The focus of this paper is on the development and sustainability of tourist destinations without in some way destroying them or the surrounding community. While there is a legitimate and general concern for all tourist destinations like the Tower of London or the Eiffel Tower, this paper has a more limited focus. This paper will narrow its discussion to locations lacking the infrastructure, talent, money, and knowledgebase to protect both their current sites and those that might come online in the future. The author would hope that places like Paris, Washington, or London might learn from this paper approaches they could do to protect further their tourist destinations. However, these locations are representative of affluent and developed sites within nations that have the resources "to throw" at the problem if they choose to do so. This paper will deal with the vast majority of the rest of the world that is not as fortunate.
The World Bank illustrates the dilemma facing these less-developed nations that have or will have in the future additional tourist destinations. There are slightly over 6-billion people in the world today. Of that number, "Extreme poverty is a huge problem. 1.2 billion people survive on less than a dollar a day. A further 1.6 billion, more than a quarter of the world's population, make do with one to two dollars a day." ( http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres00_e/pr181_e.htm)
How would a country dealing with massive and systematic poverty whether in the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Oceania devote needed resources for developing sustainable and a protected tourism? One can readily imagine their interest in this issue of sustainability of its tourist destinations. However, they face many more life-threatening problems with their limited budgets whether national or local levels.
In addition, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) states that tourism is the major export producer for 83% of the world's less developed countries and for 1/3 of the poorest of countries, tourism is their major export. TIES continues "For world's 40 poorest countries, tourism is 2nd most important source of foreign exchange, after oil."
When these less developed countries or sites are confronted by a tourism developer presenting the opportunity to make money through tourism development, these less economical viable countries can easily fall prey to runaway development, destruction of the environment, and the onslaught of tourists who are looking for a new and inexpensive next great tourist destination.
This influx of uncontrolled tourism will create the same problems with environmental and pollution concerns, increase in diseases and crime, societal and cultural stressors, and economic and financial fluctuation, which are presently faced by many tourist destinations already-even in the developed and more affluent nations. This brings us to the other concern about destruction.
In addition, this author views destruction as not merely the physical and societal damage done by tourist but the destruction done to the aesthetics and uniqueness of the site by developers who intentionally or unintentionally destroy the ethnic/cultural individuality of the particular location. The concern is that tourism development does not take the same route that individual housing development did in the 50s in America.
Bob Dylan decried the ticky-tackiness of the tract homes of that time period. We need to heed his warning as it relates to tourism development. The world does not need present and future destinations becoming a ticky-tacky destinations denuded of indigenous culture, flavor, traditions, and taste. We need to avoid replication the track-home phenomenon in the tourist industry at all cost. If we do not, we will still have to face the potential problems all tourist destinations such as confront crime, commercialization, and conflict with tourists along with tastelessness of that tourist attraction. Why travel overseas if you can see the same boring sameness here in America?
If the above scenario is not bleak enough, it will become increasing worse over the coming decades. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates steady growth in tourism for the foreseeable future. The problem in a nutshell is where are the tourists going to visit? The actual numbers of outbound tourists will more than double by 2020 according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO).
The existing sites, whether the Great Wall, the Louvre, the Vatican, the Pyramids, or any of the Disneylands, are already crowded. Cruise companies are looking for new ports-of-call even now. Double the lines, congestion, airline flights, and the legion of other negative effects of tourism, and you will see the problem presenting itself by 2020. What is the solution to the more than doubling of tourists visiting the already existing markets?
Unless the global community plans on capping tourism at or near its present levels, new destinations will need to be brought online over the next dozen years. Many of these will be developed in the affluent and developed markets that already have thriving tourism trade. However, this paper will only address development in the less developed nations and regions. It is precisely these areas that are the most vulnerable for many reasons, because they do not have years of experience with development. Therefore, they are often not capable of fending for themselves in the market place. These countries also have extenuating situations facing them like poverty and/or lack of natural resources that make them more vulnerable to uncontrolled site development. They are vulnerable to being lured into development with promises of needed revenue.
