Why do we need responsible tourism?
Travelling has become more popular over the last decades. We see pictures of our friends chilling at beaches in Thailand or backpacking through Europe. Besides, nowadays airplane tickets are comparatively affordable. Without doubt, the eagerness to travel has infected humankind. In fact, today one billion people go on international holidays every year. And in 2050 the UN World Tourism Organisation expects the number of tourists to climb to incredible 4.3 billion. But that makes me wonder… Besides these amazing opportunities to visit white beaches, stunning mountains, and flourishing cities. How can the world deal with such a huge number of tourists? What does that do to our planet? And not just to the planet, but also to the people living at destinations which are overrun by mass tourism?
Some of the most popular tourist destinations in the world are Machu Picchu the ancient Inca city situated between the stunning summits of the Andes in Peru, the Taj Mahal in India, or the ancient Khmer city Angkor in Cambodia which we all know from Angelina Jolie’s masterpiece Lara Croft Tomb Raider. These are just a few out of many amazing travel destinations which have to cope with the rising number of tourists. One must be aware that people do not only visit these destinations but they also need accommodation and transport which is affecting the cities around them. I have been to Angkor myself and stayed in the nearby city of Siem Reap. By the way, most people think it is called Angkor Wat. But in fact, “Wat” is just the Khmer word for temple. Angkor Wat is therefore just one complex of buildings in a whole city which used to have an estimated number of one million inhabitants during its most flourishing times. It is the best preserved building though. Since Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world I was surprised to see the prosperous streets of Siem Reap. However, as soon as you leave the main streets with all these big hotels you find yourself in dusty alleys framed with metal sheds which are the homes of many Cambodians living in this area. How is it possible that Cambodian people in Siem Reap are so poor although the tourism sector is thriving? A local told us that Angkor is actually owned by a Vietnamese business and that the Cambodians do not profit from this cultural heritage. The hotels are also not the businesses of local people but of migrants and foreign investors. In fact, the mass tourism is just increasing the gap between the rich and the poor in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
If we move to the neighbour country we also see lots of problems caused by mass tourism. Thailand is known for its breathtaking islands and colourful culture. More than 30 million people visit the country every year. One of the most famous islands is Koh Phi Phi where the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCapro as the main actor was produced. The beautiful Maya Bay which is framed by astonishing rock formations has recently be closed because tourists caused too severe environmental damage. It will take many years until the ecosystem will have recovered from that. Another popular tourist attraction in thailand is the sex tourism and the so called ping pong shows (I will not elaborate them further here) which does actually not seem to fit the countries culture. If we think of Thailand we think of beautiful golden buddhist temples and colourful dresses. Therefore, we have to rise the question:
Is culture shaping tourism or is tourism shaping culture?
These are just a few examples of the major problems mass tourism is causing. In order to avoid and reduce the negative effects it is important to raise awareness about these issues. Many attempts have already been done if we think about the emergence of for example eco-lodges. However, it is not always as environmentally or socially friendly as it seems. Many attempts seem to be good on the outside but are actually only following the goal of making financial profit out of it. Therefore, I strongly encourage all enthusiastic travellers to think about their way of travelling and evaluate themselves what is the right way to go for.