As travel restrictions remain in place for travel in and out of the US, American residents are now looking for domestic summer holidays in 2021. According to Lonely Planet, 32 million people visited US National Parks in July 2021, down from July’s 2020 record of 33 million. However, this figure is still more than the parks’ staff can handle.

Due to Covid-19 imposed capacity restrictions at some of the US’s main tourist attractions, those wanting a spontaneous trip may have to look elsewhere as the capacity for peak summer dates have been reserved well in advance. This has induced high numbers of domestic visitors to beaches, hike hotspots and national parks as they tend to be free of capacity constraints.

Overtourism diminishes experience at US national parks

Whilst overcrowding at natural sites is detrimental to the environment, it can also hinder the traveller experience, which is important for the future of national parks.

More guests than the parks can handle may bring in extra revenue. However, it can put pressure on facilities and natural resources. An increased number of vehicles in a national park area increases air pollution, and more visitors speeds up the process of footpath erosion. These negative impacts will make national parks less appealing for future visitors and put more pressure on the natural environment.

Additionally, travellers will now be discouraged by long queues and being in crowded spaces is not desired due to Covid-19. Negative visitor experiences could damage the reputation of national parks and discourage future visits, which is something that is important for future revenue streams, conservation and maintenance.

Extra measures have been implemented to minimise the impact of increased visitation, such as extra shuttle buses to discourage bringing vehicles into the area, requiring reservations and timed entry systems. However, the problem is likely to persist past the peak summer period.

According to a Verdict Community Survey**, 43% are willing to travel domestically in the next 12 months, where just 29% are willing to travel internationally in the same continent. This increased interest in domestic travel means that the overtourism problem at US national parks is likely to last beyond the peak summer period.

Extra funding for the upkeep of national parks and additional staffing will help to reduce the impact of overtourism. Guests that are more spread out in visitation times will help to reduce crowds and soften the impacts that come with increased visitation. This will enhance guest experiences and encourage further trips in a sustainable manner.

*Verdict community survey live since 17th November 2020 with 1,442 respondents.