Tourism’s “Invisible Burden”: Major new report

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The Travel Foundation has partnered with Cornell University and EplerWood International to analyse how the more damaging impacts of tourism’s rapid growth – the “invisible burden” – can be better understood and managed globally.

After decades of steady growth, international tourist numbers surpassed 1 billion for the first time in 2012. The report shows that destinations across the world are not prepared for the unprecedented demands this has placed on them, leading to alarming reports of overtourism. With growth set to continue exponentially, reaching 1.8 billion tourists by 2030, a global crisis is looming.

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While overtourism is an important symptom, the use of vital natural, social and public assets without recompense is highlighted as the core of the problem.  The report suggests that, wherever it exists, tourism places an “invisible burden” on destinations and their residents. The invisible burden leaves inadequate revenue to provide a sustainable foundation to manage the rapid growth of tourism worldwide.

Examples of the invisible burden of tourism include the costs of:

  • expanding local infrastructure to meet growing tourism needs;
  • high demand for scarce land and valuable urban resources;
  • managing increased exposure to climate change risks, especially with coastal tourism; and
  • protecting historic public spaces and monuments.

It’s clear that the failure to properly account for the full cost of tourism growth is preventing action. Therefore, new accounting mechanisms are necessary to protect the very assets on which national economies and businesses worldwide depend.

The report explores innovations in both policy and finance to manage the invisible burden of tourism. It makes a case for public-private cooperation in the design of data-driven mechanisms for managing, monitoring and financing destinations worldwide.

The analysis began with in-depth interviews with academic, business, and global experts and a roundtable at Cornell University. It was followed up with research into current academic and case literature and sustainability studies from relevant fields such as urban planning, protected area management, environmental economics, and the digital economy.

The report will be published in March 2019.