The fastest growing markets in 2010 will be those in Asia. India alone is a booming market. "The online travel retail market in India is expected to boom over the next five years, with Internet-based travel retail transactions increasing by an incredible 271% between 2005 and 2010. Euromonitor International predicts that online travel retail sales generated in India will exceed US$2 billion in 2010 alone." ( http://www.euromonitor.com/India_leads_growth_in_online_travel_sales_in_Asia)
Not only is Asia the fastest growing market, it also contains mostly developing and poverty-ridden nations. The momentary glitter of all the money from the development of the tourism industry in these countries will tempt many of them to go along with outside developers whose primary concern is with their shareholder and not with the country or the particular areas that they wish to develop. Unless these underdeveloped countries are fortunate to be sitting on reserves of natural resources like oil, gas, coal, gold, wood, or other need exports, their only potential source of revenue is from tourism.
Many of these emerging nations are without many natural resources that can be used for generating needed revenue. They can often look to their past for cultural assets like Egypt and capitalize on treasures dating back 4-6 millennia. If that is all the nation has, they are forced into potentially making a deal with the devil by mortgaging and also risking their national treasures for needed capital.
Some countries have natural attractions like beaches, jungles, mountains, and other natural wonders that can attract tourist. For example, Egypt has Sharm El Sheikh, which is a beautiful seaside destination. With the doubling of outbound tourist by 2020, developers will be looking for more and more places like Sharm El Sheikh.
Therefore, there needs to be a broad-based plan for the development of these sites to avoid loving these sites to death---whether we are talking about the existing ones or the new ones that will be developed in the coming years. In addition, the master plan also needs to avoid turning these sites into ticky-tacky American tourist destination devoid of the unique cultural and heritage of the particular region.
SOLUTIONS-The Individual Approach
Since the problem is multifaceted, it will take a multifaceted approach to begin to solve the problem. This writer will divide the solution into two major approaches: the individual tourist and a more systematic approach, which involves NGOs, tourism organizations like WTO and the WTTC, and the local groups from the site destination.
Perhaps the easiest and fastest approach to begin to address this issue of guaranteeing sustainability and protecting the uniqueness of the local site is through education of the tourist that visit these endangered sites or those that are to come online in the future. It should be noted at the outset that the individual tourist, while capable of avoiding damaging the ecosystem, would have limited power and control when confronted with the overwhelming dominance and recourses of the multinational corporations.
Nevertheless, the individual tourist can do much to assist in the sustainability and the uniqueness issue. This process begins with educating the tourist and helping them see that while traveling, they need to leave the smallest travel footprint while on their trips. Leaving a small travel footprint means doing all that is possible to avoid causing any physical damage to the site as well as causing damage to their cultural way of life. Tourists need to be guided by a travelers' version of the Hippocratic Oath for doctor-do no harm.
How would an educated tourist adhere to the do no harm principle? The obvious answer is a long list of green initiatives where the tourist not only avoids actively hurting the environment by littering, by taking souvenirs from site, by generally defacing sites with graffiti, or by in any other way destroying the ecosystem of the location by his or her presence. However, there are less obvious ways of protecting the destination ecologically.
Conservation of resources that the tourist uses is less obvious but is just as important and critical. These conservation items would include an equally long list of conservation steps that the tourist should take. Such steps as saving on water consumption in the hotels by limiting the use long showers and cutting back on the use of fresh sheet and towels, cutting back on heating and air conditioning usage, and by patronizing green hotels and businesses.
Another way that tourist can do no harm is by not giving money and/or candy to kids or beggars. This suggestion goes against Americans basic inclination to be generous. However, neither giving money nor candy to children and/or beggars is a good idea. At first glance, this prohibition seems harsh. Nevertheless, both have long-lasting negative impacts upon the people who receive the gifts. For example, giving candy is not wise since their teeth aren't fluoride-protected and/or sealed, and they hardly ever see a dentist. If well-meaning tourists continually give them candy, they will begin having cavities and tooth loss in the near future. If you wish to help the children, hire them as guides or have them assist the tourist in someway.
