The Waterlily Wind & Water Turbine is a genius sustainable travel tool, a durable and portable USB charger that enables you to recharge USB-compatible devices without having to use a power source or have access to sunshine. Especially suited to outdoor enthusiasts, from campers and bikers to hikers and canoers, it’s designed so you can using the power of the wind or moving water to recharge any USB-compatible devices with a 5V output – hold it out in the wind on top of the mountain you’ve just climbed, tow it behind your kayak while you explore or set it up at camp and go out for the day.
Overtourism refers to the tipping point where the drawbacks of having a lot of people at a destination outweigh the benefits, and many worldwide tourist destinations have reached and gone beyond it. While ‘overtourism’ has been around since humans started to travel to different places and take a ‘holiday’, it’s become something of an urgent contemporary phenomenon as our capacity to travel knows no bounds and only increases year on year.
Many of us have experienced the thrill of discovering a new place that no-one has seen before, from a wild picnic spot near our home to an island in the middle of a tropical ocean. We discover it, tell others about it in our excitement, and help make it ‘the’ place to go. Travel and tourism companies get involved and it grows and reaches its peak, after which time we might just regret sharing it in the first place.
From littering, long queues and overcrowding to bad behaviour induced by stress, popularity has its downsides when it comes to travel, and before you know it, the beautiful haven you found has turned into a dump that’s no good for anyone.
For years most unsustainable tourism companies have generally adopted the approach of ‘quantity over quality’. The idea has been to attract as many people as possible to a sight, area or country, often without any thought as to how this might affect the place or people who live there. There wasn’t any need at the beginning, perhaps, to limit numbers or safeguard communities and habitats. Locals were, it was assumed, hungry for business, and attractive and fascinating places still had their sheen. But this time has now passed for many.
Overtourism has hit the press in recent years with local protests against tourist numbers and behaviour in cities such as Venice, San Sebastian and Barcelona, but media coverage has been highlighting the problem for a long time in different ways. Countries such as Thailand have seen sex tourism, drug culture and badly behaved tourists turn popular places into overcrowded hellholes, while in other countries we know that forests are routinely cleared to build yet more resorts.
So what can be done? Travel agencies need to become more accountable and transparent and address the issue of overtourism for the safety and enjoyment of their clients. Most especially as the continued rise of cheap flights and cheap hotels and our growing world population will only make matters worse. We as sustainable travellers can also play our part to help solve overtourism. Here are a few tips.
How to help with overtourism
– Choose where you travel with care. Travel to countries that deliberately limit tourist numbers, such as Bhutan, or to those that are working on models of sustainable tourism, such as Costa Rica.
- Travel further wherever you go – most people only visit Havana when they visit Cuba, for example, but you can spread the tourist load by getting into the hinterland.
- Travel off season or in shoulder season rather than peak seasons – this limits the overwhelm of peak season, but also creates more certainly for local businesses so they don’t just rely on peak season.
- Ask a local – they have insider knowledge on when coach loads of people turn up and go home, and on lesser visited beaches or sites that are often just as beautiful and interesting, sometimes more so, than the ones pushed by tourist companies.
- Change your itinerary in popular countries – go to see a different Buddhist temple than the one you’ve been advised to see in Sri Lanka, for example – both are likely to be magical.
– Stay in locally owned hotels rather than Airbnb when you travel to popular cities – there’s a theory that in Venice, for example, the rise of Airbnb means locals are being pushed out of the housing market.
- Go somewhere different. Travel companies with large marketing budgets tend to push the same places over and over, so do your own research and branch out.
- Be a responsible traveller when you do travel. Buy and stay local, choose travel companies who care, avoid cruise ships and unsustainable chain hotels.
For more information, check out Responsible Travel, where founder Justin Francis and others regularly cover the problem of overtourism: www.responsibletravel.com
US National Parks are under threat like never before from the Trump Administration, funding shortfalls, and being loved to death by too many tourists. Justin Francis, Founder of Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com), reports on a key issue for sustainable tourism.
Yellowstone, established in 1872, is famously the world’s first National Park. Its success inspired countries across the world to follow suit, and yet US National Parks are under threat like never before.
With maintenance funding shortfalls of over $11bn popular trails in Zion National Park have been closed since 2010, elsewhere rusting pipes providing drinking water are continuously breaking and historic cabins have collapsed.
