The Dark Side of Tourism

Tourism is a complicated, often ironic, double edged sword. In a positive light, it provides countless people with jobs as well as an influx of money to economies in desirable areas. However, the benefits that come from the tourism industry are often overshadowed by negative consequences. This week in class, we discussed the concept of Future Discounting. I think this ties perfectly into what read about the Coral Reefs in the Caribbean and Australia. These extraordinary wonders of nature provide several ecological services to the planet and play a key role in the life cycles of organisms throughout the oceans. . Despite their impressive resilience to natural disturbances such as hurricanes, coral reefs are incredibly fragile and vulnerable to the practices of humans. Mankind is gradually destroying these reefs through overfishing, pollution, and practices that contribute to global warming. Species extinction and coral bleaching are direct results from human activity. While tourism isn’t the root of these issues, it certainly plays a role in some of the irreversible damages that coral reefs and other natural areas face. When billions of people visit the same area over the course of a year, the area is greatly impacted. These people all require food and water, which increases local consumption. While some of these costs are offset by the flow of money coming from tourists, environmental externalities aren’t always factored in. Some of these externalities include the costs of waste/sanitation (which requires water), trash and litter (which can harm local wildlife as well as introduce harmful chemicals), and pollution (which contributes to global warming and severe health problems among people/plants/animal). Not to mention, just the act of being present in some natural areas can affect the areas themselves. This is where irony comes into play. People have seemingly inherent desire to connect with and experience nature. Whether it’s engrained in our DNA, part of our religion/spirituality, or simply because we (humans) are animals ourselves, there’s no denying the “pull” we feel towards aesthetically pleasing, natural areas. The problem is, not everyone is equally environmentally conscious when they visit these places. For person A, a hike through the Grand Canyon may mean a back pack, sleeping bag, water purifier, first aid kit, good boots, and some food. This person is extremely conscious, has educated themselves about the local plant and wildlife, and follows the camping motto “leave every place you visit in better condition than it was when you got there.” They spend the day enjoying a quiet, peaceful hike through the canyon, respectfully soaking up the beauty around him/her. Then there’s person B. Person B rolls into the Grand Canyon campsite in the biggest, most expensive, gas-guzzling RV on the market. This person is normally so busy posting pictures of their “adventure” to social media that they barely even look up from their screen (unless they’re taking a selfie). Person B can’t find a trash can, and didn’t bring a bag, so they toss their litter on the ground. They continue on their hike and decide it would be more fun to “blaze their own trail,” thus, going off the marked path and trampling precious vegetation-. At the end of their day, they can be found partying outside their giant RV, beer bottles scattered all around, and music blaring loud enough to successfully scare the living hell out of every animal within a mile.

So what is the answer? How do we keep people who don’t respect the environment out of precious areas of wilderness? I’m not sure. The only solution I can come up with is the same one I seem to always end every blog with….EDUCATION! Earth is our only home, therefore, the emphasis on understanding how it functions ought to be quite great throughout elementary, middle, and upper education.