Six reasons why mass tourism is not sustainable | Sustainable business custodian


“You never change things by fighting against the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. ”
– Buckminster Fuller

Despite the slow but steady increase in the number of companies claiming to be responsible or green, the fact remains that the current system of mass international tourism is totally unsustainable.

Through the application of the same industrial model developed for cars, homes and consumer goods, international tourism has exploded in size since the 1950s and has swept virtually every nook and cranny of the planet, wiping out money. , jobs, golf courses, airports and huge amounts of real estate.

Claimed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as a stimulus to economic recovery, tourism is, without a doubt, a force to be reckoned with. It generates over $ 2.1 billion in annual revenue. In many countries and regions of the world, tourism is now the main source of foreign exchange, jobs and cash.

The 1.8 billion travelers over the next 17 years, but many continue to deny that the industry is based on a finite and limited supply of attractions or accessible places rich in beauty or culture.

The industry is like a high-speed train, crowded with passengers with cheap tickets, running towards the edge of a cliff. It is therefore worth asking why this challenge attracts so little debate in the press and in the economic literature in general.

End the unsustainable addiction to travel

Obviously, the media makes a lot of money advertising vacation spots around the world, but on a larger level suppliers, customers, and regulators may have become so hooked on the promise. and the pleasures of cheap and frequent travel that the prospect of doing without is just too much to contemplate. Perhaps some form of “willful blindness” has infected us all.

The challenge turns out to be much more complex than the mere prospect of galloping volume growth on a finite planet. Many industries are collapsing financially as margins shrink. Meanwhile, due to congestion or overexploitation of rare earth and water resources, many destinations are destroying the landscapes and attractions, both natural and cultural, on which they depend.

I found six main reasons why the current tourism model is way past its peak and why more of us need to focus on creating alternatives:

1. Mass industrial tourism is based on the assembly, distribution and consumption of packaged products and, therefore, one product is substitutable for another. The commodification of what should be revered as unique is further compounded by the application of industrial cost reduction strategies of homogenization, standardization, and automation that further eliminate any vestige of difference, let alone mystique. Tourists “make” places and rarely have the chance to be amazed and amazed.

2. In most youth destinations, low barriers to entry and zero regulations encourage rapid growth and speculation. Both local elected officials and often less-local developers benefit enormously from this growth, but rarely stay there long enough to cope with crises caused by overcapacity and volatility in demand.

3. The product is perishable – it is a time-based service – and cannot be stored. So when capacity increases and demand decreases, discounting is the adaptive tactic of choice.

4. Technological connectivity and price comparison engines have shifted purchasing power to consumers, who have been convinced, through repeated discounts, that cheap travel is now a right, not a privilege. This accelerates the downward pressure on prices and yields.

5. Residents of tourism hot spots, which may have hosted the first influx of visitors, are quickly finding that cheap travel does not cut costs. Visitors are pushing up the prices of land, food, water, housing and infrastructure at a rate that is closely correlated with declining margins for tourism operators. Unfortunately, more tourism often means less benefit for host communities.

6. After struggling so hard to be recognized as an industry, the tourism community is again fragmenting into specific sectors when issues of waste, carbon, water scarcity and other “externalities” are raised. Airlines do not pay aviation fuel taxes and have battled carbon charges for decades.

What should be done

We need to develop the idea of ​​conscious travel and start imagining a better alternative. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand or quick fix; change will have to happen locally, one destination at a time.

Above all, this will require hosts to wake up and see their world differently – not as a resource to be tapped, but as a sacred place to be protected and celebrated for its uniqueness.

Second, it is important that they begin to view their clients not as mere consumer units, but as guests seeking to be healed and transformed. Our conscious or conscious alternative is about less bulk, congestion, hassle, destruction and damage, and more meaning, purpose, value, peace and fulfillment. In short, not more but better.

Tomorrow on Guardian Sustainable Business I’ll explore how we can start moving in this direction.

Anna Pollock has 40 years of experience as a strategist, analyst and change agent for travel destinations around the world. She is the founder of Conscious Travel.


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