Published on 29 May 2024

Explainer: More travel hot spots are imposing surcharges to curb overtourism. What does this mean for travellers?

  • Several cities home to tourist hot spots have recently imposed crowd-control measures
  • These were typically in the form of surcharges or visitor restrictions
  • They were a response to backlash from residents or concerns of environmental impact arising from overtourism
  • One analyst believes that surcharges and restrictions in the short term might become more commonplace
  • However, bigger efforts such as proper master planning and education are required to address the issue of overtourism in the long term

SINGAPORE — In recent weeks, several cities around the world that are popular with tourists have introduced steps to deal with the issue of overtourism, typically in response to backlash by the resident population.

Some cities in Europe, for example, saw people staging protests and putting up signs telling tourists that they are not welcome.

In response, governments have implemented surcharges, welcomed tourists only on certain days, or temporarily disallowed them altogether.

The Italian city of Venice in late April began trialling a reservation-and-fee system, where visitors need to pay a token €5 (S$7.30) to enter the city on certain peak days, to mitigate damage arising from overtourism.

In Japan, a town put up a large mesh at a viewing spot for Mount Fuji to curtail the growing congregation of foreign visitors who litter, trespass and break traffic rules in the area. The number of hikers on the most popular route up the mountain will also be capped this summer to ease congestion.

TODAY takes a closer look at the problem of overtourism and asks analysts whether such fees and restrictions are effective. And if overtourism becomes a long-term problem, will travellers have to keep paying more?


In its simplest terms, overtourism happens when there is an excess of visitors to a destination to the extent that the benefits of tourism are overshadowed by its harm.

The harm can come in the form of inconveniences to residents due to congestion, strain on infrastructure or even damage to the physical environment by misbehaving tourists, for example.

Mr Christopher Khoo, the managing director of tourism consultancy MasterConsult Services, observed that "there were already clanging alarm bells" about overtourism in the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On what is causing the problem to rear its ugly head in more recent times, analysts pointed to a pent-up demand owing to travel restrictions during the pandemic, as well as growing affluence.

This is further enabled by airlines increasing their capacity to popular destinations to cater to this demand, another analyst said.

Mr Joshua Loh, course chair of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s diploma in tourism and resort management course, added: “As airlines have added more regular flight services, the greater accessibility has made it increasingly convenient for tourists to visit these destinations.”

He also said that some people may have “more accumulated disposable income” to splurge on travelling now, since they were unable to do so during the pandemic.

Tourism geographer Zhang Jiajie said that the “growing middle class” in the Asian region is also expected to further boost tourist numbers.

The assistant professor from the National Institute of Education (NIE) with the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said that interest in certain places has been partially contributed by influencers on social media channels, “combined with the fear-of-missing-out mentality”.

One example he gave was the Liziba monorail train station in Chongqing, China, which was built in the middle floor of a 19-storey building. 

The station was built in the early 2000s, but the sight of the trains cutting through the building has become the subject of several viral videos in recent years.


The experts said that charging extra fees on tourists alone is generally not effective as a deterrent. This is because the amount is usually not “overly onerous” on tourists, particularly those travelling long haul who are prepared to spend big for their trips.

However, the charges can still be beneficial since the money can be channelled into maintaining and conserving popular tourist destinations, or to generate income for the resident population.

Mr Loh of Ngee Ann Polytechnic said that limiting the number of visitors may not be popular but it may be “necessary”, especially to protect more environmentally fragile or culturally sensitive destinations.

“Having a sensible cap on the number of visitors together with a strong maintenance regime can ensure the viability of these areas for the long term,” he added.

Dr Wong King Yin, senior lecturer of marketing at Nanyang Business School in NTU, pointed out that where such fees and restrictions come in handy in destination management is in the pre-registration process involved.

“The pre-registration process can help the destination have a better idea on the flow of tourists and whether the number of visitors might exceed the capacity.”

Dr Wong is also deputy director at the Nanyang Centre for Marketing and Technology at NTU.

He added that regardless of the measures taken, the rationale must be sufficiently communicated to potential visitors.

“Without clear explanations of why your city is charging extra fee or imposing restrictions, visitors including those high-quality ones who could bring more benefits than harms to the destination might feel unwelcomed and choose other destinations that welcome them.”

Asst Prof Zhang from NIE said that imposing extra fees may also lead to unintended effects.

“Such fees may inculcate a ‘pay to pollute’ mentality among tourists, something similar to the criticism faced by the carbon credit market.”

The bottomline, the analysts said, is that such measures may work only in the short term and would be more effective when coupled with more comprehensive measures.


The analysts generally agreed that tourist numbers will only rise further.

Whether overtourism will become a long-term problem remains anyone's guess, although those such as Mr Khoo from MasterConsult Services said that consciousness towards the resident environment in tourism is here to stay.

"Tour operators, airlines, attractions and even restaurants are all trumpeting their green credentials to attract the discerning and socially conscious consumers. And it will only become more pronounced and important in the years ahead."

This may manifest in the form of restrictions such as limiting visitor numbers and hours, or imposing surcharges that are "a quick way" to stem the flow of travellers, Mr Khoo added.

Dr Kevin Cheong, managing partner of tourism and destination development consultancy Syntegrate, believes that surcharges and restrictions might become more commonplace.

"We should expect more of such things because the examples have been set already and other people experiencing overtourism might consider these penalties or surcharges," he said.

As a result of this, tourists may not only see a rise in travelling costs, but tour companies, for example, may adjust their packages and include alternative places that offer similar experiences without being subject to surcharges or visitor restrictions, he added.

Overall, the experts foresee that popular destinations may likely come up with more comprehensive longer-term measures.

One way is by looking into digital solutions such as mobile applications that give tourists real-time information of crowd levels at popular spots.

Asst Prof Zhang from NIE suggested using technology to allow would-be visitors to experience the attraction without being physically there.

“I recently travelled to Kinmen, Taiwan and observed how the Kinmen National Park managed visitor numbers to the popular blue-tailed bee-eater watching spots — by providing live coverage of the bird’s habitat on its website for free,” he said. 

“People can stay in the comfort of their homes while experiencing birdwatching online.”

Taking a bigger-picture view, Dr Wong from NTU suggested that countries may want to increase marketing efforts for people to visit less popular spots, in order to better spread the crowd.

“Many influencers and key opinion leaders nowadays like to explore less-known areas and attractions for their audience. And many followers like such less-crowded recommendations,” he said.

In the long run, problems arising from overtourism can be better managed through various stakeholders working together and putting in place measures such as public education, proper master planning and requiring all new tourism projects to undergo environmental assessment studies, Mr Loh of Ngee Ann Polytechnic said.

“The stakeholders will need to work closely together to restore the balance whereby tourism not only generates economic benefits for the destination, but also helps to regenerate, rather than degrade, the environment and the local community.”

Source: TODAYOnline © Mediacorp Pte Ltd. All rights reserved. 

Read the original article here