Overtourism and the policy agenda: from destinations to the European Union Balancing growth and sustainability

Publication Name
Bruges Political Research Papers
Year of Publication
Clarisse Corruble
Organization Name
College of Europe
Full Date
February 2021
Subregion - European Union
European Union
For twenty years now, sustainable tourism has become a feature of tourism policy in Europe.
However, in just a few years, the neologism “overtourism” has become a buzzword in the
media, reflecting and encouraging an increasing politicisation of the issue. Some of the
measures aimed at tackling the impacts of overtourism call into question the growth paradigm
according to which tourism policies have been framed, and sometimes even create tensions
with European single market law. This paper hypothesises a difficulty for overtourism to make
it on the European policy agenda, given its antagonistic nature towards the growth paradigm on
which tourism policy is based. It also hypothesises that the European institutions will
nevertheless take up the matter, because of the political context and of pressure of various
entrepreneurs. Building on a qualitative research methodology and on the results of semidirective
interviews, this paper analyses the extent to which there is an awareness of the impacts
of overtourism at the European level, looking through the lens of historical institutionalism,
policy-cycle and governance theories. It concludes that despite a strong European dimension,
reaching the European policy agenda has not been an easy task for overtourism, especially
because of the centrality of the growth paradigm in tourism policy, which resulted in a pathdependency.
Nonetheless, the fight against overtourism has both benefited from a relative
window of opportunity and from a context favouring incremental change in the mindset of the
institutions. The growing importance of the sustainability paradigm seems to have enabled the
integration of this fight, through the pre-existing sustainable tourism framework, on the
European policy agenda. Some questions remain, however, regarding the compatibility of the
fight against overtourism with a still predominantly growth-based approach.
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