Tourism’s positive impacts are brilliant. It’s a global driver of economic prosperity and employment, redistributes wealth, finances infrastructure, and supports conservation. It can promote goodwill and respect of culture, heritage, and traditions.
In tandem with its growth, tourism’s negative impacts are massive and alarming. Jobs are often poorly paid and seasonal, and tourism revenue often leaks out to foreign companies. Over-tourism deteriorated the quality of life in popular places, overused resources, and increased congestion, consumption, cost of living, cultural clashes, pollution, and waste. Many degraded their natural and cultural landscapes. Loss of native customs and traditions, substance abuse, and sex exploitation can occur.
In 1987, a concerned United Nations (UN) introduced a sustainable development concept that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A few tourism vanguards became Guardians of places, while many others did little to nothing for decades.
Twenty-four years later, The Last Tourist documentary pulls back the curtain to reveal the grave impact of mass tourism on local communities, wildlife, and the environment. Insights from leading visionaries in travel and tourism explored alarming issues around behaviour and values, and exposed how children are exploited for profit, the cruelty to animals for entertainment and a selfie, and how many regions allow money to leak out to international operators and owners while their most vulnerable people bear the brunt of tourism’s negative impacts.
“The film will serve to educate all of us on some of these facts and also shine a spotlight on the negative effects – often unseen and unfelt by tourists – of travelling the world,” says Bruce Poon Tip, the film’s producer and founder of community tourism pioneer and adventure operator, G Adventures. “The travel industry has the power to be truly transformational and the main takeaway is the realization that travel is a privilege, not a right. Only a tiny percentage of the world’s population have the privilege to travel and with that privilege comes responsibility. We all have the power to drive change through the choices we make and where we choose to spend our money. The travel industry caters to demand and if the demand from travellers shifts towards more conscious and responsible experiences then the industry will respond.”
TRAVELERS BEHAVING BADLY: IS THE CONDUCT GETTING WORSE?
As tourism became a top revenue generator in over eighty percent of the world’s countries and holidays and flights became cheaper for the masses, it has placed more immense strain on environments and extracted resources from local communities.
At the height of the over-tourism problem, CNN Travel shared other points of view:
Professor Phaedra C. Pezzullo, tourism specialist and author of the book “Toxic Tourism” attests that these aren’t necessarily new issues. “As long as humans have traveled, cultures have clashed and the environment has paid a price,” says Pezzullo. “Access to touring farther distances by more people has increased. I’m not sure it [behavior] is worse.”
Judy Randall, CEO of travel and tourism research specialist company Randall Travel Marketing, feels that some of the perceived unruly behavior is merely a reaction to a shift in the way travelers are treated now that tourism is booming across the world. “I firmly believe it all lives in that front line – giving visitor effective orientation and information,” Randall says. “Treat them [travelers] well, and they will reward you in kind. Leave them solely to their own devices and they will be irritated and behave poorly. If you think about air travel – this is exactly the case. Most people would agree that those air travelers in first class behave better than in economy. Is it because they are different types of people, or because they are treated better from start to finish? I think they [travelers] miss being treated well. Although there’s no clear evidence that travelers are behaving any worse than before. As tourism numbers continue to increase, it seems apparent that there’s a growing discontent between some destinations and the people that travel there.”
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OVERTOURISM?
As a society and as individuals, we must confront difficult questions and have uncomfortable conversations about our participation in the negative impacts and the destruction as we travel.
Responsible Travel identified the real cause of over tourism as the collusion between airlines, cruise ships and governments to create artificially cheap flights and cruises at the expense of the taxpayer and the environment. Their site bluntly called out everyone responsible for over-tourism:
The ‘Free Loaders’: We need to wake people up to reality: tourism is one big freeloading industry. Travel companies have profited from creating pretty packages of culture and coast, lifestyles and landscapes. We don’t pay for the sight of a French farmer selling his garlic at the local market; we often don’t even buy from him. Instead, we like to take photos and feel satisfied by the fact that we have had an ‘authentic experience’. For free. Meanwhile, Monsieur has to pay more for his market stall, parking and local tax. We don’t pay to hike in many of the stunning national parks in in Europe. National parks are usually funded by central government so, ultimately, it is the taxpayer in that country who pays. Freedom to roam is wonderful, but it always costs somebody something at the end of the day.
The Destinations & Tourist Boards: Marketing or, as is needed in some countries, demarketing a destination is complex and varies in each country, depending on whether marketing funds come from central or regional government, which becomes highly political.
