A Plea to Take Global Tourism Seriously: ‘It’s Nothing Short of a Planet-Threatening Plague’

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  09.02.08 | 10:31 AM ET

imageIn a rousing op-ed for the Washington Post, journalist and author Elizabeth Becker issues a plea to American government officials, journalists and travelers: Ignore the impact of global tourism at your peril. With 898 million people traveling the world last year, global tourism has reached a tipping point, she argues—one that has inflicted potentially irreversible damage in places like Angkor Wat and Venice, along with fueling an insidious sex tourism trade in Asia and Eastern Europe.

“Global tourism today is not only a major industry—it’s nothing short of a planet-threatening plague.” she writes. “It’s polluting land and sea, destroying wildlife and natural habitat and depleting energy and natural resources. From Asia to Africa, look-alike resorts and spas are replacing and undermining local culture, and the international quest for vacation houses is forcing local residents out of their homes.”

Setting aside the innumerable benefits of foreign travel we take on faith at World Hum, is Becker unduly alarmist? I don’t think so. A $7 trillion global industry that accounts for 8 percent of all the jobs in the world deserves critical attention—something I haven’t seen much of in U.S. media, with the exception of a few venues like National Geographic Traveler.

Interestingly, in a 50-page research paper Becker completed while on fellowship at Harvard, she takes U.S. newspaper travel sections to task for not giving global tourism the serious coverage it deserves. 

“Why not report the story and interview the locals who wait on tables, the ministers of tourism, the civic activists, and chambers of commerce and ask them what tourism means to their community?” she asks.

With newspapers in crisis, I don’t see travel sections changing their stripes anytime soon. All the same, I’d like to see somebody—in any medium—pick up the issue and run with it.

Related on World Hum:
* The Op-Ed Page is the New Travel Section
* Iyer and Theroux: Two Very Different Perspectives on the Op-Ed Pages

Photo by Dimitry B via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

4 Comments for A Plea to Take Global Tourism Seriously: ‘It’s Nothing Short of a Planet-Threatening Plague’

Ling 09.02.08 | 12:00 PM ET

Tell me about it. I tried to get my boss to include a section on green hotels, and it was like talking to a frickin’ blank wall. I keep thinking that by the time people realize the importance of sustainable tourism, its gonna be too late.

Grizzly Bear Mom 09.02.08 | 12:18 PM ET

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.  I know that I insist on using the same sheets, towels, etc through my stay, but don’t believe that out weights the fuel it took to travel to my destination. I too am afraid that the path I beat just a little wider than the person before me is destroying the beauty I traveled to visit.  The Travel Channel helps somewhat by making up electronic travel companions, and keeping us aware of the impact of our travel.

Jerry Haines 09.02.08 | 6:42 PM ET

True story:  We’re at Angkor Wat (maybe 5 years ago).  We’ve hired a guide, a very personable fellow who seems to have done his homework about the temples and the Buddhist and Hindu religions.  On our last day he frets about the deteriorating condition of the stone from which most of the complex is constructed.  It’s so fragile, he laments.  Then he grabs onto a chunk of stone wall, twists it loose, holds it up and says, “See how fragile it is?’

Laura Nelsen 09.09.08 | 2:05 AM ET

Funny I ran into this tonight of all nights.  Currently, I am in the process of researching this topic for my dissertation on tourism in developing countries and the dilemma the local people have with preserving their heritage.  I am preparing to go back to Laos soon to have conversations with the various community members and hill tribes; specifically, the Hmong that have been put through forced relocation by the government in the name of development.  It is a sad state of affairs that the very thing that brings money into desperately needed areas is exactly what is destroying their lives as they know them to be.  I agree with Julia—the collective “we” needs to be raising our voices to bring this to light since the media seems to be dragging their feet.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.