Over-Tourism in Post-Pandemic Asia: Navigating the Travel Boom

Unveiling the Undercurrents: Navigating Over-Tourism in Post-Pandemic Asia

 The Post-Pandemic Tourism Landscape
As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry is experiencing a resurgence. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projects that international tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, with a 2% growth above 2019 figures. While this recovery is encouraging, it challenges managing over-tourism, particularly in popular Asian destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

Thailand's Phuket, for example, now hosts 118 tourists for every resident, straining local resources and threatening cultural and environmental integrity. The pandemic highlighted the importance of crowd management and hygiene practices, but the rush to recover economic losses has led to a swift abandonment of these measures. Social media and the phenomenon of "FOMO" (fear of missing out) further fuel this rapid increase in tourism.

Unveiling the Underlying Factors of Over-Tourism in Asia
Several factors are poised to perpetuate and exacerbate over-tourism in Asia:

1. AI in Social Media Market Analysis
The role of artificial intelligence in social media is growing, with the market projected to reach USD 7.25 billion by 2029. AI tools can understand travel desires, decision-making processes, and behavioural patterns, shaping travel intentions and fostering brand loyalties. This AI-induced tourism presents both opportunities and challenges for destination management.

2. Visa Liberalization in Asia
Visa liberalisation initiatives, particularly between China and Southeast Asia, reshape tourism dynamics. While more open visa policies can boost tourism, they also raise concerns about the carrying capacities of vulnerable destinations. For example, Malaysia's 2024 plans for visa liberalisation aim to leverage tourism for economic gains, necessitating careful management to prevent over-tourism.

3. Continued Growth of Low-Cost Carriers in Asia
The growth of low-cost carriers (LCCs) in Asia democratises air travel, making it accessible to a broader demographic. However, the proliferation of new routes targeting smaller cities challenges the management of tourism flows. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to demand almost 13,000 more aeroplanes over the next two decades, underscoring the need for sustainable tourism management.

Recommendations Moving Forward
Addressing over-tourism requires a multifaceted approach:

1. Recognise the Reality of Coexisting Pressures
Balancing the desire for exploration and economic stability with responsible travel behaviour is crucial. Both tourists' immediate needs and destinations' long-term sustainability must be addressed.

2. Set Realistic, Micro-Level Goals
Develop localised goals tailored to individual destinations' unique social, cultural, and economic contexts. This allows for targeted interventions that are responsive to specific challenges.

3. Cultivate Organic Mindset Shifts
Foster collaboration between governments, tourism operators, and local communities through education, awareness-building, and experiential learning. Encourage individuals to understand the personal implications of their actions on broader societal impacts.

Promoting responsible travel behaviour and sustainable tourism practices is complex but necessary. Emphasising realistic, micro-level goals and cultivating organic mindset shifts can lead to meaningful and lasting change. Through ongoing education and awareness-building, we can navigate the challenges of over-tourism and ensure a sustainable future for travel in Asia.

Associate Professor Dr Daniel Chong Ka Leong
School of Hospitality and Service Management
Email: @email

This article was first published in Business Today, 16 February 2024.