A new tourism alternative that promotes respect rather than destruction
Given the decline in international tourism due to the current pandemic, many are wondering if this could be the perfect opportunity to rebuild a greener and more sustainable tourism. This is a challenging issue as, at a time of climate emergency, the drastic solution would perhaps be to stop travelling. But who would agree to such a thing after working hard all year round, and especially this year after having spent a few months virtually locked up?
Travelling brings us many benefits: it is much more than just enjoying a few days away from our usual environment and resting from work. Visiting new places brings a cultural and psychological opening, and teaches us to respect difference. The self-learning that results from travel enriches us as human beings. Moreover, the opportunity to visit natural places reminds us of their beauty, opens our eyes to the damage inflicted on ecosystems, and makes us aware of the environmental emergency. However, to continue to benefit from this in a truly responsible manner, it is essential to change our way of travelling and reduce the disastrous impact of tourism on our planet. Nature gives us a lot: let’s return the favour!
This is not an issue that we have to solve by ourselves, we believe that if we want a transition towards a greener and more sustainable tourism, we all have to do our part. As individuals, we can make better decisions by reflecting on the real reason behind our trips, while companies must sell and promote more ethical ones.
In the face of a tourism of new normality that is too similar in its consumption dynamics to that of the former normality, we propose another tourism that, far from being extractive and degenerative, has a positive impact on local communities, one which is regenerative for the ecosystem and society and does not contribute to the increase in the price of housing –whether it is bought or rented, as well as the consequent processes of gentrification– of basic goods such as food, leaving them out of the reach of those who live here with few resources, or to the increase in price and privatisation of work or leisure spaces. Besides, it is the most vulnerable part of the population, the one that suffers the most from the effects of this mass tourism.
The need to regenerate ecosystems
For these reasons, and especially in a context of climate crisis, as we argued in a previous blog entry, we advocate for ecotourism to learn to look at the natural world differently and enjoy its understanding. Even so, we have to forget about the binarism that makes us think that ecotourism, as an alternative to conventional tourism, is always good. Ecotourism must also be conducted responsibly and must be developed through measures which truly ensure that human visits are not harmful in any way. There is no point in going into nature if there is insufficient investment in protecting these areas because we will only succeed in creating an imbalance between the use of the spaces and their conservation. If we do not protect these spaces and we commit ourselves to give back to nature what we have taken from it, not only will the tourism sector be affected, we will lose much more.
The new tourism must value the importance of the presence of large predators in natural areas, often feared, such as wolves or bears with whom we share territory, who are part of the ecosystems and contribute to their perfect balance. Without these species, there would be an imbalance in the food chain, which could not be recovered until the reintroduction of the same predators, as was the case with the wolves of Yellowstone. Another aspect to take into account is the appropriate time of observation of each species, since access to their habitat at certain times, such as during breeding, could interrupt their cycle, reduce the birth rate or even increase the risk of mortality. These are just a few examples of the impact of tourism on wildlife behaviour. What is fundamental is that ecotourism in the wilderness should be aligned with a rewilding that strengthens wildlife as well as minimises emissions.
Renaturalizing cities is crucial for this new tourism
Many times we want to escape from the cities because they generate stress, they are full of tourists –whoops!– and we miss the connection with nature. A transition to a more sustainable future also means redesigning and renaturalising our cities and our immediate natural environments. It is clear that contact with nature makes us happy, and science has proven that we need it for our physical and psychological well-being. But we have lost the vital connection with ecosystems. The cities we live in are taking us further and further away from the natural world, putting our health and mental balance at risk. A transition to a sustainable future cannot be made without a radical change in the urban and natural environments around us. Redesigning and renaturalising our cities would encourage more local and ecological tourism, where the need for escape would be right on our doorstep. But is it possible to maintain a real balance between nature conservation and today’s cities? How can we reduce the hustle and bustle and stress of the city? Venice is already planning to implement some measures to control the number of visitors, such as taxes on hikers. Some cities are adapting to a future without cars in the city centre (Athens) or a city centre that is more suitable for cyclists (Berlin).
If we take this idea even further, even in overpopulated areas of the planet such as Europe, it is possible (although not easy) and beneficial for both ecosystems and people to coexist in wild areas without humans –through the rewilding of abandoned areas, for instance– semi-domesticated areas and urban areas. Responsible ecotourism is possible because, if done well, the wilderness is not incompatible with human presence. Some rural and/or indigenous communities are used to living with nature in a respectful and symbiotic way. We must educate ourselves and learn from them, and denounce and boycott any project that expels them from their territories.