% of the county’s territory.

Before the pandemic our main question was how to manage protected areas against over tourism. Sustainable development has been the main strategy but still on local level we confronted with (too) many visitors which brought negative impact on nature and local community. Bus transfers, park & ride areas, higher prices parking fees and penalties for those who don’t respect the rules were the most common actions of sustainable development on local level. I know, it sounds strange, but that is the reality when you are already in a phase of overtourism.

Strategies and action plans crashed into new reality with the beginning of the year 2020 – a year with a much bigger error than just 404. After the first phase of the pandemic countries are slowly opening borders for tourists. There is a lot of questions which can be answered just with the monitoring of people’s behaviour. But still, has the pandemic ended over tourism? Now, we question how to bring tourists back and the “old” question how to limit the number of tourists is forgotten.

That doesn’t mean that the problem has disappeared. Even more: we already have facts that over tourism is still going on – yesterday the main road to mountain Golica had to be closed due to too many hikers who are visiting the area in the most beautiful time of the year when daffodils are blooming. That is just one side of the story. On the other side we have many guiding agency (hiking, mountaineering, climbing, mountain biking etc.) that are confronted with zero income – of course the majority of their customers are foreign tourists. Some of them focused on workshops, but still that doesn’t fill in the missing income of guided tours.

Over tourism is a side effect no matter how much tourist organisations work on sustainable development. It can be limited and managed just with education and positive reinforcement and rules that are not forced and executed with penalties. All species on our planet always look for their advantages – we, humans, don’t differentiate from others in this intention. There is always a small percentage of people who don’t follow the rules no matter what, but the mainstream can be managed with positive reinforcement and efficient communication of benefits – for us and for the nature!

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