The Tourism Industry is considered to be one of the biggest and most reliable among all sectors. For many countries, it is the main source of income in the private sector. The Tourism Sector includes a wide range of business opportunities such as accommodation, transportation, tour services, recreation and entertainment, food and beverages, etc. It is thus a complex industry which is labour intensive and which does not hesitate to spend resources for attracting tourists.
Unfortunately, when we asses the impact of tourism, we mostly do it from economic or social perspective. Tourism has shown to have great environmental impacts which are mostly negative in nature. Even though many areas in the world have been protected as conservation parks, the remaining fraction of the world is facing severe consequences due to excess amount of visitors. Excess tourists in conservation areas is also not unheard of. This is having its effects, which are becoming more and more visible each passing day.
The famous Maya Bay in Phi Phi Island of Thailand has finally been shut down for four months (June – September) so that the surrounding coral reefs can get a chance to recover from the damage that divers and boats have caused. The Phi Phi Island became known to the world after the Leonardo DiCaprio starrer The Beach, was released in 2000. Since the release of the movie, tourism has grown exponentially in Thailand. Around 5000 people visit the Phi Phi Island everyday. In the year 2017, Thailand had 35.4m visitors.
Thailand’s economy relies heavily on the tourism industry as the country is famous for its beautiful beaches and tourist friendly environment. However, it is important to understand that what is happening in Thailand could happen to any other famous tourist destinations.
Recently, a cleanliness drive took place at Mt. Everest base camp and around 11,000 kg of garbage was collected during this two month long drive. The garbage included plastic bottles, fecal matter, batteries and oxygen cylinders. A similar situation can be seen in Shimla in Himachal Pradesh which was once the most popular hill station in India. Himachal Pradesh has been witnessing tourist damage since more than a decade and recently, Shimla simply went out of water.
While the state has taken no control over limiting constructions over the hills, it is now taking action to protect the hills from plastic pollution. Popular trekking sites like Triund Trek are being closely monitored as large amounts of plastic waste has been collected throughout the route of the trek. Tourists are often warned by locals to not dispose garbage in the open.
Another popular tourists destination that needs mention is Leh, Ladakh. This region became famous after the Aamir Khan starrer 3 Idiots was released in 2009. Up until that year, Ladakh would receive around 50,000 (local and foreign) tourists annually. However, after the release of 3 Idiots, this number doubled. From 2010 onward, tourists have been flying to Ladakh like mosquitoes and the numbers are increasing every year.
Air pollution due to taxis and buses has now started affecting the locals in Ladakh who are not acclimated to pollution. While this sudden increase did boost Ladakh’s economy, it has also put a lot of pressure on its natural resources. Ladakh is a cold desert which relies heavily on snowfall for water. Unfortunately over the last decade, due to large scale construction of hotels and opening of new food services, the city of Leh is currently facing acute water shortage.
In addition, due to climate change, the volume of snowfall has also reduced drastically thus creating an even more shortage of water for the locals. Recently, famous sites like the Pangong Lake and Stok Kangri have been shut down for tourists as the local departments believe that it is important to preserve their natural beauty which has been taken away due to excessive amount of visitors.
As tourists we do not realize the huge ecological footprint we have due to tourism. The inflow of supplies that are being brought only for the tourists in many of the hill stations is alarming and has increased the carbon footprint of this sector drastically.
While many adventurous people would enjoy scuba diving, one must remember that the ocean is home to many marine species and when we go under water we are invading their space. Similarly when we go to remote areas for a trek or camp, the wild animals are threatened and feel the need to move to another locality which can be a risk for them.
This does not mean that one should avoid visiting new places. It is about how to cause minimum damage when visiting a new place and instead helping the environment and the locals. This is what Ecotourism is all about.
I share below a few points for you to consider during your travel sojourns.
- Live in Homestays
- Wherever possible, opt for local transport
- Eat local food
- Buy locals products
- Engage in local activities like farming or volunteer in any conservation projects
- Watch your waste
Ecotourism means being a responsible traveler. It means that when you visit a new place, you live and learn like the locals and involve yourself in only those activities which would benefit the locals and not the people with hefty bank accounts. Keep that in mind the next time you travel for pleasure. Sustainable tourism is no longer a choice but a necessity.