Paradise is something we’ve grown up expecting to find when we book a trip, but the myth makes travel unsustainable.
Shall we book a one way ticket to paradise? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines paradise as ‘a place or condition of great happiness where everything is exactly as you would like it to be’. Just the thing we need when we’re stressed out or bored at home, which is why the concept has been so often applied to holidays and is something many of us have grown up expecting to find when we spend money to go somewhere.
While the image of a pristine deserted beach graced by sunlight and free of people has become a cliché, many of us still daydream of far-flung pleasures and perfections from our desks when we’re planning our next trip, and the travel industry remains expert at selling us the myth. From enticing website copy to gorgeous photography, we’re told that if we book this hotel at this location, we’ll find somewhere pure and perfect where all our dreams will come true, where all our stress will disappear, where we can be happy and free and leave all our troubles behind – or indeed sort them out whilst sipping our Pina Coladas. We as travellers help perpetuate it too, by editing our photographs for Instagram or Facebook and pretending we were in paradise anyway, even when things failed to
live up to our expectations.
We all know that finding paradise is not a realistic dream in our 21st century world, where many people and much of the planet is empoverished, flawed or fragile and where empty spaces to retreat to are the exception rather than the rule. There are still beautiful beaches, impeccable service and life changing experiences to be found out there, but for every one of these that are offered in the spirit of sustainability, the travel industry perpetuates the paradise myth by not telling us the truth about others.
Holed up and cosseted in our hotel rooms, and treated with kid gloves by staff, we haven’t always had the opportunity to open our eyes and see what’s going on around us, from the rubbish that’s lying festering on untamed neighbouring land to the locals who live in poverty and don’t gain a dime from the tourist ventures near their town. But far from looking for paradise, we need to be realistic in our expectations when we travel and acknowledge we are part of a wider world if we want to travel sustainably and use our travel experiences to help build a more sustainable world.
Justin Francis, founder of Responsible Travel, says: ‘Our obsession with tourist destinations as paradise has led to us to turn a blind eye to local issues and feel we have a right to behave as we wish’. Rather than hiding these local issues, he says, the travel industry needs to be honest about the locations in which they operate and present them as real places that can benefit from tourist investment. ‘The travel industry has in the past thought that tourists didn’t want to be properly informed, but in my view that’s mistaken and has limited the tourism industry’s commitment and ability to do much to help solve these problems’.
This is the case whatever budget we have when we travel. And it’s the belief of many conscious travellers that, when it comes especially to luxury travel, sustainability is set to redefine it. Luxury experiences are not about perfection, unparalleled service or being The Best in the World. They are about authenticity and about being ‘the best for our world’. There’s a calm difference, a difference that will create a win-win for both traveller and travel
By encouraging the hotels we book and the tour operators we choose to make a stand and be honest about the locations in which they operate, we can in turn help drive change for the good of the whole world. It will be the end of paradise, but the start of truly authentic travel.