.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Environment

'Overtourism' and the state's push to spread the love

ITMo Thumbnail Template.jpg
Joshua Haiar
/
SDPB

The interview above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

CREST-staff-kelsey-frenkiel-1.png
Kelsey Frenkiel

What happens when you invite millions of people to visit your travel destination and millions of people take you up on your offer?

Tourism is one of South Dakota's top economic engines. Welcoming visitors is part of our identity. And it's part of our frustration as well. We bemoan the wear and tear on roads, parks, trails, and habitats.

The state tourism department is launching a new strategic plan that aims, in part, to spread the love across the state in our visitor industry. This month we're exploring that strategic plan and how tourism impacts our lives.

We begin with the concept of what's known as "overtourism" and solutions for ethical and sustainable travel.

Our guest is Kelsey Frenkiel. She's Director of Operations & Programs at the Center for Responsible Travel and coauthor of the book "Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future."

The following transcript was autogenerated.

Lori Walsh:

Overtourism and responsible travel — that's kind of your thing. How big of a challenge or problem is it really across the globe?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

In tourism, we look at international tourist arrivals, so that's the number of travelers crossing borders every year. And in the 1950s, you had maybe 25 million people crossing orders internationally. In 2019, this number was 1.4 billion. So this has been a huge increase in the modern era and it's absolutely exploded. These numbers are obviously way down because of COVID, but they don't account for domestic travelers. And I think that's something you're seeing in South Dakota and across the US as well — a huge explosion in domestic travelers as people are craving access to the outdoors and have more flexibility in their schedules.

Lori Walsh:

Do people have more money to travel? What is driving it? It's more popular? Social media? Do you have any indication of what is the driving force behind the great adventure spirit that we have?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

Yeah, it's a lot of things. Disposable income. The increase in the availability of a short-term rentals is a big one as well.

And that's actually leading to a lot of issues in the housing market.

People, as I said, have the ability to work remotely more often these days because of COVID, so they have more flexibility in their schedules. Social media drives a lot of it as well. A lot of people are looking to get that perfect selfie, that perfect photo that they've seen on social media. The rise of hashtags matters too — letting everyone know where they're taking these photos from, so it's much more easier to identify these places.

Lori Walsh:

All right. So we measure things how? Because sometimes we measure how many visitors came, how much money did they spend, what was the impact of this? All as part of our plan to be more welcoming and more hospitable to people. Those are some of the metrics. What happens when we just measure with those metrics and don't look at some of the other impacts?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

That's so insightful. Many destinations still use, like I was talking about before, arrivals as their metric to shape their tourism policy. So they'll say, "We want to reach one million visitors in 2022." They'll also use contribution to GDP as one of their metrics. But it's not really a sustainable strategy, and it doesn't paint the full picture of what's really going on.

Knowing how much tourism contributes to the economy is great, but where is that money actually going? Is it going to local businesses run by people who actually live and work in the state, or is it going to international companies that are headquartered elsewhere? Does it show many local people were employed by tourism, and are they making a livable wage?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

The way that I like to look at this is these metrics aren't just good to have. We want people to make a liveable wage. They're must-haves for a sustainable tourism industry. When we don't prioritize economic benefit for individuals living and working in the state, you get a situation like we're in today when there aren't enough people actually working in the industry, and we have a labor shortage.

Lori Walsh:

Is this all kinds of places? Is it rural places, urban places, national parks? Does it impact different destinations across the board, or are there some areas that are more vulnerable than others?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

I would say across the board. Even before COVID. The book that we compiled really looks at different types of destinations all over the world. So World Heritage Sites, national parks, protected areas, beaches, historic cities. And this was going on in places like Barcelona and Venice, where residents were so fed up with tourists that residents were going to the streets and protesting and saying, "Tourists, go home." So this isn't a unique situation.

The other thing to think about is every place, every destination, has a different social, economic and natural carrying capacity. So some places are more sensitive than others. Think about a place like the Galapagos, that really can't handle too many people coming in at once.

