︎ featured in Frankly,
Scout is my honors thesis and degree capstone project for graphic design. Using principles of human-centered design, I conducted research that led to the creation of a design-based conscious tourism system that responds to my initial research question: How might we encourage young tourists to seek authentic cultural experiences through ethical travel?


The ability to travel to a foreign country is a luxury that many consider to be beneficial for both tourists and the local communities they visit. After all, the world would not be as advanced as it is today without people from diverse backgrounds learning from each other’s unique experiences. However, with the rise of social media, mass-marketing, and geotagging, record numbers of tourists are visiting locations that are not built to sustain such an increase in population. When tourism reaches a point where it is doing more harm than good, it is known as overtourism.


Unfortunately, scenes like this exist at every popular tourist destination around the world. These instances of overcrowding are more than annoying for tourists; such an unmanaged influx drastically degrades the quality of life for local communities and irreversibly damages the environment, leading to protests and increased nationalism among locals that ultimately drives cultures further away from eachother.


To best inform my eventual design solution, I conducted research through a variety of methods that generated valuable quantitative and qualitative data.


I began my research with a literature review so I could better understand the history behind tourism management. I looked several literary sources that described the cultural and environmental effects of overtourism, previous attempts at managing tourism, the role of social media and mass-marketing, and details about ethical travel.


To learn more about my target audience, I created a survey designed for Americans between the ages of 18 & 30. I asked about their travel habits, experience interacting with other cultures, and their awareness of the issue of overtourism.


Lastly, I interviewed different stakeholders, which included a few young tourists, a Venetian local, and the Vice President of marketing at a Destination marketing organization. By interviewing these stakeholders, I was able to gather great qualitative data from a variety of perspectives on the topic.

After completing my research, I compiled the data into a comprehensive list of themes. The themes that were frequently repeated or directly supported by more than one research method became my key findings. The concept map below shows the research methods that led to that key finding & visualizes how each of these key findings relates to one another

The first and arguably most important finding is that tourists are lacking education about both overtourism itself and the culture of the destination they are visiting. The results from my survey showed that a large majority of participants had never heard of the word overtourism before, which means the issue does not affect how they plan their travels or how they behave while traveling. This was directly supported by a point from my interview with the Venice local, who stated that overcrowding and disrespectful behavior from tourists by far has the most impact on their daily life.

Difficulties with travel planning also contributes to harmful tourism. From both my survey and interviews with travelers, I found that planning travel and scheduling activities is intimidating for many people. Since tourists have a tendency to avoid planning anything other than what they need to, which is typically their initial transportation and accommodation, they become more likely to participate in activities or behavior that negatively affects the communities they visit. 

Another contributing factor to the effects of overtourism is the idea that tourism is becoming less cultured. Considering the increasing popularity of short-term travel blogs and travel influencers on social media, it is not surprising that my survey showed that most participants travel for 5 days or less, often visiting more than one city in that time. Tourists spending shorter amounts of time in one location means that the financial benefits of tourism can no longer mitigate the negative consequences. Despite these trends, when asked about their impactful travel experiences, my interview participants all described times when they were surrounded by natural beauty or interacting with people from a new culture. 

Reviewing these key findings led me to ask myself: Do the perceived economic benefits of travel have to come with negative consequences that ultimately destroy environments, disrespect cultures, and leave locals feeling as if their city is an amusement park? I think not. So, I began the process of designing and testing speculative prototype solutions that address these key findings.


I ideated multiple solutions, but the one that most effectively addressed the key findings from my research is a concept I initially described as the build-your-own city guide. This would be a system that uses a website, app, and personalized city guide to make the ethical travel planning process easier for tourists while providing them with education about overtourism.

After making adjustments based on the feedback from user testing, my refined prototype is a system called Scout that uses personalized, interactive city guides to make responsible tourism easier while simultaneously creating opportunities for cultural education and connection.

Users begin the process of receiving a guide by going to the Scout website. There, they enter their travel information and budget preferences, then take a quiz about their interests. Once they receive the guide in the mail, they can refer to it to begin planning the details of their time in their destination. The guides are designed to be portable, so users can refer to the suggestions and complete the interactive sections of the guide while they are out. If a user ever forgets to bring their guide with them, they can download the Scout app, which acts as a backup version of the guide. After returning home from their vacation, the interactive nature of the guide makes it a meaningful souvenir, furthering the positive educational impact that ultimately teaches users to become better tourists over time.


Each aspect of Scout’s website, app, and city guide has been designed to simplify the ethical travel planning process and encourage interaction with new cultures. The guides provide immediate results as travelers learn about overtourism and refer to their personalized list of culturally authentic and locally-owned recommendations. The long-term benefits come from the guide’s reflective sections and the collectibility of its covers. These qualities encourage users to save their guides as a souvenir, while the overall interactivity teaches users how to become better tourists on their own.

While there are still aspects of this system that need to be considered, Scout is a starting point for a framework for healthy tourism that better supports local communities, cultures, and the environment. As tourists use Scout guides, people from diverse cultures and backgrounds will begin to have more positive interactions, leading to open-minded perspectives that create a sense of empathy that, frankly, our world needs right now. Although one tourist using a Scout guide may not make a significant impact, it is the knowledge and empathetic perspective they gained that leads to large-scale improvements overall.