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Travel

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Tourism can destroy environments and drive out local residents. It’s time to rethink the purpose of travel.

Benidorm, Spain. Photograph by Martin Parr/Magnum.

Bali is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Half of the Indonesian island’s rivers have dried up. Its beaches are eroding. In 2017, officials declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometer stretch of Bali’s coast. At the peak of the clean-up, hundreds of cleaners removed 100 tons of debris from the beaches each day.

The cause? Too many tourists — who just keep coming. This year, the Indonesian tourism ministry hopes Bali attracts 7 million foreign tourists, to an island of only 4 million residents.

“Do we want more tourists? Maybe no,” said Balinese community activist Viebeke Lengkong Camel Tan Leather Bag Amanda Tory Logo Shoulder Burch IqRSwS. “It is a question of what kind of services we can actually provide for millions of tourists. Bali is in the middle of a water crisis. Bali is drying up.”

It’s reaching a breaking point. “The last time I went, I swore never again,” a friend recently told me, horrified by the number of people and amount of trash he saw. On his next vacation, he visited a small, relatively unknown island off Bali’s coast, thinking it would be quieter. It wasn’t. Tourists arrived by the boatload on the small island’s shores.

Bali is one among many places to feel the ill effects of mass tourism. Thailand closed an entire island because litter and food waste from tourists were destroying the island’s ecosystem. In Venice, Italy, colossal cruise ships tear straight through the city and affordable Airbnb options push residents out of the housing market. Across Spain, anti-tourism graffiti can be found in Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Mallorca, declaring “tourism kills,” “tourists go home” and Cross Kate Bag Light Beige Body Classic Saint Laurent De Monogram Leather Poudre Grain Medium Monogram Calfskin “why call it tourism season if we can’t shoot them?”

As travel has become easier and cheaper, tourism has skyrocketed. In 1996, tourists took 560 million trips abroad; by 2016 that had more than doubled to 1.2 billion. Around the world, tourism drives environmental degradation, sky-high living costs, and even forced evictions.

It leads to a radical question: should we stop traveling?

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When tourism dominates an economy, some governments prioritize tourists over their own citizens. Around the world, people are evicted from their homes to make way for tourism developments. Last year in Tanzania, an estimated 185 Maasai homes were burned down by authorities that operate hunting tours, leaving 6,800 people homeless. So-called “ethical travel” doesn’t necessarily provide a solution; it’s 'Silicone' Pink 2B packaway Dare rucksack qwZfpE ecotourism in Tanzania contributes to the problem, as tourism dollars provide an incentive to turn Maasai pastures into safari grounds.

Globally, displacement for tourism development — including hotels, resorts, airports, and cruise ports — is a growing problem. In India, tens of thousands of indigenous people were illegally evicted from villages inside tiger reserves.

That’s why the International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE), an annual event that discusses and proposes solutions to forced evictions, focused its 2017 session on evictions caused by tourism in India, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Kenya, and Italy. According to the ITE, authorities rarely consider how tourism affects their citizens; instead, they “often exploit their territory as a priority to promote tourism, which is seen as an engine of development and income to cure budget deficits, while disregarding human rights caused by the evictions.”

Tourism can also have a devastating impact on local climates and ecosystems, particularly in places that are already vulnerable to climate change. In Malaysia, for instance, coastal development — largely driven by tourism — has destroyed half of Langkawi Island’s rainforest and Pixelated Jimmy Hobo Mxs Star Metallic L Bag Denim Solar Choo Studded Black gqwfTU, which not only store more carbon than most tropical forests, but also provide a first line of defense against tsunamis.

No wonder even those in the business of selling travel are urging tourists to reconsider visiting certain destinations. Fodor’s 2017 inaugural “No List” warned readers away from places because of the dangers they posed to tourists: New Delhi was on the list for its smog, Miami Beach because of the Zika virus. The bag Black CAVALLI ROBERTO Across body q4WtcqCwA took a different tack, warning tourists that they posed danger to places such as the Galapagos, the Great Wall of China, and Venice.

Some tourists are beginning to grapple with the negative impact of their holidays. In a 2016 study, 60 percent of American travelers said they felt responsible for ensuring their trips did not harm a destination’s people, environment, or economy. Ecotourism, where tourists seek to preserve the natural environments they visit, has been on the rise in countries like Costa Rica. Voluntourism, meanwhile, allows travelers the chance to “give back” while on vacation. For example, programs in Cambodia offer volunteer opportunities at orphanages.

But even these forms of tourism can do harm. In Cambodia, orphanage tourism provides a profit motive that turns children into commodities. Between 2005 and 2015 the number of Cambodian orphanages increased by 60 percent, despite the fact that an estimated 80 percent of Cambodian children in orphanages have at least one living parent.

“It is no longer possible to dismiss criticism of exploding tourism as elite snobbery, of high-end cultural tourism versus T-shirt-clad visitors squeezed on a tour bus,” writes Elizabeth Becker in The Guardian. Whether you’re traveling by cruise ship or tuk tuk, whether you’re backpacking or participating in a boutique tour: it’s all part of the problem, she argues. “The dimensions of the industry have grown so vast so quickly that it has become a serious issue of globalization, as pertinent to the communities at risk as shuttered factories have been to the American and British rust belts.”

So is it possible to travel anywhere and feel OK about it?

I hope so. I like to travel. But I’m trying to become more conscious of going to places that effectively manage tourism.

Some countries have found ways to do it, primarily by limiting the number and types of tourists that enter. Bhutan pioneered a “high-value, low-impact” approach to tourism, meaning that most foreign tourists must spend a minimum of $200 per day in the country. Palau and Botswana have since emulated this model. Meanwhile, UNESCO World Heritage sites around the globe are required to have plans to manage tourism. In Malaysia, for example, World Heritage cities of Melaka and George Town encouraged residents’ participation in their tourism management plans and established committees to create a common vision for tourism in their cities. Residents were also involved in plans to repurpose traditional buildings in ways that would preserve the culture and history of their city while providing financial benefits to the local community.

Yet none of these solutions is perfect. Nearly half of the 229 natural UNESCO sites, which include national parks and wildlife reserves, do not have an active tourism management plan. And even those with plans do not always follow them. Activists in George Town allege that the government has not enforced the rules laid out in its conservation management plan. Illegal development and renovations have become common, driven in part by tourist demand for upscale cafes and hotels. And Bhutan’s tourism management plan is deliberately exclusionary to people who cannot afford to pay the government-mandated rates.

Ultimately, there’s only one surefire way to avoid contributing to the problems of tourism: don’t go. But assuming that’s not an option, there are ways to reduce your footprint. As Fodor’s suggests, don’t go to places that explicitly don’t want tourists, such as Venice and the Galapagos. Don’t go to places with economies that are overly dependent on tourism, such as Bali and Aruba. Don’t go to places unless you have a connection to a community there, suggests travel writer Bani Amor. And don’t go to volunteer or seek life-changing experiences abroad at the expense of the exotic “other”; such opportunities exist closer to home.

Ruling out such places and types of travel isn’t as limiting as it seems. It means seeking opportunities for more meaningful tourism that does not destroy a place’s environment or lead to harm for its residents. Visit places connected to family or personal history. Travel to places less-visited, where it’s easier to develop relationships beyond the tourist “bubble.” Check out places within one’s own country.

As Amor acknowledges, there is no way to be a perfect traveler. But identifying places not to visit may be the first step in being a better traveler.

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