Thi Hieu Nguyen is one of the four candidates of the Ecotourism Australia – University of Queensland PhD scholarships, working on the topic of overtourism. We asked her why she chose this topic, whether overtourism is really an issue in a place like Australia and how our members can get involved in her research.
EA: Why were you interested in the topic of overtourism for your PhD?
THN: I love travelling and discovering new cultures and new places. I love to see scenic beauty, historic sites and observe wildlife. I also love meeting local people and hearing stories directly from passionate local residents. However, when I visited some destinations recently, I felt concerned and unhappy because the number of people created traffic congestion, long queues at entry gates and restaurants, increased noise and even more litter. As a curious person, I wish to understand the nature of ‘overtourism’ and contribute to addressing it.
EA: Is overtourism a big problem in Australia?
THN: Australian tourism destinations have not faced significant overtourism like that which occurs in European cities (like Venice and Barcelona). However, many destinations such as Kangaroo Island, Philip Island, Byron Bay and Tasmania have been reported as having the initial symptoms of overtourism. A tourism-related backlash has resulted at some destinations. For instance, thousands of Tasmanian citizens protested a proposed cable car for Mount Wellington near Hobart. I think if we do not have appropriate responses now, the issue will become more serious at many destinations, particularly after COVID-19, when the demand for Australia-based travel may be much higher than before and domestic tourists flock to nature-based destinations.
EA: What impact does overtourism have on the visitor experience?
THN: The common symptoms of overtourism are overcrowding and service worker stress, and the consequent anti-tourist backlash. Queues, crowding, traffic congestion or simply annoyance at large numbers of people can reduce tourists’ enjoyment of destinations, and also impact on the quality of life of local residents. Tourists are potential losers here, because of the anti-tourism sentiment which may lead to poor service, hostility and locals’ refusal to interact with tourists.
EA: What other impacts can overtourism have on local residents?
THN: A number of adverse effects on locals’ lives, livelihoods and lifestyles may result from overtourism due to locals’ loss of a sense of belonging to community, higher costs of living, restrictions on locals for access to services, increases in privatisation of public spaces, along with traffic congestion, noise pollution, inappropriate visitor behaviour, crime and vandalism, and so forth. In many cities, such as Venice, Barcelona, and Dubrovnik, tourists displace local residents and locals move to other places to escape the tourist influx. Overtourism together with commodification may also impact on the maintenance and authenticity of locals’ cultures and traditions.
EA: What is your plan for researching overtourism in Australia?
THN: I am now scoping my research and selecting my research case study – a nature-based destination that has been documented with symptoms of overtourism. I plan to explore the process whereby local residents at a nature-based tourism destination make their decisions regarding tourism development. My research will investigate the influence of overtourism on local people’s quality of life from the perspective of the local people, using a qualitative data collection methodology. I aim to ask how local people behave and cope with the effects of tourism and overtourism and investigate what factors impact on their decisions regarding behavioural responses and actions. I hope that my research will not only fill the gap in research on tourism in protected areas but also contribute to the sustainability of nature-based tourism in Australia.
EA: Will there be a way for Ecotourism Australia members to get involved in your research?
THN: The involvement and support of Ecotourism Australia members is very important for my research. For the first stage of my PhD candidature, I hope that EA members can help me to identify suitable research sites and provide relevant contacts to help me prepare for field work in 2021. EA members may also become participants in my fieldwork. I also hope EA members can give me their comments on my research design and my study findings to ensure the practical application and usefulness of my findings.
[Header image: Venice by Margarit Ralev / FreeImages.com]