Is tourism ruining the planet?

Is tourism ruining the planet?

After a week of vacationing in Honolulu, that is the question that niggles.

What comes to mind when you think of Oahu?  An ocean warm enough to swim in? Tropical vegetation and flowers blooming year round? Surfers? Hula dancers? Ukuleles? Snorkeling? If that’s what you see when you shut your eyes and imagine it, Hawaii is all that and more. Think sandy white beaches, roaring waterfalls, jungles loaded with exotic trees and flowers, and tropical fish lagoons, all leaving you breathless and believing you have landed in paradise.

Then there’s the other face of Oahu:  traffic back-ups, haphazard development, homelessness, deforestation, a desperate push to offer tourists more and more thrills — anyone for swimming with the sharks? — and more stores stuffed within a few blocks selling every kind of luxury DSC01022good.  And speaking of luxury goods, who would travel to a place known for its natural beauty to spend hours in an unnatural setting? Zillions of people, as it turns out. They meander down Kalakaua Avenue, heads barely visible behind arms loaded with bags labeled Coach, Tiffany and Co., Chanel, Yves saint Laurent, and Chanel. A more casual, open-air International Market has been torn down to make room for a multi-story Sak’s 5th Avenue retail store.

Just about every retired American I know is on the move, cruising, flying, biking in all corners of the world. Our travel bucket lists are long. After we check off one city/country we add a new one. Pick one city, any city where tourists flock, and think about the garbage collected from its many hotels, the water needed to wash its sheets and towels, the fuel burning in every plane, taxi, tour bus, boat and rental car to get DSC01031us to this destination and around it.

Yet there are many good reasons to travel. If I hadn’t gone to Paris, I’d still believe the French were rude. If I hadn’t spent time in Mexico studying Spanish and living with Mexican families, I’d never know how kind and generous the Mexican people were. Also, I would have missed out on wonderful career opportunities that came from learning to speak Spanish. I wouldn’t have experienced different climates, customs, and traditions in Europe and Asia. Studying about D-Day in school didn’t have the impact that visiting Normandy Beaches did.

There’s no good way to save the planet from tourism other than staying home, and that means missing out on an abundance of rewarding experiences. It might help if travelers were aware of the giant footprint they were leaving and sought ways to diminish it, from using public transportation, to re-using hotel towels, to moving around on foot. There are no simple answers, but every solution begins with awareness.




About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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4 Responses to Is tourism ruining the planet?

  1. Marcia Zervis says:

    I love this Mark Twain quote about traveling:
    Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
    – Innocents Abroad

  2. Shirley says:

    Ann, your thoughtful comments about the “costs” of tourism to our fragile earth are well timed, and I do feel guilty,but not enough to cancel our trip to Panama. Perhaps as tourists one should be more aware of these “costs” while enjoying the diminishing of prejudices and the broadening of perspectives.

  3. Funny you should write on this topic, a friend posted this the other day. Yet more about the tourist and post tourist impact on the lands they travel to.

  4. Sherry Ladd says:

    Very thought provoking, Ann. Nicely done!

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