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Natural sites: how can we optimise the management of tourist flows to prevent overtourism?

After two years marked by the health crisis, tourism is finally entering a period of recovery. This recovery is characterised by the emergence of new behaviours dictated by the context and the economic situation.

Probably as a result of successive confinements, tourists are turning en masse to natural sites. Tourist activities are also becoming more local, a trend undoubtedly reinforced by the current high cost of fuel.

The return of tourists to natural sites also marks the return of questions about visitor numbers.

On major natural sites, the high concentration of tourists is a potential source of environmental degradation and dissatisfaction for both visitors and local residents.

How can you optimise the management of tourist flows on your natural sites and reconcile local economic issues with a quality experience for all stakeholders?

Overtourism of natural sites: what are the risks?

Overtourism in Venice

Balancing the interests of all stakeholders

During the summer months, the number of visitors to many natural sites (beaches, bathing areas, remarkable sites, etc.) increases spectacularly.

This peak in visitor numbers raises a number of issues for the local authorities concerned:

  • economic issues for local players

  • accessibility and safety issues for visitors and local residents

  • environmental issues relating to the preservation of sites and species

At the crossroads of these issues, the aim is to ensure an optimal visitor experience while reconciling the points of view of all stakeholders: tourists, local residents, economic players, the local authority or operator in charge of the site.

Upstream, this involves identifying the risks induced by high tourist numbers and then developing action plans to limit these risks.

The main types of risk associated with overtourism.

This overtourism raises several types of risk:

  • problems of access to the site: parking problems for visitors, problems of access to the site for the emergency services, etc.

  • conflicts with local residents: parking outside residents' homes, anti-social behaviour, etc.

  • environmental nuisance: pollution, dumping of waste on or near the site, disturbance of ecosystems (flora and fauna), etc.

Ultimately, when these factors combine, it is not only the visitor experience that is degraded, but also the living conditions of local residents. Added to this is the risk of degradation of the site.

The example of the Gorges de Toulourenc, between the Drôme and Vaucluse regions, illustrates the difficulty of striking the right balance between mass tourism, preservation of the site and the interests of all stakeholders. In 2019, the number of visitors to the site had increased by 125% in 4 years, resulting in illegal parking, uncivil behaviour, a proliferation of rubbish, deterioration in water quality, damage to biodiversity, etc.

In response, the "Gestion des Gorges du Toulourenc" monitoring committee has taken a number of measures, including installing obstacles to limit illegal parking.

Towards optimised management of tourist flows?

To reconcile all these issues and limit the risks associated with large numbers of tourists, the local authorities concerned need to put in place a policy for managing tourist flows.

When the nuisances far outweigh the benefits, one option is to "demarket" the destination. In practical terms, this involves replacing an approach that promotes a site with a responsible approach aimed at limiting visitor numbers.

The worrying situation of the Gorges du Toulourenc is largely the result of excessive media coverage, which has put the spotlight on a site that was previously essentially reserved for hikers and nature lovers. The classification of the site as a Natura 2000 zone attests to a desire to preserve it, and the actions undertaken by the elected representatives and local authorities concerned since the mid-2010s have focused more on managing the site.

Demarketing enables visitors to be better supervised and, if necessary, promotional budgets to be reallocated towards preserving the site.

Another option is to make booking compulsory to access the site. By doing so, you can set a maximum number of visitors that is acceptable for the preservation of the site and an optimal visitor experience. It's also a way of aligning visitor flow with the site's parking capacity. Certain online booking tools such as Affluences can be set up very quickly.

Finally, to control tourist flows, you can also choose to charge for access. In this case, part of the entrance fee can be used for site development work.

However, these options are not available for all sites, and limiting visitor numbers can, in some cases, be detrimental to the local economy.

So how can we optimise the management of tourist flows without necessarily demarking?

The first challenge to better regulate tourist flows lies in controlling the level of occupancy of the surrounding car parks. Let's take a look at how this can be done using a visitor management solution.

An affluence solution for real-time information on car park occupancy rates

Parking is very often the first sensitive issue on a site that is over-frequented.

When a destination becomes a 'victim' of its own success, parking spaces can become insufficient to cope with the flow of visitors. And even when sufficient parking is available, visitors usually head for the car park closest to the site.

This car park quickly sells out, forcing visitors to turn around, wait for a space or park illegally.

All these movements create traffic jams (because the roads are more or less narrow), and can hamper the arrival of emergency services, shuttle buses and local residents.

In many cases, however, there are relief car parks close to these key car parks, capable of absorbing some of the excess traffic. Unfortunately, visitors are not aware of them.

Affluences, by measuring the occupancy rate of the key car parks, as well as the relief car parks in some cases, provides real-time information and forecasts on how full the car park(s) will be. This information enables visitors to choose the least full car park or to postpone their visit.

Even if 100% of visitors do not consult the occupancy information, it is enough for 20% or 30% of people to consult it for occupancy to be regulated.

Are you in charge of managing a natural site? Are you also faced with traffic management issues? The Affluences solution enables you to monitor and forecast traffic to your site in real time.

You can manage your traffic flows via an administration portal, and also give your visitors access to traffic information and practical information such as car park occupancy rates.



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