The Corona crisis reveals the importance and downsides of tourism

by | Jun 1, 2020 | New | 0 comments

South Australia tests backpackers and seasonal workers for Covid-19

South Australia tests backpackers and seasonal workers for Covid-19

Australia has been doing really well in preventing the spread of the corona virus throughout the country. Many states have been Corona free for a while now. Measures like border screening and virus testing have been very successful so far. However, the covid-19 tests have only been available for a selected group of people at risk. This group will now be extended with seasonal workers, including backpackers.

The absence of tourists in the world’s main tourist hubs due to the outbreak of Covid-19, makes the impact of tourism more visible than ever before. Where normally endless crowds of travelers gather to entertain themselves, now silence prevails. Without tourists natural areas flourish as never before, while many cities seem to have lost their soul. What are the benefits and downsides of tourism and what are the lessons to be learned from this unique situation?

Why is tourism important?

First of all, tourism is important because of its economic value. The value of global tourism was 5.29 trillion dollars in 2017, according to a global travel market study from Oxford Economics. In many regions tourism plays a crucial role in the economy.

Almost 1 in 10 people worldwide work in the travel sector.

Furthermore, other businesses also benefit from tourism. As a spin-off effect, transport and communication facilities might be improved. With the increased number of tourists, companies in the hospitality and gastronomic industry will see their amount of customers and thus the revenue increase as well. Therefore tourism has an enormous potential to create jobs and combat unemployment.

Tourists buy watermelons on a local market in Asia and contribute to the local economy
Tourists buy watermelons on a local market in Asia and contribute to the local economy

Besides the economic value there are more benefits of tourism than one might think off. To point out some, tourism encourages people to connect with and understand other cultures, traditions and values than ours. Furthermore, heritage and culture tourism helps to increase our appreciation and understanding of art and architecture. This might then help to protect historic sites and symbols so they will be preserved for future generations.

It might be of no surprise, but traveling might also greatly improve your quality of life. Many scientific studies have been done to determine the effects of traveling on peoples’ health. A holiday, even a short one, will reduce stress and improves your well being according to this study.

After a 4 day holiday, travelers felt more rested, less anxious and in a better mood.

These results didn’t disappear when they returned home, but lasted for many weeks after. It might be no coincidence that travelers then are at lower risk to develop hearth deseases or suffer from a hearth attack. This is signitically proven by the long-running (since 1948) framingham hearth study. Other studies show that there are also benefits for the brain.

A connection between traveling and an increase in creativity and personal growth was found.

People who travel often tend to be more open and emotionally stable.

What we see now with the outbreak of covid-19 and the lockdown measures, is that the tourist and related sectors are hit hard. Many countries banned travel and went into lockdown. Most borders worldwide closed. As a result, many businesses in the tourism and hospitality had to shut down. Worldwide, millions of people lost their jobs and now suffer from unemployement and loss of income.

A massive trillion dollar industry was reduced to ashes in a matter of weeks.

The fear is that the negative economic impact of the lockdown measures will spread to other sectors soon. Our society is based on consumption and growth. If people have less money, they will buy less, which results in loss of revenue for businesses in other sectors as well. Eventually many might not be able to pay off mortgages which could result in the collaps of banks and potentially our financial system.

Lockdown measures result in empty city streets worldwide
Lockdown measures result in empty city streets worldwide

Poor countries might be hit even harder. The corona crisis might double the people who suffer from acute hunger, according to a report from the United Nations World Food Programme. More than 265 million people are at risk. This is partly related to the loss of jobs in the tourism industry due to the lockdown measures.

Studies on the long-term effects of the corona crisis on peoples’ health have yet to be done.

What are the downsides of tourism?

The tourism industry has grown enormous over the past decades. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimtes that the amount of international tourists increased from just 25 million in 1950 to 1.4 billion in 2018. Some destinations receive more tourists than others. In the most popular tourist areas we speak of mass tourism.

In areas where many travelers gather, tourism can have a negative impact on local life and the natural environment.

Some cities are literaly overrun by tourists. Due to their numbers, shopping streets in world cities and popular tourist destinations became filled with a monotonous range of shops like copy-paste souvenirs stores and international brands like Starbucks. In more and more cities tourists outnumber locals in their main public areas. Café’s, bars, musea, and other attractions in the city centers are mainly visited by international tourists. As a result, locals feel alienated in their once beloved hometowns. Due to the increased demand of places to stay house prices often increase to record hights. Locals are driven out of their cities as life becomes too expensive for the average citizen. What’s left is a city that lost its soul which eventually many will avoid.

Nowadays, tourists dominate the streets in Amsterdam
Nowadays, tourists dominate the streets in Amsterdam

Natural environments suffer from mass tourism as well. Environmental damage by tourists can lead to erosion, pollution, loss of habitat and forrest fires. Natural areas disappear to make space for accomodations, infrastructure, shops and restaurants. Too many visitors in natural areas will disrupt their ecosystem severely. For example, Maya Bay in Thailand is indefintely closed due to the excessive amount of tourists it recieved. Maya Bay become popular after the movie The Beach, starring Di Caprio, was recorded there.

With the arrival of tourists, polution from litter, boats and sunscrean increased dramatically.

As a result about 80% of the coral around the bay is destroyed, reported The Guardian last year.

Mass tourism in Maya Bay is held responsible for destroying 80% of the coral around the bay.
Mass tourism in Maya Bay is held responsible for destroying 80% of the coral around the bay.

Also the way tourists travel is often polluting. “worse than everyone expected” headlined the New York Times in an article about air travel emissions in 2019.

Overall, airtravel accounts for more than 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Therefor it’s a main contributor to climate change. Also other ways of transport and the required infrastructure might damage the environment.

Furthermore, tourists consume huge amounts of resources, including water and food. In places with scarcity, especially in third world countries, local prices are driven up and locals might suffer from decrease of purchasing power or hunger.

Exchange of culture can be a benefit and a risk at the same time. Tourists often ignore local rules, cultural traits and values and norms. This can lead to tensions between tourists and local comunities.

With the lockdown measures, tourists disappeared almost completely. And with them, many of its downsides. “Swans in canals, dolphins at empty cruise ports and even wild boar in cobbled streets prove how fast nature can reclaim the world”, writes The Telegraph. 

Questions arise if we want to return back to the same situation as before the crisis.

What are the lessons to be learned?

What we learned from the corona crisis is that the importance of international tourism can’t be underestimated. On the other hand, we can’t continue with the same approach in the sector. A question that we have to ask ourselves is, who benefits the most from tourism? Are it the locals, or the Trans National Corporations (TNCs) and citizens of rich countries that spent time away from home to destress or tick life experiences off their bucketlist?

We have to rethink how and where we travel and develop the idea of conscious travel.

I hope that people start realising what the impact of their behaviour on the environment is. This doesn’t mean that we have to avoid travel at all as it contributes in many positive ways to our lives. Its all about changing our approach when picking our destination and choosing transportation. Questions we have to ask ourselves are, what is the impact of my travel on climate change? What is the impact on the environment? How do I contribute to local communities with my visit?

There’s an important role for hosts, they have to see the world differently.

Not as a resource to be exploited, but as a sacred place to be protected and celebrated for its uniqueness. If they start to view their customers not only as mere units of consumption, but as guests seeking to be healed and transformed, new ideas might arise on how to tackle the risks of tourism.

Please share your thoughts and ideas regarding this topic! I’m always interested in ideas to make the world more sustainable and I’m willing to learn from other people’s ideas and opinions.

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