Kelsey Frenkiel:

I would say if we're trying to think about places that are more vulnerable, really just places that don't have good policy or management in place. A good example of how this works is DMOs, so destination marketing organizations. I think in your state, it's called Travel South Dakota.

These have traditionally focused on marketing, but we're trying to push for more DMOs to focus on not only marketing but also management or what we call destination stewardship. So a really good example of this is Travel Oregon. They go way beyond just marketing and actually do workshops with the communities, helping them envision what type of tourism they want. They provide virtual training for businesses. They do a ton of research on visitors, economic impacts. Even the impacts that have increased wildfire. Things like that.

Lori Walsh:

Interesting. All right, so ideas and strategies and creative solutions. That's one solution, the education component. Is there a way to spread things out to other places, and what does diversification or dispersal look like?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

That's a strategy a lot of destinations are using. I would caution any destination that's looking to disperse visitors into less populated, less visited areas, and making sure they're actually working with the communities in those areas to develop a tourism product that works for them, because you don't want to have a situation where you're sending visitors to places where there isn't infrastructure to support them and locals aren't really prepared for it. So that's really important to think about as well.

Lori Walsh:

Other interesting solutions that you have seen, other creative solutions that people are trying that deal with that technology aspect of things as well?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

One thing that we've seen a few places in the US do is actually advocate for the use of a statewide hashtag around responsible travel and stewardship, and advising people to not use hashtags indicating the place where they're at, so that it becomes a more general... an opportunity for people to travel around the state and not just to these one, two or three hotspots that everyone goes to.

Kelsey Frenkiel:

Another strategy involves ordinances and regulations on short-term rentals. We've seen this in Hawaii for example. You can always limit the number of visitors, obviously. If you're looking at a national park, reservation systems, things like that. But we also want to think about, if we're going to limit the number of visitors, how we're doing this in an equitable way and still ensuring that we're giving a good number of people access and the ability to share these wonderful spaces that we all care about.

Lori Walsh:

For those of us here in South Dakota who also like to travel (in our own state of course) but also in other places, what are some things that we need to think about before we hop on that plane, or pack up the car, about traveling responsibly in ways that we hadn't perhaps considered before?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

I would say, first and foremost, with the situation we're in today, make sure to check what the COVID numbers are looking like where you're traveling and just make sure you're not contributing to a problem.

Look and see if overcrowding has been an issue, and if there're precautionary measures in place. You can always consider traveling during shoulder season, or on off-seasons, or even visiting similar but less popular places that are a little off the beaten track.

I would say always, always, always think about where you're putting your money, right? So spending your money on locally owned hotels, restaurants, local guides. Making reservations ahead of time. Looking up if there's any regulations on short-term rentals and make sure that you're abiding by them.

Kelsey Frenkiel:

I would say, just first and foremost, really travel with respect and with patience. Because of the pandemic and the labor shortage that we've had, there's been an increase in wait times, and a lot of residents are feeling increasingly disrespected by the people that are visiting. So as you're traveling, just remember that we've all had a tough past couple of years and that we're all still recovering, and really treat the place you're visiting like it's someone's home, and like the locals are your hosts.

Lori Walsh:

Any places you like to travel that have been favorite destinations? Where do you like to go, Kelsey?

Kelsey Frenkiel:

I like to advocate for traveling a little closer to home. I live in Washington D.C. So I like looking at the place where I live in through the eyes of a tourist. What are the opportunities for tourists to give back and support this place I love?

Shenandoah National Park is close to home for me as well, so that's a place I love to visit, always making sure that I'm paying the appropriate fees and parking in the right place. So it's easy to be a good traveler as long as you're doing your research and following all of the rules and regulations, and making sure you're giving back when there's an opportunity.

Lori Walsh:

The research is half the fun of the trip. The anticipation!

Kelsey Frenkiel:

Exactly.

Lori Walsh:

So it's worth it to think about it with care and consideration. Our guest has been Kelsey Frenkiel, director of operations and programs at the Center for Responsible Travel. We'll put a link up to their website on our website, and that book she mentioned is called "Overtourism: Lessons For a Better Future." Kelsey, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Kelsey Frenkiel:

Thank you so much, Lori. Have a good one.