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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Study on unbalanced tourism growth at destination level: root causes, impacts, existing solutions and good practices

This study focuses on helping European tourism destinations build sustainable tourism models. 


Publication date
21 September 2022 (Last updated on: 4 October 2022)
Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs


European tourism destinations are gradually recovering after disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While still facing many global challenges, European destinations are welcoming tourists and the pre-pandemic issue of overtourism is returning in some hotspots. To address root causes, impacts and in particular – facilitate destinations with a pool of solutions and good practice, the European Commission (Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship & SMEs together with the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency) published a study, 'Unbalanced tourism growth at destination level'. 

We launched the study before the pandemic, but it also accounts for COVID-19 impacts on tourism flows. It addresses different types of destinations - urban, coastal, islands, rural and mountains by identifying challenges and solutions particular to them.

The study critically examines root causes, impacts and existing solutions to counteract or mitigate unbalanced tourism growth. The study shows that the overtourism phenomenon is complex, understood and perceived differently, depending on the destination. The assessment of overtourism requires both a quantitative and qualitative approach, and does not correspond to the identification of a maximum threshold beyond which the carrying capacity of a destination is exceeded. Overall, the study identified a need for more refined data at higher territorial resolution levels. While we cannot underestimate the economic importance of tourism for destinations, unbalanced tourism growth leads to social and environmental problems, ultimately damaging a destination's long-term competitiveness.

A key outcome of this study is the development of indicators to support destinations in better managing undesirable tourism developments as well as identifying risks and possible pathways for more sustainable tourism development. In addition to the study report, we designed a hands-on compendium for tourism professionals, gathering information and solutions addressing overtourism. Furthermore, we compiled best practice case studies. The examined destinations have proactively implemented a wide array of measures to foster off-season tourism, enhance the satisfaction and quality of tourists’ experiences and disperse tourism flows territorially, at the same time contributing to the wellbeing of the local communities. Finally, the study reflects the outcomes of the dialogue held through a series of 6 workshops with different types of destinations.

The study contributes to the objectives of the EU Transition pathway for tourism, aiming at truly sustainable destinations.


4 OCTOBER 2022
Unbalanced tourism growth at destination level