For the first time in centuries, the Trevi fountain isn’t surrounded by tourists wielding selfie sticks. The Colosseum sits in peace and the historic streets of Italy lay bare. Because of the Coronavirus, the city of Rome is taking a long overdue holiday from years of international visitors.
It’s a similar story being told all over the world. Rivers that were once heavily polluted are starting to run clear. Monkeys that once relied on tourists for food are now foraging for themselves. Scientists have recorded the world’s air quality improving due to the coronavirus quarantine. So we are now forced to ask the burning question:
Has the Coronavirus pandemic just hit the reset button on over tourism?
As responsible travellers, we need to discuss using this coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to become more eco-friendly travellers once the borders re-open. This post will address the hard-hitting environmental impacts of travel including overcrowding, pollution, environmental damage and even crime increases in tourist-centric cities. It will then address how we, as travellers can change the way we travel to adapt to a new, eco-friendly and more sustainable way of tourism.
Because we WILL get to travel again. The question is, do we really want to make the same mistakes as last time?
The Effects of Over Tourism
The negative effects from years of over tourism and heavy foot traffic was being felt all over the world.
In 2018 the Italian government sat down to discuss what needs to be done about the hordes of tourists visiting the city of Rome. And by hordes, they mean 63 million tourists visiting Italy every year. To put that in perspective, that’s 172,000 tourists a day. The Italian Government went so far as to discuss imposing additional tourist taxes and fines, just to deter some people from visiting so the remaining numbers were more manageable.
In the Phillipines…
In 2018 The Philippines government noticed such a severe level of environmental damage on the island of Boracay that they shut the island off from tourists. completely.
Sihanoukville was once described as a sleepy coastal town. Fast forward 20 years and wealthy Chinese tourists have left Sihanoukville with such irreparable damage that Intrepid Travel have removed the location from their Cambodian itinerary altogether. Read Intrepid Travels statement about why here.
It’s all caused by a high percentage of tourists visiting only a select handful of locations around the world. This is just a sample of what overcrowding and over tourism can cause when travellers visit the same locations at such high quantity and consistently for years.
Eco-sustainability in the travel community
Eco-sustainability has been at the forefront of conversation within the travel community. The main topic of conversation is how to decrease your carbon footprint by taking less flights, which seems like an impossible task.
Responsible travellers are trying to find a way to visit less populated cities and explore more off-the-beaten-track destinations to combat the concerns of overcrowding and pollution. Because we do care, and we don’t want to destroy the world.
Single Use Water Bottles
The most important step forward in travel has been the switch to eco-friendly and reusable water bottles. By switching to a plastic free alternative, we have reduced plastic pollution by a staggering amount and even influenced others to do the same.
Take Ho Chi Minh for example. The Vietnam capital introduced a new initiative called Refill My Bottle Vietnam. They installed reusable water fountains in over 50 locations around the city, so locals and visitors can reduce the need for single use plastic bottles almost entirely.
The ethical treatment of animals has also made leaps and bounds in recent years. Ten years ago, most visitors to Thailand would ride an elephant and take a photo with a monkey in a dress. Fast forward to 2020, and most visitors will only visit an elephant sanctuary if the animals are ethically treated. Gone are the days of riding an elephant, and travellers rarely see the value in having comic and novel experiences with mistreated animals.
The need to watch a tiger perform tricks in a circus has been replaced with the need to observe a tiger in its natural habitat. We are a new breed of traveller. A considerate, and sustainable group of people.
Environmentally conscience and sustainable travellers have recently made the decision to switch from large commercial hotel chains and to support the ‘mum and dad’ businesses around the world. By changing accommodation from the Hilton to a family run bed and breakfast, the local community can reap higher benefits. It’s putting our hard-earned money into the pockets of people who actually deserve it.
By making these steps, we as travellers are travelling in a more meaningful and less-impactful way. But after doing this for years, it was quite obvious. It just wasn’t enough.
The changes we were making were happening too slow. Iconic destinations were still being destroyed by heavy foot traffic. Pollution was still rife throughout South East Asia and palm oil plantations threaten the very life of the forest we crave to see.
We needed more urgent intervention. Perhaps nature needed a divine intervention.
The Coronavirus has caused the closure of every international border in the world, causing travel to cease completely. Visitors in Italy have dropped from a staggering 63 million to zero. The world doesn’t know what to expect and panic has torn through every continent, every country and every community.
Yet, nature is thriving.
The world is recording the lowest pollution levels in recent years, and we have a viral pandemic to thank for finally getting us to take action.
I always say that children look at their parents and decide to either follow in their footsteps or be the complete opposite. As an environmentally conscience generation, we need to look at what our parents have done to the world by excessive and inconsiderate travel and learn from their mistakes. Smart people learn from their mistakes, but smarter people learn from others.
Our parents’ generation didn’t have the knowledge and data of sustainability that we have now. Just as their parents before them didn’t know the dangers of smoking.
When the borders reopen, and they will, we should all take a minute to change the way we travel. And we can do this by changing the locations we are visiting.
Instead of travelling to the most popular destinations as seen on our news feed, we need to visit places less visited. No one wants to be like everyone else, and we should adopt this mentality when it comes to our vacation.
When they zig, we zag.
If everyone goes to the Greek islands, let’s go to the Derawan Islands instead. If it’s cool to visit Bali, sweet, let’s hire a motorbike and explore Kalimantan instead. Chances are, you haven’t heard of these destinations. But doesn’t that make for a more interesting talking point?
“Oh cool, so you saw the Eiffel tower!” is a vapid and overused question I have said too many times in my life. Instead, I want to be able to ask you more in-depth questions, and have you educate me on interesting places you’ve been.
“umm, you went where? I don’t even know where that is! TELL ME ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!”
When tourism increases in rural and regional destinations, it doesn’t just put money in the pocket of the hotel you stay in or the tour guide you pay. But it gives much needed financial assistance to local businesses like rice farmers and fruit farmers. It helps pay the wages of mums and dads, of cooks and drivers.
When tourism increases, so does the need for food. So does the need for transport. When there’s an influx of visitors, the people that directly benefit are hardworking members of the local economy.
Rather than concentrate tourist wealth on specific locations in the world, like Paris and Italy, let’s spread the wealth around.
How Can Travellers be More Eco-Friendly?
It’s not a matter of IF we will get to travel again, but it’s a matter of WHEN. When those borders reopen, we will all have a choice to make. Will we continue on the same path as everyone else, or will we veer left?
- Each and every time we get on a plane, we are impacting the world, the environment and the local community.
- Each and every time we land in a new destination, we have a chance to help others.
- Each and every time we travel, we make a difference.
So when the borders reopen and you have to make a choice, make the right one.
When everyone else zigs, let’s zag.
I am the Luxe Backpacker.
Author: Cassie Ross is the travel blogger behind the Luxe Backpacker, a travel resource dedicated to luxury backpackers that can afford a VIP bus ticket. Cassie explores rural countries in South East Asia in search of nature, animals and luxury experiences that will get you packing!