Nobody likes to be told that the thing they love, in this case traveling, is a “planet-threatening plague.” But that’s exactly what journalist and author Elizabeth Becker writes in a recent Washington Post Op/Ed piece: “global tourism today is not only a major industry — it’s nothing short of a planet-threatening plague.”
It’s a rousing essay and fairly scathing indictment of travel journalists in particular, but also those of us roaming the globe. While Becker mainly seems to focus on the sort of tourism vagabonds decry anyway — resorts, cruise ships, sex tourism and other ugly things — to try to pretend that even those of us with the best intentions don’t have an impact is naïve.
According to Becker, “last year, about 898 million people traveled the globe, and the international tourism industry earned $7 trillion. (And those figures don’t include people who vacation in their own countries.)”
She goes on to point out that roughly 8 percent of all the jobs in the world are tourism oriented. Tourism is a huge economy and Becker is right, it seldom receives the kind of scrutiny it deserves.
As regular readers know, there’s a big difference between the heavy impact tourism that’s destroying areas like Angkor Wat or Venice, and the kind of sustainable tourism we espouse here.
But even the conscientious traveler has an impact. For instance, consider the number of showers and toilet flushes even minimalist travelers add to the strain on an area’s water supply — as the number of travelers rises that strain grows and potentially destroys a vital local resources.
In the end I don’t know if there is an easy answer — all traveling will ultimately impact your destination (in both negative and positive ways).
But certainly I think Becker is right that the kind of wasteful, ecologically and economically damaging tourism that you see featured in the glossy pages of the monthly travel magazines has a limited lifespan.
Such tourism will either end because travelers wake up and change their ways or because the destinations featured are destroyed. The change will have to come from the travelers; Becker’s call to journalists to start covering the impact of global tourism sounds nice, but I don’t see the travel mags pushing alarmist headlines — it just doesn’t sell ads.
It’s tempting to get defensive about Becker’s argument because it cuts quite close to home, but before you dismiss her as overly-alarmist, give it some thought.
I’m also curious to hear any tips and advice you might have for minimizing your impact on local areas… leave your thoughts in the comments below.