VISITScotland should stop marketing overcrowded tourist destinations with immediate effect, including islands like Skye, and focus all its efforts on moving people towards off-the-beaten-track alternatives, it has been claimed.

The call from specialist UK travel agency Responsible Travel, comes as Scotland braces itself for another bumper year in terms of tourism. The organisation is currently producing a documentary about "over-tourism", which will briefly feature Skye along with Barcelona and Venice.

Overcrowding in key locations – including Skye, Loch Ness and Edinburgh – is being blamed on their starring role as film and TV locations and on Instagram feeds, leading them to be "swamped" with tourists looking to tick them off their bucket lists.

Last year 14.1 million tourists holidayed in Scotland, attracted by the weak pound as well as accolades by influential publications such as the Rough Guide, but found not everywhere was geared up for mass tourism. In Skye there were reports of people sleeping in their cars due to booked-out accommodation, and a severe lack of parking and toilets.

At Loch Ness parties bussed from cruise ships arriving at Invergordon packed out boat trips and a report by Edinburgh Council revealed concerns about coping with tourist bottlenecks on its traditional cobbled streets.

Visit Scotland expect another busy summer, boosted by an increase in Chinese visitors, flying direct from Beijing to Edinburgh for the first time from this month. More than a million people are also expected to disembark from an unprecedented number of cruise ships this year.

In response work is going on round the clock at many popular locations to put tourism plans in place. Skye Connect, a tourist management organisation launched six months ago, has overseen plans for car parks, toilets and traffic management systems and is working with locals on 40 projects including a Skye cycle trail to cut down traffic and campervan "servicing units". Businesses in Loch Ness and elsewhere are extending opening hours and using social media to warn people to book ahead and avoid peak times. Additional accommodation is under development.

Yet Responsible Travel said it was now crucial that the Scottish Government and VisitScotland took action to ensure that overcrowding did not have a negative impact on either future tourism or local communities.

Chief executive Justin Francis, said: "Visit Scotland should cease marketing any destination that’s exhibiting signs of over-tourism with immediate effect."

He also claimed that the decision to launch a new campaign to market Edinburgh to young people last week, at a time of concerns about the pressures on the city, was highly questionable, adding: "The concept of 'de-marketing', reducing tourist numbers when they get too high for a destination to manage, was first established in 1960. However, until now there has been no will from governments to act on it."

He said that once locations started reaching "bucket list" status, it was common for some to exploit its popularity. "Cruise ships might start to dock, or new flights are added, and there might be a rapid increase in room availability as Airbnb starts to take hold," he added. "This can happen very fast and takes local residents and governments by surprise.

"Residents start to get frustrated with tourists who block roads, young people find less houses to rent or buy as [they are] taken off the market via Airbnb for tourists. Shops offering goods and services to local people start to be replaced by those offering things for tourists and waste, litter and damage to paths and trails starts to increase. In short, the area starts to cater more for tourists than local people. The community is eroded and the character of the place changes – which ultimately means tourists lose interest too. In the long term nobody wins."

However, VisitScotland insisted that tourism was still a huge success story in Scotland and said it was working hard to ensure that it encouraged tourists to look past the most obvious sites. Tourism is one of Scotland's major industries.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, said that it worked closely with local agencies such as Skye Connect – a new tourist management organisation launched in the last six months in response to concerns about over-crowding on the island to promote the "hidden gems" that were often deserted even at peak times. "We try to make sure we are not using the most obvious images of the Fairy Pools or the Old Man of Storr and steer people to other sites," he said, though he admitted that "iconic images" still had a place in the international market.

"We always want to see that tourism is well managed," he added. "It's an issue that we are very alert to but it's important to remember it has many benefits for the community. About 20-30 years ago Skye's population was still declining. Now it's supporting a very vibrant community."

Alistair Danter, project manager of Skye Connect, agreed claiming that huge amounts of "non-stop work" had been done to address issues in the last six months and stressed its importance to the island economy. "There isn't a family on the island whose family livelihood isn't connected to tourism in some way," he added. "Our challenge is to make Skye a great place to visit and to live."

He encouraged tourists to pre-book accommodation and consider alternative walks and attractions, which are often populated by "a few sheep" rather than crowds.

However, Francis was scathing of VisitScotland's approach to tourism on Skye in particular: "On Visit Scotland's Skye page there is no information about how busy it is in peak season, how to avoid the crowds, or any tips about how to minimise impacts on local residents. This is not how a responsible tourist board should be communicating to visitors."

Meanwhile, Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey said that it was considering steps such as tourist tax and additional pedestrian zones at peak times as part of a new strategy to address challenges. "I’m proud that we welcome millions of guests each year and no-one thinking about visiting the vibrant, bustling atmosphere during August should be put off," he added. "I’m confident our strategy will give us a model to improve access to and enjoyment of the capital during the festivals and throughout the year."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it had responded by launching a new £6 million Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund last autumn. He added: "We recognise tourism is vital to Scotland’s rural communities and our natural landscape is a key draw for visitors from across the globe. However, this success has meant increasing stress on popular locations and attractions and as a government we are determined to help."

A VisitScotland spokesperson said: "Every year, Edinburgh’s stunning beauty, vibrant atmosphere and fascinating heritage attracts millions of visitors from around the world. The ripple effect of the visitor economy means that these visits don’t just benefit tourism businesses, but the city as a whole.

"We appreciate that ensuring the capital’s tourism industry remains sustainable requires a sensitive approach and we are continuing to work with partners to help grow the sector in a sustainable way. VisitScotland is committed to working closely with partners, and with the City Council, to identify appropriate infrastructure requirements and ensure Edinburgh remains a must-visit destination for future generations of holidaymakers. Efforts are being made to boost and manage capacity by looking at seasonality and extending the footprint of areas visited."

Box-out: How to create responsible tourism

1. Regulate numbers of cruise ships docking: an Orkney Council report recommended that restrictions to protect its fragile built and natural heritage.

2. Regulate Airbnb: Proposals to restrict short term lets in Edinburgh to just 90 days a year – but outwith peak times – don't go far enough say campaigners.

3. Build infrastructure: public and shuttle buses and more ferry links are needed, it's claimed.

4. Make advance and timed booking necessary for some attractions.

5. Push off peak seasons: promoting Scotland off-season is part of VisitScotland's strategy.

6. Provide more info on the off-the-beaten track locations...and make sure they are accessible.

7. Consider a tourist tax: Edinburgh is proposing a £1 levy on the accommodation bills of each visitor to the city.