The Numbers Nerds: At government level, the success of tourism is still measured in numbers. Bums on seats. A quality experience where both hosts and guests are happy with the holiday is hard to quantify for a Minister of Tourism. Show a year on year increase in people, be it on cruise ships, driving routes or packed coaches, and job done. Let’s just turn a blind eye to what’s going on behind the numbers.
The Global Aviation Industry: A deal in 1944 known as the Chicago Convention gave them tax exemption for aviation fuel. The lack of duty and no VAT on aviation fuel results in a ‘subsidy’ that supports the boom in budget flights. In addition to tax free fuel, there have been allegations that some governments pay airlines to land in their countries to attract more tourists.
The Cruise Lines: The giant cruise ship companies need to come out of denial. A rapidly growing industry, it is having a hugely detrimental effect on port cities where thousands of tourists disembark. At the 2018 Seatrade Cruise Global conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, leaders in the industry agreed that they ‘could do a better job’ by managing the flow of passengers from ship to shore. In terms of overall responsibility, however, they threw that hot potato back to the destination, saying they needed better infrastructures to cope. Infrastructure for what, though? The majority of cruise liner passengers disembark for a wander, a photo, an ice cream, and then head back on board for dinner.
Cruise liners are also permitted to burn one of the most polluting diesel fuels, known as ‘bunker fuel’. This type of fuel, and its associated pollution and public health risks, would not be allowed on land. This fuel is also, literally, dirt cheap, which keeps the prices artificially low and, consequently, cruise passenger numbers off the scale.
The Media: The travel media are still resistant to publishing negative stories about companies that may advertise in their travel pages. They are more likely to run an article that is quick and easy copy to generate and, therefore, cheap. They are also unlikely to show photos of packed beaches in Sri Lanka or tell you about the music pumping out from certain all-inclusive resorts on the same beaches. Idyllic empty beach shots with swaying palm trees all the way.
The Holidaymakers: There is a ridiculous obsession with bucket lists in the world of travel, one that we are all guilty of buying into.
The Parents: School holidays result in the ridiculous funnelling of tourists during the school holidays. There is little we can do about that, except when placing your vote at the ballot box. However, the one reason that we include parents in this list is because of school trips. Those quick and easy French market trips to an already overcrowded Berlin. The skiing trip to the already burgeoning Alps. The Spanish ‘language’ trip to Madrid that is often no more than a souped up city break with a lot of crowd controlling going on. Schools are guilty of opting for the easy, ‘done to death’ school package operators, and they could do so much better. And be much more responsible, too, when it comes to overtourism. But parents need to create that change and say “no” to over expensive, overcrowded and overhyped school trips, and to show schools that there are alternatives out there.
The Film frenzy: We are all to blame for jumping on the movie bandwagon, although the media and tourist boards are the worst culprits. The mass marketing of these films creates an opportunity for destinations, travel companies and editors to churn out copy quicker than you can say ‘May the Force be with you.’ Until they realise that, with mass tourism marketing, there is nearly always a dark side.
How can we change? The host nations have the biggest voices when it comes to finger pointing in tourism. Just as some tourists may claim that ‘travel is their right’, local residents are also claiming it is their right to say “enough is enough.”
IT MUST BE NOW
It Must Be NOW has boldly shined a spotlight on the positive and negative impacts of travel since we launched in 2016 to help build a global community of conscious travellers that are ‘force for good’ and use the power of their wallet to drive change.
We have featured Our Big Questions articles on the NOW Guide on Overtourism in 2018, followed by Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, and Overtourism – The Canary in the Coal Mine in 2019, which was republished again in 2022 as travel started to pick-up post-covid. We shared What conscious travellers want today? and our point of view in Is Regenerative Tourism Better and Smarter?
2023 brings bigger awareness of the urgency for climate action. Government regulations on sustainability reporting and green claims are stricter in some countries, and demand for ESG Reporting has increased from banks for incentivised loans and from insurance companies for high-risk destinations.
We offer the NOW Climate Positive Program to help hotels, tourism facilities and education institutions to obtain a fully funded Integrated Sustainability Program for accountability and transparency, and access to high integrity carbon offsets with capped pricing to seriously advance sustainability that can accelerate to Climate Positive; and to take action with a Net Positive approach that puts back more into society, the environment and the global economy than it takes out, to ensure a rapid and just transition to a safe climate and regenerative future.