Tourism turns into a trap

CHIANG RAI, 9 August 2018: We let the genie out of the bottle and it is not going back.

We wished that all people could travel at the lowest cost and that we could earn a respectable living off the tidal wave of tourists heading in our direction.

For years tourism was the powerhouse of emerging economies and it remains so today across the Asia-Pacific region but at what price?

Now with the threat of ‘overtourism’ we are reminded of the other saying “be careful what you wish for.”

Time’s cover last week showing an overcrowded Venice says it all: “The Tourism Trap.”

Getting the genie back in the bottle is an almost impossible task. For some lucky destination the cork is still firmly in the bottle, more by accident than design.

Laos, Myanmar and to some degree Cambodia could reverse the trend. They still have time to revise their tourism strategies, but it would require some very unpopular legislation.

They may have to reel in easy visa travel and possibly install a minimum daily spend. Limiting flights is another option and introducing capacity ceilings the kind that keeps Bhutan on the safe side of ‘overtourism’ might be an option.

But we are fooling ourselves if we think a few simple tweaks and cosmetic alterations will do the trick. In most cases there is no going back.

For the likes of Thailand and Vietnam the task of cooling the tourism economy is mission impossible.

Tourism is in runaway mode and for what its worth most people like it that way. There is a chance they can improve their livelihood in the wake of a tourism boom and in turn do what others do; splurge on an overseas holiday. Often the people who recommend reeling in tourism are the ones who travel the most. Travel has turned into a life essential. The genie is not going back in the bottle.

Facebook comments following the Time Magazine cover photo reflect deep concerns emerging in travel circles.

Peter Semone
Founder and President at Destination Human Capital Limited.

“Tourism has made the cover of TIME for all the wrong reasons. There is a fine line between tourism ‘benefiting’ and ‘annoying’ communities. I think we can do better, particularly in Asia, if we act now to mitigate the dark side of tourism.”

Bruce Northam
Author and travel writer New York.

“I think this trend will only get worse… no stalling or reversal possible.”

Jaffee Yee
Founder Knowledge Media Group.

“I am getting very worried about what the Laos government can do to control the sudden influx of Chinese tourist from mainland China in four years, or 2022, when the high speed train service Kunming to Luang Prabang starts.”

Shahram Saber
Marketing consultant travel and tourism.

“Annoying” does not describe the conundrum, more like “destabilising” local communities with a clear impact on culture and way of life. Venice is a clear example… Locals can’t buy properties when competing with foreign money; the city sinks under the weight of tourism (literally); houses on grand canal left empty and in the dark as their owners (short term tourists) live elsewhere; commodity prices increase beyond what locals can afford; resentment grows (tourist behaviour adds fuel to the fire), local anti-tourism groups are formed and no solution in sight…… The tourism industry must address this challenge urgently.”

Anna Pollock
Founder at Conscious Travel, UK.

“I don’t understand why you are surprised – just look at the numbers, the rate of growth, the untapped potential for more. The tourism industry knew how to turn it on, and in some case even direct its flow – well just a little bit; but never studied or perfected how to turn it off. I am not suggesting that the current market shouldn’t travel either – we’re now facing a wicked problem and time we invested some serious energy in addressing it.”


  1. Andrew is absolutely correct, volume can always be controlled by price.
    For all its huffing and puffing, Thailand gave in to the “pile it high, sell it cheap” mentality years ago, went for the quick and easy money, and look what has happened.
    If they want to have a long term, sustainable, quality Tourism Product, one can only hope that Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos will not submit to the Siren call of volume and quick, easy money.
    I have for some years now, regarded Thailand as the “Spain” of South East Asia. The inexpensive entry point for a holiday in South East Asia but a destination that has substantially allowed many of its international Tourism Destinations to degrade to the point where there is very little prospect of experiencing an “authentic” Travel experience.
    Controlling volume by setting minimum spend requirements helps to control the volume and “type” of Visitors, but as with Bhutan, can result in some very rich Ground Handlers providing low cost accommodation and pocketing the difference.

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