During the peak of the busy summer holidays, a small, idyllic NSW beach town made headlines across the nation after the council delivered a brutal message to tourists: Stay away.
Late last month, tiny Seal Rocks, on the NSW mid north coast, was hit by a wave of holiday-makers, prompting the council to issue an urgent plea to wannabe tourists.
“Please consider exploring other parts of our region over the coming days, as the amount of people in Seal Rocks is causing traffic and emergency access hazards,” MidCoast Council said in a social media post.
“Council staff are currently out and about in the area moving people on.”
MidCoast Council director of liveable communities Paul De Szell said traffic congestion from the influx of tourists was causing significant problems for the town.
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“We had issues particularly last year where we were so congested we had a gridlock situation,” Mr De Szell told the ABC.
“We couldn‘t get emergency vehicles in there, we couldn’t get waste trucks in there, and we don’t want it to escalate to that point again.”
But it seems Seal Rocks is just one of a growing number of surf towns pushing back against the annual tourism influx.
It was a similar story in for Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay, south of Sydney, after it was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for having the whitest sand in the world several years ago.
It sparked a tourism frenzy, culminating in holiday-makers being turned away over the busy Christmas and New Year’s period, with Destination NSW warning people to “expect delays” in the area and encouraging tourists to check out “one of the 15 other equally beautiful and less busy White Sand Beaches and explore the many options of Shoalhaven beaches” to ease the pressure on the tiny village.
In 2021, it was Jervis Bay’s turn to send tourist packing, while last month, Huskisson, also on the NSW south coast, also made the news after residents began speaking out against a string of new development applications for “touristy things” – like new apartments, bars, and cafes – which have recently been submitted to the Shoalhaven City Council.
Speaking to local publication The South Coast News, Huskisson resident Shirley Fitzgerald said locals were getting fed up with the erosion of the town’s character in a bid to cash in on the tourism boom.
“There used to be a butcher and bookstore on the main street,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“Gradually, all these small shops have been replaced with touristy things.
“If you can’t provide shopping to the old residents here, what happens? They will have to move.”
And of course it’s no secret that uber-trendy Byron Bay – a favourite among A-listers, influencers and reality television stars – has transformed from sleepy coastal town to tourist mecca in recent years, leaving local residents increasingly frustrated as more than two million Australian and international visitors flock to the area each year.
In fact, the situation has grown so dire in Byron that in 2019, it was named as one of only two Aussie locations, along with Uluru, on a global list of 98 of the worst areas for overtourism.
And last year, Byron Shire Council also decided to take action against the plague of visitors, announcing a new plan to restrict properties to just 90 days of short-term holiday rentals in a bid to free up more affordable housing in the tourist hotspot, which saw its popularity surge even further while Covid travel restrictions were in place.
In 2018, former mayor Simon Richardson was also behind a push to introduce a “voluntary tourism levy” in the area which would allow business owners to charge an extra fee for visitors which in turn would go towards community projects and infrastructure buckling under the tourism surge.
Perhaps in response to the growing overtourism trend, Visit Shoalhaven has launched its 100 Beach Challenge, encouraging visitors to explore the region’s hidden gems.
But whether it will be enough to curb the problem remains to be seen.
Writing in The Conversation in 2018, University of South Australia senior lecturer in tourism management Freya Higgins-Desbiolles warned that overtourism was becoming a major concern across the country.
“Sustainable tourism strategies, once heavily promoted in the 1990s and early 2000s, no longer seem to be as high a priority,” she wrote.
“Most experts agree government regulations are key to addressing the threats from overtourism.”
Dr Higgins-Desbiolles explained that it would take a combined effort to reach a solution.
“The national and local tourism bodies should take a more sustainable and holistic approach to their tourism planning to reflect the values and desires of local communities,” she said.
“That will ensure visitor numbers remain in check and tourism remains an enjoyable experience – for tourists and residents alike.”