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Jun. 5, 2020 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
COVID-19: Letter: NOTL needs to act fast to curb 'overtourism'

Dear editor:

When will Niagara-on-the-Lake, and in particular Old Town, reach a saturation point for tourism – or are we there now?

Are we, as we continue to promote more tourism by building more hotels (Randwood) and accommodation for tourists, attempting to pour 100 gallons into a 50-gallon container?

I lived in the United States for many years, nine of which were spent in East Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo. 

Friends and associates visited NOTL regularly, enjoyed a leisurely stroll along Queen Street, had lunch or dinner, visited The Shaw, etc.

Today they have either stopped visiting or do so infrequently. Visits are too stressful. 

Queen Street, they say, is overcrowded and looks like an elbow-to-elbow contact sport, much like leaving a Buffalo Bills or Sabres game. Are we already driving visitors away?

Residents have already seen their quality of life affected – the town has changed and not always for the good.

NOTL is not the only town, city or country experiencing a backlash to tourism overcrowding.

The tourism industry coined the official phrase for this phenomenon: "overtourism."

It describes a situation in which a tourism destination exceeds its carrying capacity or saturation point, in both physical and psychological terms.

It results in a deterioration of the tourist experience for either the visitor or residents or both. For example, my friends from the Greater Buffalo area.

Witness also the current protests against cruise ships in Venice after a crash in 2019. Certain areas of the city are off limits to visitors.

Bruges, Belgium, is limiting the number of cruise ships. The Taj Mahal has increased prices and set limits on how long people can stay. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are limiting tours. New Zealand has introduced new taxes targeting visitors (a note to our local council, chamber and tourism board).

In Thailand, Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi Leh Island, made famous by the  movie "The Beach," is closed altogether due to overcrowding.

These are the tip of the iceberg and residents worldwide are protesting at popular tourist destinations, must-see bucket list hot spots. 

We see it here in NOTL.

Tourism is the lifeblood of NOTL and we all must be cognizant of the fact that, left unattended and addressed, the history of tourism teaches us it has a natural regression to tourist overcrowding.

Solving overcrowding is a hugely complex issue and is all too often oversimplified. As they say, it is way beyond my pay grade, however, there are expert consultants in this field who model short- and long-term visions, plans and solutions in concert with community leaders.

We should seriously consider and take action on these matters. We need to act before it is too late.

Samuel Young