When one sun lounger lines up seamlessly with the next in the Italian seaside resort of Bibione, when hundreds of people push past each other to visit the Trevi Fountain in Rome or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, ​​when hotels and restaurants in Croatia and Greece are fully booked, then it’s all over again Summer. And with the rising temperatures, something else is also moving in in many places in Europe: mass tourism.

“In many areas of tourism, we are back to the level of 2019 when we look at the tourism key figures,” says tourism researcher Markus Pillmayer from the Munich University of Applied Sciences in an interview with stern. Problems like mass tourism have existed before, but the way we deal with them has changed. The expert is alluding to the many actions by locals who have been taking action against mass tourism in their homeland for some time:

Bali launches tourist guide to curb disrespectful behavior among holidaymakers. In Mallorca there are more and more alcohol-free zones and party bans in order to limit drinking tourism and protect residents. Amsterdam is launching an advertising campaign against British partygoers because they are causing more and more trouble in the city center. Venice is introducing an entry fee for day tourists, Croatia is introducing a tourist tax, and more and more holiday destinations are setting caps for visitors.

And that is just a small selection of the measures. What they all have in common: They are a cry for help. The residents of the tourist hotspots are resisting the masses of travelers who populate their homeland in the summer. Many of them had the faint hope that the pandemic would create a new awareness of travel, that it wouldn’t be the same again.

Instead, we are well on the way back to old times: According to a forecast by the “Federal Competence Center for Tourism”, the volume of travel to and from Germany could already exceed the pre-Corona level in 2024. According to the international airport association ACI, in 2023 the airline industry recorded 95.5 percent of the number of flights in 2019. And despite inflation and war, people’s desire to travel is not waning, on the contrary: surveys repeatedly confirm the great interest in traveling.

For many people, vacation means going to their favorite destination. And for Germans that is often in Spain, Italy, Greece or Turkey. Anyone who books a trip there in high season usually knows that it will be crowded and, if in doubt, stressful. However, many people don’t think about trying another travel destination. “In science we call this the awareness-attitude gap. That means I know that my behavior is wrong or at least questionable, but I do it anyway,” says tourism researcher Pillmayer. Anyone who has always flown to Mallorca will do the same First of all, keep doing it, according to the motto: “It will be fine.”

But it is also true that mass tourism is a complex phenomenon that has many causes. Pillmayer names what he sees as the defining factors: “On the one hand, people globally have more money available for travel. On the other hand, many countries have strictly limited time windows in which international travel is possible.” Carlo Speth, travel expert from the online portal “Urlaubspiraten” also sees the cause primarily in the regulated vacation times: “In Spain and Italy, for example, people can travel especially in July and August, which they also like to do domestically. That makes the popular holiday resorts are also fuller.”

Speth is convinced: We need a European solution for mass tourism. “Spain, Italy and Turkey will continue to be the high performers. This is not only because they are very popular holiday destinations, but also because these countries have the capacity to accommodate large crowds,” says the industry expert. And that’s exactly where you have to start.

Tourism researcher Pillmayer also sees it this way: “The problem in many places that are affected by mass tourism also lies in communication with and the involvement of locals.” It’s about taking the residents with you when decisions are made about the local tourist infrastructure, instead of ruling over their heads. However, there is no blanket solution to mass tourism. “In one case you can actually regulate the flow of visitors via price, in the next it is a quota or other visitor management in the form of digital control.”

However, both experts agree on one point: how mass tourism will develop in the future also depends on the consumers – us travelers. It’s not a question of whether we travel, but rather how we travel. “I think it’s also about creating awareness about consumption. As a traveler, you should ask yourself how you can give something back to the locals,” says Speth. Even with a package holiday, you can make a contribution to local added value by choosing local providers.

What we must not forget, despite all the justified criticism of overcrowded places, is the conflict for many local people. Tourism is often a key economic sector that communities cannot or do not want to do without. “Avoiding a destination completely because there are too many tourists cannot be the solution,” concludes Pillmayer. Instead, tourists need to be made more aware of the world they visit. This is the only way we can approach a more respectful treatment of the locals and the environment. And this is urgently needed.

Tourism researcher Pillmayer makes one thing particularly clear in an interview with stern: “We shouldn’t be naive: mass tourism will always exist in some form.” But it is in the hands of providers, governments and also us travelers ourselves how exactly this form of tourism will affect our global coexistence in the future.”

Sources: Munich University of Applied Sciences, Federal Tourism Competence Center, Airport Association ACI, Urlaubspiraten