Tourism-Changing the World For Better or Worse?

Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism by Elizabeth Becker is an eye-opening read for anyone who loves to travel or is interested in the travel business. This thoroughly researched,  provocative look at the travel industry will not only have you looking at travel in a new light but may also dampen your enthusiasm for future trips.

Becker traces the explosion in world leisure travel to Arthur Frommer, whose best-selling book, Europe on 5 Dollars a Day was originally published for soldiers on R&R in the 1950s and was subsequently followed by his travel books for other parts of the world. Countries began to realize what an economic boon travellers could be. Add in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, cheaper TransAtlantic travel, and the rest is history.

Some of Becker’s statements about this unregulated industry may startle you as she addresses the effects of tourism on various cities and countries. Consider these facts:

Travel & Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries and accounts for 9% of global GDP.

Almost 260 million people around the world are associated or employed by the travel and tourism industry, far more than those employed in the global chemical, mining, communication, auto manufacturing and financial services sectors.

Here’s how the tourism surge has worked out in some locations:

Cambodia has opened up its sacred temples at Angkor Wat with little regard for maintaining and protecting the site for future generations. The overwhelming number of tourists may be wearing down the delicate ancient stones surrounding the temple. And, the  highways and mega hotels built to support the tourism onslaught have undermined the country’s water table, weakening the ground around the sacred site while raw sewage from the hotels flows directly into the rivers.

In Venice, a dozen cruise ships are ‘parked’ daily, leaving their engines running in port as thousands of cruisers disembark to  see the city’s famous landmarks. The ships clog the canals and substantially pollute the already polluted air and water. The large influx of tourists is blamed on the rising cost of living by many Venetians making the city effectively too expensive for the natives to live in. This has caused population shrinkage, the closing of many of the small bakeries and trattorias that Italy is known for and the shuttering of many of the famous Venetian glass factories on the nearby Murano islands. When tourists buy Murano or Venetian beads these days, it is likely that they are either cheap imports or beads not manufactured by native Venetian glassblowers but rather by the Chinese who have been brought to Italy as a cheap labor supply.

In Dubai, the shimmering principality has taken conspicuous consumerism to new heights with its hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, nightlife and indoor ski slopes. Much of this has been built and maintained by foreign laborers sent to work and live in substandard conditions most developed countries would not tolerate. Dubai is centrally located in the Middle East and is receiving millions of tourists from that region of the world as well as from the Far East, Europe and America. The need for fresh water continues to be a problem in the area and the desalination plants used to produce potable water are a major source of carbon emissions damaging the Gulf’s ecosystem.

The cruise industry employs people who seem to have the best job in the world, sailing through beautiful waters and visiting islands and areas of the world they might otherwise never see. However, their pay is so poor that it’s incomprehensible — some waiters, busboys and ship stewards can  make as little as $50 a month-not a day, but a month, with little or no days off for months at a time. They do share in tips but this still doesn’t bring them up to what would be considered a fair wage. This modern day version of indentured servitude is one of the reasons most cruise lines have their ships registered in countries that will not interfere with the employee/employer relationship. It appears that this industry is the wild, wild west of travel because there is no international governance board which regulates cruise lines policies.

As grim as some of the facts are, all is not lost since some countries have acted judiciously to protect their natural assets while welcoming travellers and still benefiting economically from these relationships. France (winemaking) and Costa Rica (green tourism) stand out as stellar examples of keeping their heritages vibrant and not compromising to the world of tourism.

Before you plan your next trip, why not read Becker’s book to educate yourself on the impact of your travelling?

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