As for beggars, again, it seems morally correct and the right thing to do to share with the needy. Nevertheless, the tourist is institutionalizing a beggar class in that location. Again, if the tourist wishes to help alleviate some poverty, they can contribute to the local school or religious organization. In addition, an excellent teaching moment can occur for the community when tourists buy handicrafts from the poor on the street. While these are not high quality or expensive items, they are often are interesting handicraft items from the community. Watching these transactions teaches the locals that money can be made without begging. This lesson of street entrepreneurship helps to reeducate the society.
In a similar vein, tourist can avoid eating at international restaurant chains. With the slightest effort, one can find and patronize the local "ma and pa" restaurants rather than the chains that siphon off the profits to people outside the community. By educating the tourist about this option, they can either explore this alternative on their own or ask travel agents or hotels for suggestions.
In some places, you can even arrange to have a meal with local families. In the older part of Beijing, there are Hutongs, which are very old neighborhoods with narrow and winding streets. They are a flashback to a former time in China. Some of the people will invite you into their homes, share a meal, and give the tourist an insight in how some Chinese live. This alternative is to eat in an international chain where you would get the same food and cultural flavor that you would back in the States.
The education of the tourist could also include tourist etiquette and knowledge of the local customs and traditions of the destination. Such things as the prohibition of the use of the left-hand while eating in many Middle Eastern or in the Indian sub-continent. Also, avoiding touching the head of young children in the Asia is another ecological issue. All that it takes is a few moments on the Internet, and you can find countless suggestions by merely Googling "etiquette (and the name of the country to which you are traveling)." This helps protect the cultural norms of the community from being inadvertently westernized.
Avoiding junk shops that import copies of local artisans' work is still another means of protecting the cultural traditions of the host destination. If tourists patronize local artisans, they will keep money in the community rather than exporting the profits out of the area. It is incongruous that travelers, who have spent thousands of dollars on airfares, hotels, meals, ground transportation, will gravitate to junk shops to save a couple dollars rather than spending the extra money on the real item. This avoidance of kitsch is a win/win situation. It keeps the tourist dollars in the community, and the tourist gets something of value. In addition, the tourist also has the opportunity to get to know the local artisan and appreciate the culture. This reinforces the local cultural tradition and validates its continuance.
The tourist can also become better informed about the world and the country where he or she might be traveling. If the tourist does, he or she can avoid destinations where people have been exploited or not buy products that are the result of sweat shops. The tourist can also join lobbying group to project people, animals, and the environment in these developing markets.
The federal government could assist these individual boycotts by warning travelers about exploitation of people, animals, or the environment of a given country just as they do with travel safety warnings about civil unrest and other dangers in various countries.
Tourism companies could provide the American Society of Travel Agent's Ten Commandments on Eco-Tourism. They could be included in the travel materials, brochures, or tickets. For some travelers, the only thing necessary to making them into good eco-tourist is information.
SOLUTIONS-The Systematic Approach
While we should not overlook the long list of possible private solutions to the problem, it should be understood that the long-term solution to sustainability and protecting the uniqueness of the location does not lie solely in the hand of the individual tourist. Individual tourists can avoid compounding the problem by being proactive in doing what they can, but the real clout will come at the organizational level both the international and local.
Each new market needs to develop a master plan for development that maximizes profit potential while minimizing the negative consequences of tourism. However, the individual site development plans need to be supported and coordinated by an infrastructure that has an all-encompassing global reach. The reason for this international infrastructure is because the local destination will generally lack the funds and/or management expertise to plan or evaluate plans presented to them from outside developers.
An organization like the WTO could work with the people at the site to assist them in developing a response to the developer. This ombudsman role would provide parity to the local site so that it can have its voice and interest protected when dealing with the multinational companies. For without this outside assistance, the developer could merely go to a country and negotiate an agreement to develop a tourist site without reference to the needs or concerns of the local stakeholders.
