The term “sustainable travel” is a loaded one, to say the least. However, in recent years it has become slightly more urgent. With the dawn of cheap, accessible tourism, an unsustainable urge for travel has been formed. Think of companies such as Ryanair, which is largely responsible for bringing budget flights to Europe, and Airbnb, a marketplace for accommodation that repeatedly comes under fire in the media for being the cause of skyrocketing rents. Such companies and organizations play a large role in this new phenomenon of unsustainable mass tourism.
The tourism industry is a force to be reckoned with; according to a report published by the World Travel & Tourism Council, the travel and tourism industry generated US $7.6 trillion worldwide in 2016. With this kind of value, there are many companies largely invested in the exponential growth of the travel industry, such as the likes of transport, hotels, and media companies – to name but a few. While tourism undoubtedly generates jobs, income and infrastructure, as well as remaining a beacon for many, that light does create a shadow which remains unknown to many of us.
The dark side of tourism
One city in particular that has suffered at the hands of tourism and travel is Venice, Italy. With its winding cobbled streets, its intricate labyrinth of waterways, and its stunning architecture, Venice has been a go-to destination for many years now. However, this has all come at a cost. Today’s Venice consists of monstrous cruise ships offloading thousands of tourists a day to the shores of the UNESCO World Heritage lagoon. As a result, the quaint Italian city has become unaffordable for just about everyone, except tourists.
All signs of any local citizens are fast disappearing and being replaced by tacky souvenir shops, one too many gondolas, overpriced food, and an abundance of B&Bs. Despite being the face of this change, the fault does not, in fact, lie with the tourists, but rather the city authorities’ inability to protect it due to their short-term focus on financial gain. This is the flipside to economic booms created by tourism.
It is not just Venice that suffers at the hands of mass tourism, but many other beloved destinations like Bali in Indonesia, Boracay in the Philippines, and Cancun in Mexico. Whether environmental degradation, socio-cultural impacts, or economic issues, by opening your eyes to the disadvantages of mass tourism, you can begin to make a change.
How to approach sustainable tourism
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the tourism industry, and there are ways that you, as a tourist, can travel the world in a respectful and ethical manner. Additionally, there are organizations such as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), that exist to bring sustainable solutions to the sector. Travel activists are beginning to set up blogs and social media platforms in order to spread the message of sustainable, ethical and responsible travel.
We are all part of the greater problem of mass tourism; we all like to think of ourselves as solo travelers who go off the beaten track, but in reality, we’re following in the footsteps of many a herd of tourists. With simple measures, there are numerous ways that you can lessen the impact of mass tourism. For starters, avoid excessively big cruises, go off-season, and reduce all chances of environmental destruction. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to travel consciously and remain aware of your surroundings and the language, culture and history a place entails. We also require local authorities to establish respect for their native attractions rather than promote the exploitation of them, and to limit the increasing prices.
We need to stop viewing holidays as a cheap packaged commodity that plays to our urges for instant gratification, but rather an opportunity that we should value and respect. The travel and tourism industry must be more strictly regulated in order to give way to locals rather than succumbing to the demands of larger corporations. The solution lies not in chastising tourists, travel is after all the best form of education, but rather, the solution lies in changing our long-term attitude towards tourism.