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KEMBURU: We ought to practice sustainable tourism when traveling

Opinion Column: An Optimist's Opinion

We are officially closing in on the end of the semester, and that means summer vacation. Most people our age either spend their summer doing an internship, visiting another state or country or just staying at home. Given those three options, I know I would choose to visit another place, and I am willing to bet that most other people would too. Statistical data reflects this belief — while in 1950 there were approximately 25 million international tourist arrivals per year, by 2016, that number had increased to 1.2 billion

There are multiple causes of this substantial growth, whether that be more disposable income, paid holidays or simply travel becoming easier and cheaper. From a tourist’s perspective, it can be easy to get lost in the beauty of a location and the relaxing environment provided. Of course, that is not the only beneficial aspect of tourism. It has several positive effects — jobs are created, more money is running through the economic system and there is a greater demand for the culture and geography to be well-preserved for the sake of the consumer. 

So, it should be no surprise when individuals assume that they are improving the quality of life in an area by visiting. And while this may be partially true, when a country finds that its economy has become dependent on tourism, that is when a problem arises. If tourism greatly decreases, whether that be due to natural disasters or political unrest, that country cannot sustain itself by itself (Sri Lanka is a primary example of this). This becomes even more problematic when one looks at the negative impacts of tourism, which are often concealed from the average tourist. 

In the past couple years, a phenomenon known as “overtourism” has been explored, which is essentially the idea that the growth of tourists causes overcrowding in areas, and residents “suffer ... (by having) permanent changes to their lifestyles, access to amenities and general well-being.” Overtourism has thus had negative environmental, economic and sociocultural effects on places dependent on tourism. 

There has been significant damage to the natural environment, in the form of litter, pollution, destruction of land and more. In fact, in Venice, Italy (an incredibly popular tourist destination), there have been complaints about cruises causing increased pollution in the city, and actions such as leaving love locks on bridges and writing on or damaging buildings have become fineable offenses since they occur very often. The treatment of animals has not been any better — the adored swimming pigs in the Bahamas have been dying due to tourists giving them beer and food on the beach. 

Economically, residents of these areas are directly impacted. As places attempt to cater their environment for tourists, they increase the prices of housing and of everyday goods, seeing as most tourists are wealthier than the average local resident. Due to this, residents are often displaced from their homes and cannot afford basic necessities. Small businesses are also put out of business due to the increase in souvenir stores, clubs and bars. Unless residents become a part of the tourism industry, they gain very little from it (and even then, massive companies take much of the profit for themselves). 

And lastly, but by no means the least, the culture of an area is often left to be exploited and commercialized for the sake of the tourist. In Haunani-Kay Trask’s “Lovely Hula Hands: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture,” she explores the transformation of Hawaiian culture in the face of tourism. In Hawaii, the people and the land have a reciprocal relationship: the people cultivate the land, and the land provides them with food and shelter. 

This bond is one that is near and dear to the people’s hearts. But, when businesses took over portions of Hawaii in the name of tourism, this element of Hawaiian culture was largely erased. “Our ... lands, are not any longer the source of food and shelter, but the source of money ... The American relationship of people to land is that of exploiters to exploited,” she wrote.

So, what is the answer to this growing issue? It cannot be to stop tourism — not only because that would definitely receive some backlash, but because tourism is still an integral part of the economy and of human experience. The answer, according to some is sustainable tourism: a process in which neither the environment nor the people are harmed by tourism. 

Instead of participating in mass tourism, which includes cruises and tour packages and massive corporations whose only priority is profit, I encourage you to participate in sustainable tourism. You might ask, what does this entail? It includes actions such as supporting the local economy, avoiding littering and producing excessive waste and being understanding and respectful of cultural differences.  

You might ask, what do I gain from this? Simple. Mmore authentic and genuine experience in the destination of your choice. 

Anusha Kemburu is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year  majoring in political science. Her column, “An Optimist’s Opinion,” runs  on alternate Thursdays.


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