The Trump administration has offered an $18bn fund to address this, but it comes with an almighty catch. It will be paid for by deregulating oil and gas extraction, firing staff and allowing Ryan Zinke, The Interior Secretary, to sell off any public lands he wishes. In January ten members of the National Park Service advisory board quit en masse.
Desperate to raise funds Yosemite has a Starbucks close to the world famous Yosemite Falls. While some expressed their happiness at being able to enjoy a coffee in familiar surroundings, 25,000 people signed a petition objecting to it, one of whom said
‘National Parks are supposed to represent the sheer, untouched beauty of nature. It is meant to be untouched by the civilized and corporate world. However, placing a Starbucks in the centre of it makes it nothing short of a cheap tourist attraction’.
Seventeen of the most popular US National Parks including Yosemite and Yellowstone will be increasing entrance fees significantly during the peak season, partly to address funding shortfalls and partly to address ‘over tourism’ issues in these months.
Price rises are controversial with some as they may restrict access for less well off visitors but at $70 for a vehicle with four passengers Park entrance fees are the same as four Caffe Mocha’s for each passenger. Well worth it for a visit to one of the most spectacular places on earth!
Overcrowding issues are also becoming a major threat, both to the Parks and to people’s enjoyment of them.
In 2016 the Parks attracted a record 331 million visitors. Zion National park saw 4.3m visitors, up 60% from ten years ago. At the top of Angels Landing, portable toilets were closed with a sign: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”
Park visitors are not required to make an online reservation before visiting, and there are no limits on visitors. Park Managers are unable to control where, when or how many visitors a Park attracts on a daily basis. Without this it seems to me that tourism is impossible to manage, and I’m amazed it’s taken this long (or that we needed to reach a crisis) for Park Management to start to address this.
It’s time we started properly valuing, funding and managing US National Parks. Much as it has been since 1872 the world will be watching.
Did you know that 61% of fashion brands don’t know who makes their clothes, and 93% don’t know where their fabrics come from? This month itmustbeNOW magazine talks to Charlotte Instone, whose online shop Know The Origin ensures consumers know the impact and origin of the products they buy – perfect for anyone looking for sustainable travelling clothes. Find out more at https://knowtheorigin.com
One word that describes you?
In your own words, what do you do?
Create a movement towards justice in the fashion industry.
Which is the favourite part of your job?
Working with and learning from incredible Fairtrade and organic producers across India.
Which is the part that you enjoy the least?
Being a small team and not being able to pursue every opportunity.
Who is your greatest influence?
Anita Roddick – amazing culture change she created with Body Shop and animal testing.
Best advice you’ve been given?
What does it take to X10 – lift your eyes above your circumstances.
What was your Plan B?
There is no plan B – I don’t believe in planning to fail.
Your personal indulgence?
Way too much time in the “gym” – aka the sauna.
How do you like to travel?
To places off the grid – with sunshine, culture and incredible food.
Favourite sustainable hotel or other place to stay?
My favourite trip was camping in Mexico – nothing beats getting off the grid.
What places to stay walk the talk on sustainability in your experience?
Ajiyer in Tangail, Bangladesh, a beautiful guesthouse in the jungle. All the food is locally sourced within 5km, and they grow all their herbs and spices and other ingredients on the farm. They also have a handloom centre where they use traditional techniques to make fabrics. http://www.ajiyer.com/tangail/
What steps do you take to make your life more sustainable?
Cutting out single-use plastics.
What must happen now to help make our planet more sustainable?
It must be NOW that we establish a culture of connection and caring, and understand that everything we do has meaning and impact.
If you could have one hour with a world leader, who would it be and what would you say?
Trump – I’d want to talk all things climate change, as I would love to understand the legacy he wants to leave.
Any regrets so far?
No regrets, nothing good ever comes from dwelling, I’m always pushing forwards.
With its sharp granite peaks often shrouded in mist, tall pine trees and low-lying clouds, the otherworldly Huangshan scenic area in eastern China has been inspiring artists and writers for generations. It’s the subject of many of China’s most famous scroll paintings, and features many times in Chinese literature – Lonely Planet estimates that it was the subject of at least 20,000 poems during the Qing dynasty alone.
