BUSINESS & POLITICS
From Post-Apocalyptic Scenery to Post-Covid Era: How Will We Travel Tomorrow?
21 May 2020
Welcome to STAND’s series: “A closer look at tourism”! In the first article we looked into the way tourism is consumed around the world and introduced you to some disastrous consequences of mass tourism. In the second piece, we tried to answer frequently asked questions related to unethical tourism and how the latter can be dealt with. In this last contribution, we’ll observe the world as we pressed pause during the lockdown, and will try to offer alternatives for a better future of tourism.
What’s happening now?
While mainly responsible for spreading the pandemic, the aviation sector had it backwards. Almost all leisure planes are rooted to the spot. Many other ways to get around are no longer operational. In addition, most countries have imposed more or less restrictive lockdowns. So, this is definitely not the time to travel, either internationally, or nationally.
We see videos and pictures of famous and usually crowded places now deserted. It’s the new curiosity. What does the world outside my condo look like on lockdown? I don’t know about you, but I feel like I never wanted more to enjoy the beauties of the world now that I would get to enjoy those alone. Is this a symptom of the way we travel? We generated mass tourism, yet we despise it. Can we have it both ways? This is something for us to meditate while in quarantine.
How to adapt tourism and prevent site deteriorations in the future?
Here are different solutions to mass tourism we witness so far:
The most radical one is to close the sites endangered by tourism. Thailand’s Maya Beach is a concrete example. In 2000, the film “The Beach” starring Leonardo Di Caprio unfolded on Maya Beach, in the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi Le. The scenery is truly majestic and makes everyone dream. A victim of its own success, the 200-meter-long beach saw about 5k tourists every day, coming by speedboats.
In 2018, the decision to close the site was unavoidable to preserve the seabed. It sent a strong statement and raised awareness about the consequences of mass tourism. The tourists themselves often agreed with the decision, reckoning that it’s probably the only way for their (potential) grandchildren to enjoy the site in later years. The locals on the other hand were torn about the decision. Up to 16% of the Thai population earn their livings from tourism. But they don’t want that kind of tourism anymore. They aspire to sustainable tourism: finding the right balance between maximizing profits and minimizing impact on the environment.
Yet, the closing solution is only partly satisfying. First, tourists kept coming even though they were stopped 300 meters away from the beach and couldn’t take a swim anymore. Then, it led loads of tourists to neighbouring beaches. Eventually, it didn’t solve the issue, just moved the problem. Indeed, it seems impossible to close all the endangered sites (except during the pandemic, you got me!).
Implementing quotas is another solution, often favoured by the public. Access to France’s Mont-Blanc is limited to 214 mountaineers per day; The Waves in Arizona can be witnessed by 20 lucky tourists a day, picked by a lottery; Dubrovnik’s Mayor authorises only 4k cruise-tourists to visit the medieval Croatian city each day (trying to avoid ending up like Venice in Italy); etc.
In Thailand, they concurrently hold quotas and sustainable training in the Similan islands – the first in the country. Before leaving the mainland, tourists are encouraged to be mindful about the precious ecosystem on the islands and told which rules to follow, including not taking back any rock or coral as a souvenir. While on the idyllic islands, visitors are constantly monitored by the guides and by rangers, who can fine any reluctant tourist. It’s been two years that the limit of 3850 tourists a day has been in place. The guides say they’ve seen a difference and are convinced it’s a great decision. But, from outsiders’ eyes, the quota seems still very high, as the beaches are still packed.
“In Costa Rica, responsible trips with the discovery of local traditions, close to the inhabitants and their true way of life, are widely organised and promoted.”
Some countries bet on lux tourism to limit mass tourism. In Bhutan, you can only reach some areas if you concede to pay a 250$ tax per person per day. This allows the locals to benefit greatly from tourism economics while limiting the number of visitors to set foot in their region. But let’s be honest, it deepens the already huge social disparities in travelling.
Some Governments decided to tackle the consequences of tourism head on. Palau’s authorities were the first to change the national laws in regards to environmental protection. You won’t enter the Palau island, unless you’ve signed on your passport a pledge to respect the island environment drafted with the help of children from all over the island. “I take this pledge as your guest to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. […] The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”
Finally, eco-tourism can be an alternative. In Costa Rica, responsible trips with the discovery of local traditions, close to the inhabitants and their true way of life, are widely organised and promoted. UNESCO emphasizes that the control of large numbers of visitors can be dealt with by organising circuits to spread the flood of tourists on the sites. But the organisation reckons that it’s an art that has to be learnt, it’s a peculiar way to cope with mass tourism. On the other hand, tourists must agree to get off the beaten track and enjoy the variety of things to see beside the mainstream attractions.
Beyond this non-exhaustive list of answers to mass tourism, of course what really needs to change is the way travelling is conceived. Being on holiday doesn’t give you the right to forget any good manners. It doesn’t make you a lord or a lady, above the laws, with people working for you. And foremost, travelling is not about showing off! Enjoy being away from home to learn a new way of life, a new culture and respect it. Always keep a critical mind when you’re suggested activities on the ground. What seems ethical at first sight, may not always be. Also, never underestimate the power of social media. Raise awareness of mass tourism consequences, share your experiences in making your trips ethical, and unfollow Instagramers that are not willing to change their way of travelling. In the end, never forget the power YOU have to set the right example and make things change.
Featured photo by Ibrahim Rifath