13 November 2020

The Guardian: “The end of tourism?”

Behind the recent campaigns against over-tourism lies a growing appreciation that public goods that were assumed to be endlessly exploitable are, in fact, both finite and have a value that the price of visiting them should reflect. “Polluter pays” is an economic principle that is gradually being introduced to farming, manufacturing and energy. The idea is that if your business produces harmful side effects, then you should be the one who picks up the tab for the cleanup operation. Something similar, incorporating not only environmental harm but also wider cultural degradation or damage to way of life, might become the guiding principle of a properly sustainable tourism industry. At present the focus is centred narrowly on tourism taxes, which aim to reduce the number of tourists while also bringing in more revenue.

From the petrol and particulates that spew from jetskis to pesticides drenching the putting green, the holidaymaker’s every innocent pleasure seems like another blow to the poor old planet. Then there is the food left in the fridge and the chemicals used to launder the sheets after each single-night occupancy in one of Airbnb’s 7 million rental properties, and the carcinogenic fuel that is burned by cruise ships. And then there are the carbon emissions. Tourism is significantly more carbon-intensive than other potential areas of economic development, reported a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Between 2009 and 2013, the industry’s global carbon footprint grew to about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the majority generated by air travel. The rapid increase in tourism demand, the study went on, is effectively outstripping the decarbonisation of tourism-related technology.

Christopher de Bellaigue

Thorough overview of the global effects of the tourism industry, one of the most affected by the ongoing pandemic. As much as most of us enjoy traveling to new destinations, these destinations do not always enjoy the overwhelming traffic and are left to deal with the cleanup after tourists return home – places like Santorini and Venice are good examples. In other regions the influx of rich foreign tourists has had positive effects, especially in Kenya, where wildlife conservation efforts depend to a considerable extent on the safari adventure industry.

Rome is empty the normally teeming Pantheon in April 2020
‘Rome is empty’ … the normally teeming Pantheon in April this year. Photograph: Giuseppe Fama/REX/Shutterstock

I have no doubt that travel will recover as soon as the threat of the virus is neutralized – the longer this crisis lasts, to more demand will skyrocket when restrictions are lifted. For now though it is still too early, and anxious cruise companies have been recently reminded of that, as the first cruise ship to set sail in the Caribbean since the coronavirus pandemic began is now quarantining off the coast of Barbados after at least five passengers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Tourism isn’t the right that many holidaymakers, whatever their budgets, seem to think it is. It’s a luxury that needs to pay its way.

Despite my own love for travel and photography, I find myself agreeing with the closing words of this article. Too many people approach travel like a sport, a race to check more places on the map, to take thousands of photos and collect likes on Instagram. The concept of city breaks feels equally broken to me, with people rushing to visit a big city in two to three days, always going to the same spots as everyone else, never stopping to appreciate the culture and locals or to discover less frequented locations. I am not particularly hopeful that tourism will become more sustainable and considerate in the coming years, unless cities pass stricter regulations against pollution, crowding and renting services like Airbnb.

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