There needs to develop, within the WTO or a similar agency, a structure that can regulate development in the under-developed nations. This voluntary association of nations could exercise equivalent power that the larger multinational developers have. Since this development organization would have a global reach, it could also apply pressure upon the developers to comply with the physical needs and cultural uniqueness of the site area.
Under the auspices of the UN, the WTO, or a new agency, this ombudsman could oversee the negotiations, planning, and the implementation of the development plan for the area. The group would exercise oversight of both existing and new destination development. They would set up both the guidelines and means of enforcement of the guidelines to assure both the ecological sustainability and the protection of the cultural and ethnic uniqueness of the particular location.
This oversight organization needs to have enforcements powers to insure compliance with agreements and guidelines. This organization, with its global reach, could put sanctions on developers who were in noncompliance with agreed to conventions. This would avoid the developers threatening the local site with a take it or leave it policy. Since there would be no other place that they could go that would not force the same guidelines. The planning group would make the developers negotiate in good faith since they had no other options.
The environmental issues are an obvious concern that the planning group could exercise control. The international organization would not only enforce the regular ecological concerns of any area, but it would have the power to impose restrictions upon the number of tourists that would visit the site per year. These types of numeric restrictions or quotas are already in place in some locations around the world. For example, places like the Galapagos Islands, Bhutan, and the Great Barrier Reef already have these types of quotas on the number of tourist that can visit these sites. Authorities can do this by restricting permits to visit or restricting the number of permits of boats.
In addition to the obvious ecological concerns that need protection, it is critical that the local guidelines would protect the particular concerns of the local ethnic/cultural concerns of the people. For example, one site might have a particularly unique handicraft tradition that needs protection from countries that could flood the market with cheap replicas. There needs to be agreement regarding quotas on those imported items. This flooding of the market occurs even in the affluent and developed nations.
For example, the centuries old Venetian mask industry is being destroyed by inexpensive imitations from China. The reader can readily see that if the Venetians are struggling to protect their artisans, it would be an impossible task for an underdeveloped nation to protect its artisans.
There also needs to be guidelines in place regarding revenue sharing. For example, the UN's organization could develop a sliding-scale that would provide international funding for countries' master plan based upon need. As the site becomes fully operational, the financial support might be reduced based upon the viability of that market site.
There also needs to be a mutually agreed upon percentage of money that the developers turn back to the community and/or to the UN to continue its global development and oversight function. Other sources of revenue could be developed through a tourist use surtax that would be channeled to the UN from fees charged on airline tickets, hotel rooms, and packaged tours. This surtax collected from tourists and fees/taxes collected from the developers could supply some of the money necessary to fund the agency.
The UN agency could also set-up a Peace Corps-like volunteer group to assist in these international emerging destinations. As with the Peace Corps, volunteers could be recruited from colleges and universities to take a specified period of time to help set up the local infrastructure at the host destination. This could be run both as an internship program and also for professionals in the field who wish to share their expertise with these developing markets.
In summary, the focus of this paper was on the development and sustainability of tourist destinations without in some way destroying them or the surrounding community. This paper had limited focus and dealt with only those tourist destinations lacking the infrastructure, expertise, money, and knowledgebase to protect both their current sites and those that might come online in the future. The author has not dealt with places like Paris, Washington, or London, because they have the existing resources to use, if they wish, to protect the physical environment and cultural/ethnic milieu of their tourist destinations and markets.
This paper dealt with the vast majority of the rest of the world that is neither as fortunate nor affluent. With the estimates of more than doubling the number of tourists by 2020 coupled with widespread global poverty, there will be an intense effort made by developers to find and build more and more tourist attractions to meet the growing desire to international travel. Without an international organization functioning as an ombudsman, the less developed nations will be faced with mortgaging their locations and traditions for needed capital.
(All photographs in the following slide presentation were taken by me in Egypt, China, or Easter Island.)