The question of over tourism is a difficult one that I have been giving more thought to recently. It’s true that locations can only handle so many people, especially in a manner that is sustainable. More people means more trash, more waste and more wear and tear. As any planner knows, the larger and more complicated something gets, the difficulties involved in getting it to work grow exponentially. Tourism is no different, the more of us travel the more damage we do in those travels. Pavement is worn away, trash piles up and there are more chances for the less intelligent amongst us do things they absolutely should not do to the wonders of our world. Can we possibly protect these wonders against the tsunami of people that want to see them? How can we we be responsible tourists in such circumstances?
On the other hand there is value in more people getting to see these wonders. As a world traveler myself I cherish my memories of the likes of Venice or Angkor Wat and I certainly hope to one day get to experience the wonders of the Aurora for myself. It Is important to be able to let people see for themselves that there is more to the world than what they will ever see in the tiny bubbles we spend most of our lives in. As a lover of history, it is things like this that inspire that love. Students whiling away in a class room forced to remember dates that in the end don’t really matter do not inspire anything but boredom in most. Meanwhile, viewing a grand castle or the magnitude of a glacier can inspire in them things they would never get to feel confined to the normal bubble of their life.
So how exactly do we go about balancing these competing virtues of preservation and erudition? Some might say to just raise prices and make plane tickets more expensive to these destinations. Things such as carbon taxes would play a strong role in a plan like this. I really dislike this position, while it would indeed probably solve the problem, it reeks of classism. The poor and middle class have as much a right to view the great works of humanity and nature as the rich. While it is true many are already priced out of visiting the likes of say, Rome in the summer or a safari in Botswana, that does not mean making this problem worse is for the better. The wonders of the world should not be the exclusive domain of the wealthy and making them so would only invite discontent amongst the less fortunate.
Other suggestions I’ve seen have involved quota’s and lotteries. This is a system I find more palatable even if from a free market perspective it will probably cause difficulties. A system like this would be far fairer though rather difficult to implement for those wonders located in some of the worlds largest cities that require a constant flow of people in and out to operate. For the natural wonders of the world though it could work pretty well, insuring things stay at manageable levels for the area. Mind you the rich would still have something of an advantage in this system in that they could just pay exorbitant amounts to lottery winners for their slots, but it at least has much more of an appearance of fairness.
Of course, if we want to go more sci-fi and hopes for the future, someday we might be able to recreate such experiences through Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality. Currently with many VR head sets you can take guided tours of major cities like Paris or Rome. Of course for now these don’t really give the same experience as actually being there, since it is exclusively visual, but who knows what technological marvels we might see in the coming decades. The way the internet has expanded the ability for people to search for knowledge would have been unimaginable 50 years ago, it’s certainly possible VR might be able to give us these experiences too some day. I’m sure this won’t stop people from wanting to go out and experience it in real life, there will always be a market for the ”real”, but it could certainly give the less fortunate, less wealthy, the elderly, hands capped and sickly the chance to experience these things too.
At the end of the day, I don’t think we can with our current technological level truly solve this issue. I want to preserve these wonders but at the same time I want more people to get to experience them. Of everything I talked about above, only the last of them holds any real hope in my eyes of resolving both of these conflicting virtues. Unfortunately we just aren’t there yet and I certainly don’t have the skill set to get us there. All I can do, in the famous words of Alexandre Dumas, is Wait and Hope.