Translating as Yellow Mountain in English, and a namesake of the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) in 747 AD, Huangshan is in China’s Anhui province and has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1990 for its scenery and wildlife. It looks beautifully Zen in its promotional pictures, and remains an inspirational place to visit, most especially off season, early in the morning for sunrise views of the mountains, and for its hiking trails and interesting set of pavilions and temples.
Contemporary artists and poets might find it difficult to find the tranquility their predecessors once did, however, especially during peak holiday periods and weekends, for the area draws over three million visitors each year. Between 2011-2015, the total number of visitors reached 14.65 million. Though authorities cap visitor numbers to 50,000 visitors per day, many travellers feel that this is still far too high to secure high standards of comfort, safety and enjoyment of the area and to protect the area in the name of sustainable tourism.
It’s not that China hasn’t been managing Huangshan to try to make it a more sustainable tourism destination. To help protect the area’s rare species such as lions, and to allow soil and forest to recover and grow, for example, Huangshan has been working on a closure rotation system for its most frequently visited scenic spots since 1989. An effective practice recommended by UNESCO, this entails the closure of popular areas such as Lion Peak from three to five years.
In addition, 6 billion yuan (the equivalent of nearly 955 million US dollars) has been invested over the last five years in transport, information systems and sanitation, and this investment will continue and increase year on year. Winter tours are promoted to try to balance tourism numbers throughout the four seasons, and to help protect the environment and resources, 10 clear routes are tailored and promoted for domestic and foreign tourists, from an experiential tour of ‘perfect’ countryside and a photography tour of picturesque villages to a quality tour of Hui Culture and a world classic heritage tour of Mt. Huangshan itself.
Perhaps most importantly, local communities in the surrounding five towns benefit from Huangshan’s economic development. They work in resources protection, forest fire prevention, monitoring, patrolling, and planning, and are informed and consulted on major decision-making as well.
All these efforts are to be applauded. In 2000 Huangshan was selected as a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Sustainable Tourism Observatory, one of the only 21 locations worldwide that are committed to regular and timely measurement of tourism at destination level, and in 2017, the area became the first Chinese National Park to achieve EarthCheck Silver Certification as a sustainable destination.
But there’s still a long way to go. Such certification doesn’t measure overtourism, and many travellers and travel agents still feel that numbers need to be far more restricted, and more resources given, to ensure the area is a magical place to visit now and for future generations.
As with many popular tourist destinations all over the world that are suffering from overtourism, the main issue seems to be continued overcrowding, especially during peak periods. Numbers need to be capped more strictly, there needs to be improved sanitation facilities and more restaurants that cater to international travellers, single-use plastics need to be banned, and account needs to be taken of safety among large numbers – there are a lot of very steep steps on the mountain, for example, which can feel dangerous and stressful to walk on in a crowd. We as travellers can help by asking the right questions – read the NOW guide to Overtourism.
Less than two hours drive from Cape Town, we visited Grootbos Private Nature Reserve for three wonderful days last year and found an extraordinary place filled with natural beauty and warm hospitality. The lodge is in an area of endangered fynbos plants, a protected area set aside for the survival and conservation of these unique and indigenous species. We stayed in a private and tranquil suite amidst a well-tended garden of flowering Fynbos and the sight and sound of the ocean.
The guided tours offered through the expansive Grootbos nature reserve were impressive and informative, and a must for nature lovers. We enjoyed a stunning view of Walker Bay and its superb dunes and beaches. We learned about the importance of periodic controlled fires and about the symbiotic relations between the Fynbos plants, insects and animals in producing the enormous diversity of species in this part of the Cape Floristic Region. Some plants are new to science and often only occur for brief periods following the fires, and it was exciting to witness the discovery of the 799th and 800th plants!
This inspiring enterprise features a unique combination of ecological, social, educational and scientific activities. A stay at Grootbos also gives back to the host community. A small nightly fee on top of the room rate funds local projects. Michael Lutzeyer, the owner and his team are committed to conservation and sustainability, social enterprise and community involvement. They fund a local sports club for township kids and trains disadvantaged youths in a horticultural college. They have their own organic farm that provides vegetables to the restaurants and there are bee hives that produce honey. They bottle and filter their own water so there is no plastic. Flynbos plants are also cultivated at Grootbos for replanting and sale, providing education and work for many people and improving lives.
A relaxing place to connect deeply with nature, Grootbos is well worth a longer stay!