Ile-de-la-Madeleine set to introduce overtourism fee

Quebec’s Îles-de-la-Madeleine to introduce overtourism fees, but will they actually work?

Quebec’s Îles-de-la-Madeleine is the latest popular destination to impose a fee to curb over-tourism, but will the extra $30 imposed on each visitor actually slow down visitation to the islands or is it just a cash grab?

Dubbed the Passe Archipel, the new fee will be mandatory for travellers who stay on the islands for more than 24 hours between May 1 and Oct. 14. The local government says the fee is meant to pay for tourist infrastructure, environmental protection and waste management.

In an interview with The Montreal Gazette, Dominic Lapointe, a professor of urban studies and tourism at the Université du Québec à Montréal, says he doubts the islands’ visitor fee will reduce the number of tourists to the islands. The story also quoted the general manager of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine tourism board who said he has not observed a recent drop in bookings.

If the islands thought dealing with the approximately 65,000 visitors it received last year was difficult, imagine Venice, a city of only 50,000 residents, which welcomed 20 million travellers in 2023.  The city imposed its own 5-euro visitor fee last week and the first week has been chaotic as authorities iron out the wrinkles. It’s also being met with protests from locals who think it violates their freedom of movement while not doing anything to limit over-tourism.

In an interview with The Guardian, Simone Venturini, Venice’s councillor for tourism said the measures aren’t a “magic wand,” but says it’s the first time anyone has tried to do anything in the city to address over-tourism. He notes that the fee is aimed less at foreign visitors as it is to deter Italian day-trippers.

“A lot of Italians come to the nearby beaches in summer and, on a rainy day, they overwhelm Venice,” he told The Guardian. “Yes, the majority are from Veneto and are exempt, but the fact they still have to go online to confirm this is a way to disincentivise them.”

The idea of imposing such fees seems to be spreading. The Independent reports more than 24 destinations are already imposing similar fees or will do so soon. Many of these locales are in Europe, but the idea has spread as far as Peru, Bhutan and French Polynesia.

Megan Epler Wood, the managing director of the Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program (STAMP) at Cornell University says that their research indicates tourism fees generally do not limit arrivals and don’t cover costs for managing necessities like water and waste.

“A wide array of tourism taxes are already applied to hotels or airports and are charged at entry or departure. For cities like Venice, most research shows that an additional tax does not lower arrivals, as is often contended,” said Epler Wood.

“Necessities such as water, waste, energy utilities and the need for affordable housing are not generally addressed by the destination marketing organizations which often receive the tourism tax. In order to address the invisible burden of tourism, new destination management entities will need to determine the cost per tourist to ensure there is an equitable and sustainable use of local resources. Once such costs are determined, tax reform will be required to cover these costs.”

Maybe the answer is to simply make your destination less appealing to visitors as one Japanese town is doing.  Locals in Fujikawaguchiko, at the foot of the Yoshida Trail to Mount Fuji, become so annoyed by rude foreigners looking for the perfect photo of the sacred mountain that they put up a barrier to block views of the snowy peak.

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