I’m a traveller (get me out of here)

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Mass travel is unsustainable travel that hurts the planet and is pretty unpleasant for visitors and locals alike – so how can we turn this around?

The human population and the human desire to explore the planet are both growing faster than ever. But how many of us fully consider the impact we are having on our chosen destination, and how many of those destinations are taking care to shape that impact for the better? If we are to embrace sustainable travel and eco tourism, then these are questions we urgently need to consider.

If we are to move beyond eco friendly travel and green hotels to a brighter, more sustainable travelling future that embraces both people and planet, then for attractive locations, high visitor numbers is a double edged sword. Tourism brings trade and creates jobs, but it can have a hugely negative impact on the environment and local communities, on plants and animals, indigenous peoples and historical sights. Demand from the public and the resulting economic rewards for businesses and governments not only means an increase in flights and other services that pollute the atmosphere, but also the expansion of hotels, attractions and a general, all-consuming busyness which can be a pretty unpleasant experience for visitors and locals alike.

Busy travel spot

When people choose to travel during the year and the rhythm of modern life are an important factor here. Families with school age children usually need to travel in school holidays, often drawn to similar sunny coastlines or stunning monuments of interest, or we travel over festival periods such as Easter or Christmas to celebrate together, experience other cultures or escape the festivities altogether. All of which means more pressure on the same destinations for all concerned. When we choose to go off grid instead and explore unusual places, those places soon get put on the tourist map and so the expansion and busyness goes on.

In some parts of the world popular tourist destinations have taken the issue seriously and implemented a system to help limit numbers and change behaviours. Bhutan, for example, a Buddhist kingdom high in the Himalayas known for its monasteries, fortresses and dramatic landscapes, has a policy of ‘low volume, high-value’ tourism. Their vision, according to their website, is to ‘foster a vibrant industry as a positive force in the conservation of environment, promotion of cultural heritage, safeguarding sovereign status of the Nation for significantly contributing to Gross National Happiness’. This means that nearly all foreign visitors, as well as getting an entry visa, must pay a ‘minimum daily package’ fee set by the Royal Government of Bhutan of 200-250 USD. This covers accommodation, meals, guides, internal transport, and – impressively – a sustainable tourism royalty that goes toward free education, health care and alleviating poverty for locals.

The Galápagos Islands also regulate their tourist industry. The volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador is considered one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife, but because of the huge human impact of tourism, in 2007 Unesco listed the islands an endangered heritage site, forcing tourism to change. Visitor access is strictly regulated to certain areas of the islands, and you can only walk on marked trails in small guided groups. There are also 14 rules covering interaction with wildlife, smoking, recycling, sports and recreation. The scheme has been so effective that the Galápagos were removed from the endangered list in 2010.

In most destinations though, there is no system to limit numbers and there remains little or no control over how many flights are allowed, how many hotels are built or how people interact with their locality. Which means it’s up to us as travellers to think carefully when we choose our trips and try to book responsibly. Never forget how much power we have to help make a difference in the destinations we visit.

Busy travel spot

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