Tourism and Covid-19: Over tourism and Covid-19

Many places across the globe that were experiencing over-tourism got temporary relief as covid-19 induced travel restrictions reduced visitor inflows. The problem of over-tourism is not new, and its effects have existed for a long time, from European destinations where residents have loudly voiced their concerns, to Africa, still coping with the weights of tourism. European city destinations where over-tourism is happening were already experiencing a vicious cycle, of anti-tourism protests, mass tourism, and protests repeating itself. Research shows that in East Africa, over-tourism already has psychological, physical, economic, and socio-cultural effects. There is evidence for this in the overload of tourism activities in national parks and a rapid tourism infrastructural growth at the Kenyan coast.

We ran an online poll, to find out if residents in over-tourism destinations likely to resist tourism because of the threat of infections as tourism restarts. The verdict came out with a close call, 46.4% voting Yes, and 53.6% voting No. From results, destinations that faced over-tourism protests may not resent tourism post-COVID-19 even with the threat of infections. Destinations may be looking forward to tourists to return and economic interests may override threat to life as tourism restarts. Because return could be gradual, it may take time to realize over-tourism again. Many of those destinations experiencing over-tourism rely hugely on tourism. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to do away with tourism, and find alternatives to tourism to support destinations.

After this pandemic and unresolved health concerns that define it, resident engagement in these cities should be considered in reopening. It is important to involve stakeholders, particularly residents, in tourism planning. Only this will ensure their buy-in from the beginning. Planning needs a very balanced view of how to transform tourism in a way that it becomes an agent & catalyst of positive change in destinations, with co-benefits at a regional scale. Tourism has a massive opportunity to influence the local economy, and become agents for re-energizing the regionalization and relocalization of production and consumption. The task for planners is to find a way to use planning capacities to meet human needs at local & regional levels, through tourism. Without this, tourism development undermines targets in the goal of achieving sustainable cities. A case in point being the haphazard hotel development at the Kenyan coast contrasted with inadequate housing in the same area.

In tourism, resident communities are important agents for territorializing development. The only way to create global change through tourism is to work with local communities (i.e. residents in tourism destinations). This means that residents do not only lead the process, but their interests also inform decisions in the planning.