Today we live in a world obsessed with the idea of travel and exploration. Our social media feeds are constantly reminding us of the wonders of the world we need to see and our bucket lists seem to become never-ending.
Globetrotting promises to fix many of our problems. It provides a time to switch off, immerse in different cultures, and remind us of what’s important. However, over-tourism, the new buzzword in the sector, is creating conflicts between our increasing capacity and desire to travel and producing sustainable travel solutions that work for the environment. So, what damage have we done by our fixation with travel? And how can we have a more responsible attitude towards exploring?
The Great Barrier Reef is one of many World Heritage Sites that have suffered as a result of over-tourism. Whilst the majority of tourist boats are only permitted to access seven per cent of the Reef’s terrain, such a historic wonder is simply unsuited to the mass influx of the 1.8 million people who visit the Reef each year.
Tourists can do immeasurable damage to the coral by touching it, lowering anchors onto it and disturbing the marine wildlife. All those Instagram photos that we strive for so desperately often come at the expense of the local ecosystem. Do we decrease tourist numbers and negatively impact the dependent economies, or protect the environment and historic sites for future generations?
The solution is far from simple.
So how do we reap the economic benefits of the tourism industry without jeopardising our environment? In Australia, the ‘Eye on the Reef’ programme has been vital for developing better relationships between tourists and conservationists.
The programme allows for the Reef to be closely and regularly monitored by hiring and training tourist operators, often the most familiar and frequent visitors, who can then assess the reef health and report findings of recent damage. This offers a great collaborative solution and works to ensure the future of the reef’s ecosystem whilst also seeking to find a balance with those dependent on the tourism that the area provides.
Closer to home, local authorities on the Isle of Skye are encouraging tourists to think of the local amenities and ensure they consider accommodation and transport before arriving, ensuring that local staff and police are not overwhelmed by the volume of foot traffic to the detriment of their way of life. Individually, there are a host of small changes we can all make to protect our areas of outstanding natural beauty. The big question we need to ask ourselves is ‘Can l leave this place better than I found it?’, even if that’s taking your waste home, or picking up litter along the way. Why not boost the local economy and decrease your carbon footprint by buying locally sourced produce from smaller independent shops and restaurants?
Equally, travelling to destinations less popular with tourists can lower the risks associated with over-tourism, and will offer the perfect opportunity for that vistascape Instagram without that annoying bystander ruining the shot. Ultimately, exploring new landscapes rather than taking the well-trodden path not only offers unique and tranquil experiences but helps to protect those over visited destinations.
This might look like a rather bleak future for travel, but there are some amazing opportunities for us closer to home. Scotland boasts an array of national parks, amazing landscapes and wildlife which make travelling locally anything but second best. Why not check out the re-wilding work being done in the Cairngorms, or bag some Munros? The coasts of Scotland also boast marine life to rival Australia.
Our attitude to travel is often the biggest ways we can influence our planet individually. It’s important we are all conscious of the decisions we make when enjoying the world we live in and how we experience it.
Image Credit: Polly Burnay