Less than thirty years ago, going on a backpacking trip to Thailand or exploring the Andes was an adventure dared by only a few. Now, it has become common and tourism is a huge part of modern life. Whether it was for a few days in a discount hotel room in Montreal, a two week family sightseeing tour in France or a road trip across the USA, everyone has been a tourist at least once. Tourism-friendly structures exists almost everywhere in the world and there is practically no unknown place left to explore. While it is great to discover God’s green Earth, some worry that tourism will soon become a major problem. Loss of cultural heritage, ecological degradation, economic dependence… what are the consequences of mass tourism? And, most importantly, what can be done to limit – or at least, control – the damage?
An Overview Of Some Damage
Altered Heritage Sites
The Lascaux caves are now closed to the public: the humidity produced by the breathing of visitors created condensation on the walls of the caves, damaging the Stone Age paintings. The Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt had to be closed for over a year to allow an intensive restoration process: like at Lascaux, the humidity due to the high numbers of visitors caused cracks in the 4500 years old walls, walls that had never cracked before. Machu Picchu, the great Inca monument in Peru which survived wars, earthquakes and thousands of years of history, is finally surrendering to a new enemy: hordes of over 2500 tourists visiting the site annually caused it to be listed as endangered, and the ruins are in need of intensive restoration. Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s famous religious monument, is degrading everyday as careless tourists walk freely on its 1000 year old stones. The Cambodian Government is not taking any steps to reduce or control tourism: the income generated by Angkor Wat is too important.
A few years ago, British scientists discovered that a malaria-bearing mosquito was brought to the Galapagos Islands by tourists, endangering one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is at risk due to the number of cruise ships passing nearby. Also, the impressive amount of sunscreen floating in the water is endangering this fragile marine ecosystem. In the Philippines, coral have been dynamited and mined to build resorts, beaches and marinas, not only damaging ecosystems but also depriving local fishermen of their resources. In Yosemite National Park, the constant traffic of tourist vehicles had caused a thick smog to form, so thick that the park sometimes can’t be seen from above.
An Overview of Some of the Solutions
Additional Fees and Holiday Lottery
Countries like Bhutan are applying such measures on a national level: Bhutan has a very strict set of rules when it comes to tourism, including a high daily fee for anyone wishing to visit the country and a visa that is quite tricky to obtain.
Some countries might even go further and initiate more drastic measures. The concept of “Holiday Lotteries” has been suggested by some activists. The principle is simple and effective: visitors would have to submit their candidacy to “win” the right to visit a particular destination.
Not willing to give up altogether on tourism – which, frankly, would be impossible – UNESCO and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) are fighting for sustainable tourism, a way of traveling that is responsible, eco-friendly and that encourages local economies. If sustainable and responsible, tourism can be beneficial, both financially and environmentally. It could, for example, force various governments to adopt environmental measures they would not have adopted otherwise.
All the efforts of governments and international organizations won’t matter, though, if the key figure of sustainable tourism remains unchanged: the tourist. The tourist is the only one with true power. The power to travel without causing damage, to gather information about the culture and environment of the country to be visited, and to act both respectfully and responsibly. If a change is to be made – and based on the extent of the damage listed earlier, a change will be needed soon – it will have to come from the tourists. In other words, it will have to come from each and every one of us.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile – Wikipedia Public Domain
Panorama of the Upper Gallery, Angkor Wat – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Magnificent Frigate Bird – Wikimedia Public Domain
Coral Outcrop Great Barrier Reef – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Angkor Wat Feature Image – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Mireille Mayrand-Fiset is a freelance blogger for District Griffin, a developer offering condos for sale in Montreal.
She is also a theater, music and travel enthusiast and writes for stage and television.