“We stopped in Fiji, Wellington, Sydney, Perth, etc., etc.”
International tourism now makes up around 30% of all international services trade and is valued at some $ 900 billion p.a. People do love to tell others where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. Here in Ireland, you’re just a bit passé if you haven’t been to either New Zealand or Australia. You’re most definitely of a different era if you haven’t had a few beers in Manhattan.
Almost by definition, you have to travel quite a distance to be a tourist – or at least one with a certain coolness. It’s not by accident that Ryanair has developed into Europe’s largest airline. “Give it to them and they will come” might be their motto. Put on the routes and they will be filled.
But therein lies a conundrum for so-called ecotourism and sustainable tourism.
I’ve mentioned this before and I keep coming back to it in my own head. You only have to look at The Galapagos story. If tourists travel, damage will follow. Of that, there can be no doubt. Clearly, if tourists do not travel to areas of pristine beauty, then the pristine beauty stands a much better chance of survival.
Should tourism be limited to places which have already suffered its consequences ?
Bialowieza National Park in Poland famously boasts its Strict Reserve, into which tourists may only enter with a registered guide. But enter they may.
There are truly wonderful initiatives out there, such as Leave No Trace, of which I am a trainer, trying to limit peoples’ impacts. But by times, I have to ask myself if the best way of leaving no trace would not simply be to stay out altogether.
On the other hand, I know that this is purely theoretical. The reality is that man has spread his tentacles all over the planet. Even into Antarctica. We travel to a given place ‘because it’s there’. Siberia will soon realise this and become a major nature and adventure tourism destination.
So, given that we will continue to travel, I guess we might as well try to do so in a reasonable fashion that doesn’t damage the environment as much as other forms of tourism.
Maybe we don’t need to pollute an area’s water table. Maybe we don’t need to exploit all the local workers with miserable wages and poor working conditions. Maybe we don’t need to force our western culture upon a destination. Maybe we don’t need to take that high powered motor boat out on the lovely lake. Maybe we don’t need to throw our litter around. Maybe we don’t need a sex slave. Maybe we don’t need to stay in a five star hotel cossetted away from the local life brimming outside the gated property.
So ecotourism (or at least sustainable tourism) is probably, on the balance of it, a positive notion. We will travel, so let’s make an effort at least. But unless its promoters and service providers are completely serious and authentic about reducing their impacts on the environment, it might just be make-believe for those of us who feel the need to tick the boxes for Perth, Windhoek and so on.