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Coronavirus and overtourism

We are probably stating the obvious. Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID19) interest in overtourism has almost completely disappeared. We already wrote about a drop in tourism arrivals in Hallstatt (Austria), one of the worst hit places by overtourism. Reports from Venice, probably the city most associated with too many tourists, show that hotel reservations are being massively cancelled. In this article we look at how people’s search behavior has shifted. There is less interest in overtourism as interest in the coronavirus, logically, peaks.

Google Trends to measure overtourism

To see if interest in overtourism has actually dropped due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, we turn to Google Trends. Google Trends shows us how often people use certain keywords or search for certain topics. With that information we can measure whether public interest has shifted away from overtourism.

The embedded graph from Google Trend shows how often people from around the world have been using the search term ‘overtourism’. A value close to 0 means that at moment in time people were not searching at all for ‘overtourism’. A value of 100 is the opposite and means that at that moment the number of searches for ‘overtoursim’ peaked. As you can see in the graph above, interest in overtourism has increased rapidly over the five last years. The most notable drop in interest was around Christmas when people use Google less as they spend time with their families.

If we look at the most right part of the trend line, we see a dotted line that clearly signals a negative trend. A dotted line means that based on the latest information, Google predicts that the volume of searches for ‘overtourism’ is dropping significantly. This signals that global interest in the topic is declining rapidly. In other words: people are not interested in the issue right now.

Google Trends for the Coronavirus

Our hypothesis is that this decreased interest for overtourism is caused by increased interest in the Coronavirus. The appetite to travel has globally taken a hit. With the ongoing outbreak in Northern Italy, an area that includes the usually overcrowded city of Venice, European travel is taking a hit. To proof our hypothesis is correct, we also pulled the Google Trends data for the search query ‘coronavirus’. The search terms ‘covid-19’, ‘covid19’ or ‘ncov’ are hardly used by people using Google.

This graph is slightly different than the one shown previously. This graph shows a shorter period of time. Instead of the five years that we used for the search query ‘overtourism’, we used a time period of only 90 days. Why? Because back in early January (almost) nobody was searching for information on the now fast spreading virus.

As you can clearly see, interest in the coronavirus clearly picked up on January 19. This is probably the result of increased news coverage about the virus. What is also clearly visible is that public interest in the topic slowly decreased after January 31 until February 20. On February 21, news spread about 16 confirmed cases in the province Lombardy, Italy. After February 21 the virus and interest of the public spread quickly and has been stable, with values between 90 and 100, since February 26.

Linking overtourism and the coronavirus

Although statistically this information is not enough to proof causation, the relationship between cause and effect, we believe the two are linked. Overtourism is not a topic of concern during this seemingly growing international health crisis. The tourism industry is bleeding with airlines and others quickly seeking ways to cut costs to minimize the damage.

It would be interesting to see what happens after the coronavirus crisis is over. Will it quickly be ‘business as usual’? If the tourism industry is able to bounce back quickly, most destinations will feel the effects of overtourism again. The willingness to make some positive changes related to overtourism, will probably take the back seat. Governments and the tourism industry are likely to maximize profit after the crisis.  

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