This discussion has been on my mind a lot, but it’s taken a while to get it down in writing. I hope you enjoy this first part of a new series of posts on sustainable travel.
As you may already know, last fall I had the opportunity to take part in a fascinating discussion, first online and then in person, about travel and its relationship to the heritage of a place: culture, history, landscape, food and wine, tradition, and more. Florens2012, a week of conferences that took place in Florence, Italy, in November 2012, investigated cultural and environmental heritage, including why the history of our culture and land is important and therefore needs to be preserved, and how travel and tourism interact with its preservation (of archaeological sites, paintings, even whole cities).
I heard experts tell of the effect that too much tourism is already having on Italy’s greatest heritage sites, especially as the government does not adequately fund restoration and preservation efforts. This problem speaks to the need for sustainable travel, that is, more responsible travel, a type that would spread tourists out to different areas of Italy and would focus on more quality experiences versus hitting a dizzying list of “must-sees,” which is what most of the 45 million+ tourists who come to Italy every year do.
The interaction between travel and cultural preservation is not just relevant to Italy. It is a worldwide issue, as I will address in a moment, but first let’s look at the example of how tourism has affected heritage in Italy:
The Florens Foundation (Fondazione Florens) has taken on this issue, reflecting the obvious ways in which Italy represents possibly the greatest example of the clash between tourism and preserving history. Streams of tourists constantly pour into Italy’s main historic centers, over time affecting the quality of life of local residents and the state of the country’s amazing artistic treasures. Thirty-five percent of the museum visits are to just the 5 big museums in Italy. One speaker mentioned the Sistine Chapel, saying “It cannot survive with all those people breathing inside it.” And the lines and the crowds!
But the number of tourists will only increase. As I heard over and over, Italy doesn’t need more tourists; it needs tourists to explore other parts of Italy that might benefit from the economic stimulation of visitors…Will Italy take enough action to promote and organize tourism to its lesser-known parts? And will the world’s tourists listen?!
The drawbacks of massive tourism and the related need for more mindful, responsible travel exist everywhere, not just in Italy. As the world population grows, more people begin to make enough money to travel, and travel becomes easier and faster, the number of tourists is expected to increase dramatically and quickly. Tourism will continue to increase by an average of 3.3% every year. By 2030, it’s expected to be double what it was in 2010. What might be surprising is that the increase in tourism to “emerging economies” is expected to be double that of tourism to the more traditional destinations of “advanced economies” (4.4%/year versus 2.2%/year). In addition, the percentage of tourists going to less developed countries is expected to pass that of advanced economies by 2015, with about 58% of international tourists arriving in emerging economies by 2030. (Statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organization)
Are those emerging economies ready to handle a steady stream of more tourists? What effect will the increase in tourism have on our planet? Increased air travel, more pollution, and more crowded cities? Almost certainly. More money in the pockets of the people in developing countries and therefore a higher standard of living? Possibly.
I don’t have the answer to those questions, but I will be looking into them over the long term. What is clear to me is that those of us who already enjoy traveling need to take the extra step of traveling responsibly. I’ll be discussing what quality travel looks like and how it really is the best of both worlds: it is more sustainable for the destination (and world) and gives you a much more rewarding travel experience.
And you? I am eager to hear your reactions and thoughts on this topic!