WestJet Visit Canada

Published on Monday, September 3, 2007

Mass tourism is both a force for good and a potential for harm - Travel with a Difference

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, generating an estimated 11%1 of global Gross Domestic Product, employing 200 million people and transporting nearly 700 million international travellers per year - expected to double by 2020.

With these statistics, there is no surprise that the economies of many impoverished areas of the world have come to benefit hugely from tourism.

In many regions, this is increasingly noticeable. Just over a decade ago, many parts of South East Asia, Africa and South America were the domain of the backpackers, a secret known only to the aficionados of the Lonely Planet guide books. Today, those same areas have undergone rapid development, with investment in the tourist infrastructure benefiting many people.

Tourism Dependency

However, in some areas, whole communities have now become dependent upon tourism because farming and traditional industries have been abandoned in favour of more lucrative tourism linked activity. This means that when tourism declines, the economic sustainability of the whole community will also be undermined. This is another reason the December 04 Asian Tsunami was so devastating. At the time when the region needed their support most, many travel companies pulled out. And when the tourists didn't come, workers were left without income and employment.

Furthermore, tourism has also had a huge impact upon the social fabric and the culture of many communities. As tourism industry and infrastructure develops, it produces significant impacts on natural resources, consumption patterns, pollution and social systems. In some areas the clash between traditional cultures and those of western tourists is noticeable, often with the western culture proving more dominant, and indigenous cultures threatened with dilution, or even extinction.

Air Travel - Blessing or Curse?

Air travel contributes to high-level carbon dioxide emissions, a prime cause of global warming, which will have a drastic impact upon the environment within just a few decades if left unchecked. This also includes the rising acidity of the world's oceans - which is killing many species slowly, and decimating coral reefs all over the world.

Yet if governments decided to tax airline fuels to disincentivise air travel, it would be the developing countries dependent upon tourism which would be hit, and long-haul travel would again become the preserve of the very wealthy - and reducing the number of tourists able to visit the developing world who most need the income.

Our Responsibility to be Responsible

The need for sustainable and responsible long term planning and management is imperative for the industry to survive as a whole. When we, relatively wealthy tourists, enjoy the benefits of tourism, we should do so responsibly, by ensuring that we are not contributing to the exploitation of either people or the environment, exacerbating the gap between rich and poor, that we are participating in 'fair trade' practices which benefit those who work so hard to make our holidays so great, that we are contributing to the long-term sustainable economic development of the communities who host us, and that we are sensitive to, respectful towards and assist in the safeguarding and continuation of indigenous cultures.

But how can you do this? Well, as a consumer, we can make sure tour operators have a responsible travel or ethical tourism policy, and that this policy is adhered too. We can choose to go on holiday with a company who make sustainable tourism and fair trade travel as much of a priority as the quality of the accommodation, the cleanliness of the swimming pool or the health and safety of the balcony. And as a tourism company, we can choose to be aware of the impact of our business, minimise negative impacts wherever possible, supply the responsible tourism products that consumers are increasingly demanding, and be ahead of the market in our responsible planning and initiatives.

Finally, we can support an organisation such as Tourism Concern, who campaign to make responsible tourism practices the mainstream norm for all, and not the exception for the few, and fight against exploitation by or for tourists.

Sustainable tourism and development is about balance, awareness and respect, involving all stakeholders" interests, re-adjusting and adapting to the continually evolving world around us - its environment, cultures, beliefs, practices, communities" needs and economies.

This pro-poor tourism approach to tourism management increases tourism"s contribution to poverty reduction and an overall net benefit to the poor to support and facilitate their movement towards self sufficiency.

Different Travel"s use of tourism is as a force for good which adds value to, and benefits, the economies, societies and communities we visit, whilst minimising the negative side effects of our tourism to both the destination and the global environment.

Adrian Yalland

The Different Travel Company

Different Travel (http://www.different-travel.com/) is a specialist volunteer holiday responsible travel and charity challenge company who support and practice ethical travel, sustainable tourism and the initiatives of Tourism Concern.

Different Travel"s Responsible Tourism policy can be found here.

All Different Travel"s trips are carbon neutral inclusive.

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