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The travel destinations that want tourists to stay away

Mass tourism is back, but these spots are fighting against the rising tide. These are the destinations that want tourists to stay away in 2023

John Bills
Liv Kelly
Written by
John Bills
Contributor
Liv Kelly
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Remember when everyone thought the pandemic would usher in a new tourism of awareness and restraint? Yeah, those days are long gone. Mass tourism has returned with a vengeance. Images of empty streets in the world’s most popular cities have been replaced by those that became the norm pre-2020 – namely crowds of tourists looking for famous attractions, restaurants and shops.

But not all destinations are taking this lying down. Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations are fighting back, whether by implementing increased tourist taxes or restrictions on the number of visitors allowed. Some are flat-out telling tourists not to come. These are the destinations that want tourists to stay away in 2023.

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The destinations that want tourists to stay away

1. Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s reputation as an anything-goes hub of hedonism is well known, and the Dutch capital has become as synonymous with bad behaviour as it has gorgeous architecture and a history of innovation. For some, what happens in the ‘Dam, stays in the ‘Dam, but those days might be on the way out. The city’s 2023 ad campaign was blunt about the type of tourists it wants, literally telling would-be rowdy revellers to ‘stay away’. Throw in imposed limits on bar crawls and a ban on smoking cannabis in the red light district, and times they-are-a-changin’ in Europe’s so-called City of Sin.

READ MORE: How Amsterdam is fighting back against overtourism

2. Lanzarote

Lanzarote has long been the sun-kissed getaway of choice for many Brits, making up around half of the Canary Island’s overseas visitors. However, the days of budget boozing and drinking until dawn may be over, as President Dolores Corujo has been vocal about wanting to attract a ‘higher quality’ of visitors who will spend more and, presumably, drink less. The island declared itself a tourist-saturated area early in 2023, although Ms Corujo quickly faced backlash from tourist reps like Jet2.

READ MORE: Lanzarote is cracking down on British tourists

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3. Bali

The Indonesian island of Bali is another popular destination considering measures to deal with the unruly behaviour of visitors. The natural beauty of the so-called Land of the Gods has long attracted tourists, but this nirvana of volcanoes and forests has also gained a reputation for debauchery and excess. At the time of writing, the Indonesian government is debating introducing a tourist tax as it looks to move from quantity to quality on the visitor front. There will be knock-on effects, of course, as tourism contributed around 60 percent to Bali’s pre-pandemic economy. One to keep an eye on.

READ MORE: Bali is planning to ban tourists from renting motorbikes

4. Venice

Mention ‘mass tourism’ to many in Europe, and the streets of Venice will immediately come to mind. Undoubtedly one of the most incredibly beautiful cities on the planet, Venice is also overrun with visitors throughout the year. The narrow streets and fragile waterways aren’t built for such traffic, and a tourist tax here has long been inevitable. Initially slated for 2023, the charge has been pushed back until an unspecified date in 2024.

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5. Barcelona

Barcelona has it all: modernista masterpieces, a massive beach, all-night parties, and all the food, culture and sunshine you could possibly want from a European city break. But it’s also full to the brim with tourists. In 2022, the city took steps to limit the number of visitors, cracking down on the size of tour groups and introducing noise restrictions, among other measures. The city’s mayor has stated that tourism is a great challenge in Barcelona, and will be looking to further limit numbers to ensure a better quality of life for locals can continue in the densely-populated Catalan capital.

6. Bhutan

One surefire way to keep tourist numbers low is to enforce a daily tourist visa of $200 (£161, €182). This is what the mountain kingdom of Bhutan did when it reopened following the pandemic, introducing what it referred to as a ‘sustainable development fee’. This stunning land of monasteries and Himalayan landscapes isn’t exactly a weekend away sort of spot, meaning visitors are spending serious cash just to be there. Worth it, of course, but the figures keep visitor numbers manageable.

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7. Santorini

The dazzling white buildings of Santorini are one of the most iconic sights in Greece. The Greek island attracts around two million visitors annually, a significant number in its own right but one that becomes gargantuan when considering the island’s year-round population of around 10,000. Those numbers are unsustainable, but how to remedy them when tourism is such a large part of the economy? The island started to impose restrictions in 2019, when cruise passengers were capped at 8,000 (per day, mind you) and tourists weighing over 100kg were banned from riding donkeys. It’s a start.

8. Amalfi Coast

Keeping control of day trippers can be difficult, and innovative solutions are often required. In 2022, Italy’s Amalfi Coast took the measure of imposing a number plate system to stay on top of visitors. Under the new rules, cars with number plates ending in an odd number were allowed access to the coast’s 35km of beauty on one day, while cars with number plates ending in an even number were permitted to enter on the next. Local residents and public transport were exempt, of course. The Amalfi Coast also featured on Fodor’s list of places to avoid visiting in 2023 thanks to its problem with over-tourism.

READ MORE: Italy is now fining tourists for ‘lingering’ in popular beauty spots

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9. Machu Picchu

It isn’t entirely accurate to say that Peru’s Machu Picchu doesn’t want tourists, but the famous Inca citadel has taken steps to curb the mass of people looking to tick it off their bucket lists. Visitors to Machu Picchu can only enter during one of two designated time slots, and time spent at the citadel is capped at four hours (six if hiking up), although it isn’t unusual for many to overstay. Visitor numbers increased by 700 percent between 1980 and today, with untold environmental and cultural damage done by footfall alone. 

10. Thailand

Southeast Asia has been synonymous with backpackers on gap years for a long time now, with Thailand the undeniable epicentre of this phenomenon. Thailand’s move away from mass tourism began in 2017 when a new marketing strategy focused on the value of experiences over value for money. Since then, boats have been banned from Maya Bay, a popular beauty spot on the Phi Phi islands, in an effort to restore nature. The country is also pushing for higher-quality visitors, according to Fodor’s. In 2022, Thailand’s visitor numbers were an eye-popping 11.5 million, so it remains to be seen whether anything has changed.

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11. Cornwall

‘At one level, you have friends, then you have guests, then you have tourists, then you have bloody tourists, then you have f***ing emmets. You can quote me on that.’ Not words overheard in the late hours outside a pub, but an actual direct quote from Malcolm Bell, the (outgoing) head of Visit Cornwall. Of course, there is more to this quote than immediately meets the eye, with Bell’s point being that Cornwall should focus its efforts on attracting tourists who make the effort to understand and respect England’s southernmost county. Heatwaves and increasing popularity have brought an unsustainable amount of visitors to the beaches and small towns of Cornwall, and residents have complained of a housing crisis caused by a proliferation of short-let holiday homes. 

12. Japan

Japan’s not a huge place, but it welcomes millions of visitors every year. The country’s tourism ministry announced that visitor numbers in 2023 were back to 96 percent of what they were in 2019, before the pandemic, leading to a strain on infrastructure like transport services. But Japan has a plan to combat the impact of overtourism, which will nudge tourists in the direction of 11 ‘model destinations’ as alternative places for visitors to explore. Time to think outside the Tokyo-shaped box?

READ MORE: Japan has unveiled new anti-overtourism measures

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