LONDON - The man who roused a generation of travellers to grab a backpack and explore the world has compared the damage done by tourism to the impact of the tobacco industry.
Mark Ellingham, founder of the UK-based Rough Guides travel books, now says travelling is so environmentally destructive that there is no such thing as a genuinely ethical holiday.
He wants the industry to educate travellers about the damage their holidays do to the environment.
The development he regrets most is the public's appetite for what he calls "binge-flying".
"The tobacco industry fouled up the world while denying [it] as much as possible for as long as they could," said Ellingham.
"If the travel industry rosily goes ahead as it is doing, ignoring the effect that carbon emissions from flying are having on climate change, we are putting ourselves in a very similar position to the tobacco industry."
Although the aviation industry now accounts for just 5.5 per cent of the carbon dioxide generated in the UK, it is one of the fastest-growing generators of the pollution. Some experts estimate that flying could treble in the next 20 years.
"Climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others and the impact of flying is key to this," said Ellingham.
"All of us involved have a responsibility to inform travellers as clearly and honestly as possible about the environmental cost of their journeys.
"Balancing all the positives and negatives, I'm not convinced there is such a thing as a 'responsible' or 'ethical' holiday."
Ellingham is calling for a £100 ($270) green tax on all flights to Europe and Africa, and £250 on flights to the rest of the world.
He also wants investment to create a low-carbon economy, as well as a moratorium on airport expansion.
It was 25 years ago this week when Ellingham sat down at his kitchen table and wrote his first guidebook, using his mother's typewriter.
Alongside Lonely Planet, Ellingham's publications revolutionised the travel industry, particularly by encouraging young people to explore the world.
"At that time travelling, as distinct from a two-week holiday, was a niche interest. Students [in Europe] went InterRailing, while the more daring would go island-hopping in Greece," he said.
In the past 25 years, he said, there had been "a huge growth in expectation of what people think they can do on holiday. People have more money. Flights cost a fraction of what they did then".
Last week Easyjet came under criticism from environmentalists for delaying the launch of its carbon emission offsetting scheme, blaming a market riddled with "snake-oil salesmen".
Alongside guides enticing travellers to fly, Ellingham also publishes environmental titles, including the Rough Guide to Climate Change which is nominated for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books award, to be announced this month.
Even so, he is keenly aware of the incongruity of making pronouncements about how people should moderate their behaviour.
"I acknowledge that I'm speaking about all of this from an apparently contradictory position but it's a question of working with what's realistic: if Rough Guides was to disappear overnight, I don't think anybody would fly any less.
"I think it's an entirely ethical position of mine to work with what's realistic by encouraging people to moderate the amount they fly, rather than stop altogether."
While determined to encourage people to reduce the flights they take, Ellingham admits he has no intention of stopping himself, and he does not expect others to do so either.
"As a 'recovering travel writer', I fly less than I would like to, but more than I know that ethically I should. The deal I have made with myself is to limit the number of flights I take to one long-haul and two or three shorter flights each year," he said.
"I very much respect the purist attitudes of those who say they will never fly again, but it's totally unrealistic to expect the majority to do the same."
Ellingham is aware of another contradiction in his position.
While being hugely destructive on the one hand, tourism also has so many positive effects that it would be disastrous to the economies of many nations if it were to stop or even be curbed too sharply.
"The social and economic impact of travelling can be very positive, with many countries relying on economies that would completely fall apart without tourism," he said.
"In addition, there are lots of countries who nurture their environment purely because of the tourists who come to experience it."
Encouraging people to reduce the number of flights they take, however, is no easy task.
Ellingham said he had been horrified by a new travelling trend.
"If there was just one thing I could change, it would be this new British obsession for binge flying," he said.
"We now live in a society where, if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours.
"We fly anywhere at the slightest opportunity, 10 times and upwards a year. This needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency."
Report by Observer, New Zealand Herald
Wednesday, May 9, 2007