Call to define tourism limits

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
A line should be drawn under what is an acceptable number of tourists visiting Queenstown in order to manage overtourism, researchers say.

That limit should be determined by the host community, rather than environmental constraints, and could be quite a tricky figure to come up with.

The researchers from the University of Otago’s tourism department were invited by the Swiss-based World Tourism Forum Lucerne to be one of 15 groups of researchers in a global comparative case study into overtourism.

Overtourism is a collective term for many different forms of tourism problems but it is often used to describe too many visitors at a particular destination.

Dr Julia Albrecht, Dr Susan Houge MacKenzie and Hannah Parsons suggested Queenstown for the research project as it was home to 39,200 residents, but on a typical day visitor numbers could increase the population to about 70,000 and during peak season to about 110,000.

Peak day populations are forecast to hit 150,000 by 2024.

Dr Houge MacKenzie said they looked at different social, economic and environmental indicators of overtourism, such as residents’ negative comments about tourists in the council ‘‘quality of life’’ surveys, the cost of a cup of coffee across the district and the variation in the price of accommodation.

They found the main challenges Queenstown faced from increasing tourist numbers was the strain on local infrastructure and resident resentment of traffic and parking issues, the cost of housing, airport expansion and freedom camping problems.

They also found the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s approach to the region’s rapid growth, including community consultation initiatives and data gathering, was best practice in establishing baseline social and environmental indicators in the region.

However, Dr Albrecht said further research into the community’s responses to the perception of overtourism was needed.

"It would be very, very valuable at some point in the future to know what are the thresholds of acceptability for overtourism because that would give planners and managers in the tourist destination an idea of where to draw the line and it may well be that these lines need to be drawn at different numbers (for different destinations)."

Rather than having an absolute number limit, it was better to look at ratios of tourists to residents, she said.

"I also think that the reason why there is never going to be such a number is that we have to keep in mind that all of the destination communities that we look at are to a certain extent economically dependent on tourism.

"Therefore, we will always have a group of residents with very strong vested interests in tourism and they would always be pushing for a different number than, for example, the second-home owners or, most importantly perhaps, the local population that do not stand to benefit from tourism in an economic sense at all."

The group recommended future council monitoring include the visitor experience, local tensions, perceptions of overcrowding and psychological (ill-being) issues related to overtourism.

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