More people have moved to the Galápagos to work in land-based tourism, and this increase in population is also a threat to its wildlife, Dr. Smith said, because a larger population requires more infrastructure. According to the Ecuadorean National Census of 2010, 25,100 people live in the Galápagos, and the population on the islands grew by 60 percent from 1999 to 2005.
The tour operators’ association emphasized that it does not want to ban land-based tourism in the Galápagos. “We are not saying ‘don’t come here,’” said Jim Lutz, the president of the tour group’s board and the founder and president of Vaya Adventures, a Berkeley, Calif., company that sells Galápagos trips. “We are saying let’s control how many people can come.”
Mr. Lutz said that tourism has helped the Galápagos thrive: in past decades and centuries, pirates and whaling ships exploited the islands, especially by stealing its wildlife.
“There are stories of how whaling ships would come and fill their ship holds with the giant tortoises who live on the islands,” he said. Tourism protects the islands, according to Mr. Lutz, because the money generated from visitors allows for the monitoring and protection of Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Marine Reserve, which he said is expensive and complicated.
He encourages travelers who are seeking a beach getaway or want to go fishing to consider destinations other than the Galápagos. “These activities exist in many places, and you don’t need to go to the Galápagos to get them,” he said. “The islands are a place for those who are interested in ecotourism.”
Marc Patry, a member of the association’s board and the owner of the Ottawa travel company CNH Tours, which sells Galápagos trips, also said he welcomes land-based tourism to the islands but added that it should be high-quality tourism. “We want a small number of travelers, and they should care about sustainability,” he said.
Overtourism isn’t an issue limited to the Galápagos: Venice, Italy, is among the cities that have been affected by overcrowding from tourism. In December, the World Travel & Tourism Council and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a co-authored report, “Coping With Success: Managing Overcrowding in Tourism Destinations,” which looked at the impact overtourism can have.