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After a summer marked by anti-tourism protests from Venice to Barcelona and growing industrywide concern about the issue of overtourism, Intrepid has announced a slate of new offerings that draw visitors to lesser-known destinations.
Among the new options Intrepid will be promoting in 2018 are places such as Moldova, Poland's Tatra Mountains, Belarus, Finland and Cyprus.
During a telephone interview with TravelPulse, Leigh Barnes, Intrepid's North America director, said that overtourism has profoundly altered the lives of locals in some places around the globe and the issue has reached a tipping point.
"Having huge volumes of people visiting has changed the dynamic, impacting the locals in a negative way and that's a problem," said Barnes.
Among the remedies that travelers may soon start to see, according to Barnes, are governments taking a more aggressive regulatory approach, including capping the number of people allowed to visit a destination during a given time period while also increasing taxes on visitations.
He also predicted more tour companies will start to step up and address the problem.
The need for the industry to play a role will be essential, as tourism is not going away. Quite the opposite, it is growing by dramatic margins. Intrepid alone has seen a 50 percent increase in North American bookings to Europe this year, and 52 percent of Americans plan to visit in the next two years.
"We've got to self-regulate, and there needs to be government intervention as well," said Barnes.
At least in the short term, the travel industry can promote lesser known destinations beyond iconic offerings such as Paris, Barcelona and Venice.
Thus, Intrepid identified a slate of countries that it felt would be well served by being put on the radar of global travelers.
"[Moldova] only receives about 120,000 visitors annually," Barnes said. "That's about the same amount Croatia sees every three days. It could really benefit from tourism. It's got very interesting wine, interesting architecture and it could use tourism dollars to help it develop."
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization's latest World Tourism Barometer, Moldova is not only the least visited country in Europe, it is one of the least visited in the world.
Intrepid's decision to offer trips to Poland's Tatra Mountains is a way to take the strain off of the Alps. The Tatra Mountains have been described as the new paradise for skiers and winter adventurers: Many travelers have started skipping the Alps altogether.
Visiting this breathtaking region will soon be easier than ever, as Air Baltic recently announced it will begin offering additional flights to Warsaw during 2018.
As for Finland, Barnes said the country has not suffered from the same overtourism that Iceland has, with travel to the country increasing only about two percent since 2016. A visit to Finland with Intrepid can include displays of the northern lights, sharing a meal with a local family and being pulled on the back of a dog sled.
Intrepid is also promoting Cyprus as an alternative to the already overburdened destination of Croatia (which until recently was an up and coming option). Cyprus is considered one of the Mediterranean's last frontiers as a holiday destination. It's a place known for having a culture all its own, with an eclectic modern and ancient history.
Barnes also talked of showcasing popular countries differently.
In Iceland, Intrepid has begun offering adventure cruising in order to take people to alternative parts of the country, which has witnessed a record growth in visitors during recent years thanks to budget air carriers. Intrepid's cruises, all of which are carbon offset cruises, also serve to take pressure off the country's land resources, said Barnes.
As for the long term, the travel industry must continue to identify ways to offer tourism responsibly, both in the already well-known cities and countries, and also those that may suddenly find themselves in the spotlight as alternatives.
"I think there are really strong benefits that come with tourism," said Barnes. "But we need to look at managing it when it becomes too much. It's about responsible tourism."
Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience. Most recently she worked as a staff writer for...
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