From digital crowds to real crowds: the impact of Instagram on overtourism

Marseille’s Calanques, with their stunning landscapes and southern sunshine, attract 3 million visitors every year 4% of the French population and almost three times the population of Marseille.

Since the late 1980s, warnings have been given about the negative impact of this excessive and uncontrolled tourism on the biodiversity of the calanques and on the environment in general, from Marseille to Cassis: soil erosion, disturbance of natural habitats, pollution and degradation of footpaths.

Even if part of tourism is in fact local tourism, it is essential to find solutions to regulate the flows. These solutions involve technology and flow management.

Modern tourism, digitalisation and overtourism

As a result of digitalisation and instagram, specific areas are becoming magnets for tourists, with harmful consequences for residents, the environment and visitors themselves:

  • Nuisance for local residents: noise pollution, increase in the cost of living, deterioration in their quality of life, etc.
  • Environmental impact: ecosystems/biodiversity are weakened and suffer from pollution. In Barcelona, for example, the number of tourist vehicles increases by 15% during the high season, exacerbating traffic jams and pollution.
  • A poorer tourist experience: According to an UNWTO* study, 72% of residents of busy tourist destinations feel that mass tourism has a negative impact on their quality of life.
  • Mobility problems: Transport infrastructures are overloaded, leading to traffic jams and increased pollution. In Santorini, for example, the increase in visitors has caused major congestion problems, prompting the authorities to limit the number of cruise passengers disembarking each day.

Solutions considered

1 Quotas, Regulation and Yield Management

One of the most effective solutions is the introduction of quotas. In Marseille, quotas applied to the Calanques have shown promising results, improving the visitor experience while preserving the environment. Similarly, in 2019, Italy has introduced a quota limiting the number of daily visitors to 25,000 for Venice .

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower is subject to time slots that reduce waiting times by 30%. Since Covid, the introduction of time slots in sites such as museums with high visitor numbers has developed strongly. This makes it possible to spread out demand, and even direct it, thanks to information and differentiated pricing.

2 Technology and digitalization

Technology plays a key role in managing tourist flows. Tools such as Mobility Metrix, which exploit mobility data, help to make travel more fluid and reduce traffic jams.

Start-ups such as Affluences also offer solutions for measuring and displaying tourist flows, enabling us to understand them and optimise customer information.

3 Communication and nudge

Proactive communication and nudges are essential in guiding tourists towards more responsible behaviour. The UNWTO’s « Tourism for Tomorrow » campaign* aims to promote responsible behaviour among tourists, including avoiding peak periods and visiting lesser-known destinations.

4.combined flow and mobility management

An integrated approach is needed to avoid simply shifting congestion problems. For example, diverting tourist flows around the Calanques or Baux-de-Provence could increase CO2 emissions. It is crucial to implement sustainable mobility solutions for efficient flow management, using data to optimise routes and modes of transport.

*WTO: World Tourism Organization

Rodolphe Lenoir, Flavie Picart

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