Industry needs to spread visitors seasonally and geographically, says Gavin Tollman, chief executive of Trafalgar

The Philippines government’s decision to enforce a six-month closure of Boracay following concerns that environmental damage has turned this popular tourist island into a “cesspool” is a stark reminder of the potential threat tourism can pose if it is not managed in a responsible manner.

Overtourism was a sensitive topic last year, with officials from destinations such as Dubrovnik and Venice falling foul of excessive crowds and pressure on infrastructure. As a passionate sustainability advocate, I urge the industry to take time to consider and implement a simple three-step plan. We must take direct action and do it now; disseminate the flow of people to create seasonal tourism opportunities; and create dispersal by connecting with communities beyond the hotspots.

Take action now

Online reviews focus on the most famous ones. In Stockholm the top‑five attractions account for 42% of TripAdvisor reviews. For endangered destinations such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, awareness of the threat can lead more people to visit “while they still can”, merely exacerbating the problem. We must be careful of not loving our tourism hotspots to death, and take action before irreversible damage is done.

Many businesses can’t survive on peak trade alone, particularly smaller ones, and neither can local communities which shoulder the pressures on resources and infrastructure. Staggered seasonality can break the bottleneck and help attract the right kind of tourism. True travellers will be enablers rather than eliminators, bringing value over volume compared with “ice-cream” tourists and their pit-stop visits.

It’s imperative to not just stop in city centres; the richness of experience in outlying areas must never be underestimated. By opening up routes and taking travellers off the beaten track, we can benefit the wider community with a broader distribution of tourism revenue and a richer experience for travellers. In selecting operators which vigorously advocate investment in communities, agents can play their role in giving back.

One individual whom we are particularly proud to work with is an artisan based in Perugia, Italy. Marta is an exceptional advocate for traditional weaving and still uses a 1,000-year-old jacquard loom to practise an art that has been in her family for generations. This, and other experiences, allow us, our agent partners and our guests to sustain communities and cultural heritage for future generations.

Work with locals

To avoid alienating locals, it’s essential that travel companies work closely with them. I impress upon agents the need to sell those companies that use local guides who are passionate and care about their communities and can actively demonstrate the benefits that visitors bring, helping to create mutual respect and appreciation.

If the industry rallies together now to make more-responsible decisions, we can ensure preservation, not elimination. We must act immediately, ahead of the peak season, to avoid 2017’s issues escalating further and causing irreparable damage.