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New report urges destinations to uncover invisible burden of tourism

New report urges destinations to uncover invisible burden of tourism

A report published today describes how destinations must uncover and account for the hidden costs of tourism, referred to as the “invisible burden”, to protect and manage vital destination assets worldwide. 

Failing to do so puts ecosystems, cultural wonders, and community life at increasing risk, and places the tourism industry on a weak foundation that could crack under its own weight.

The report was compiled by the Travel Foundation, Cornell University’s Centre for Sustainable Global Enterprise and EplerWood International.

The range of costs not currently accounted for include those needed to upgrade infrastructure beyond resident needs, to meet tourism demand, and manage and protect public spaces, monuments, the environment and natural habitats.

There is also a need to mitigate exposure to climate change risks and address the needs of locals affected by rising real estate prices, driven by the demand from tourism.

Either residents are left to pay these costs, or they are simply not paid, increasingly leading to environmental crises, spoiled tourism assets, and growing dissatisfaction among local residents, the report argues.


Destination authorities urgently need access to new resources, systems and expertise to ensure that, as tourism grows, the true costs of every new visitor are fully covered.

Amid increasing concern about “overtourism” and calls from within the travel industry for improved destination management, the report, Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism, was commissioned by the Travel Foundation to better understand the challenges and constraints that national and municipal authorities face.

Principal report author, Megan Epler Wood, said: “The earth’s greatest treasures are cracking under the weight of the soaring tourism economy.

“New data-driven systems to identify the cost of managing tourism’s most valued assets are required to stem a growing crisis in global tourism management. 

“With the right leadership, finance and analysis in place, a whole new generation of tourism professionals can move forward and erase the invisible burden while benefiting millions around the globe.”

The authors conclude that some destinations are more vulnerable to the invisible burden and should be prioritised.

For instance:

  • Where there is a high risk of climate change impacts (which would disproportionately affect a visitor economy) – for instance, island states.
  • Where the rise of the global middle class is driving tourism growth at unsustainable levels – for instance, in southern and south-east Asia.
  • Where there is a high percentage of economic dependence on tourism – for instance, in the Caribbean.
  • Where the ability of local government to manage tourism growth is low, in terms of budgets and human capital – a problem that has been found in both advanced and emerging economies.

The analysis draws upon academic literature, case studies, expert interviews and media reports, and provides a wealth of examples of the invisible burden. 

Cases are drawn from Thailand, Mexico, and the Maldives, as well as Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

The report also gives insights into types of data-driven systems, such as GIS mapping tools and the Smart Cities concept, which can address growth issues and facilitate new forms of investment.