Steve Jones’ Say

TRAVEL, so we are told, broadens the mind. It also creates jobs, boosts economies — some very poor ones at that — and, fundamentally, brings joy to countless millions of people.

But our seemingly insatiable appetite to jump on a plane or board a ship, and our yearning for experiential travel, does have its drawbacks.

We all know that we are poor custodians of our planet — the examples of irresponsible attitudes and behaviour are endless and shocking — so at what point must we put the brakes on travel, and take a more responsible approach to our environment?

The Government of the Philippines reached its own breaking point in April, when, to much consternation, it closed Boracay Island. Appalled at the condition of the beaches and once-clear waters, the bold decision was made to shut the resort for six months to sort out the mess. The island re-opens later this month and, as reported in Travel Daily, is being regarded as a test case for sustainable tourism.

You have to wonder, how many more environments are being damaged, maybe irrevocably, by over-tourism and cynical minds who purport to care but, in reality, are fixated with the tourism dollar?

For the October issue of travelBulletin I explored the rising appeal of Antarctic travel. One of the most sensitive environments in the world is drawing ever-increasing numbers of tourists. And in February, I will be one of them. I feel conflicted. While approaching it with child-like excitement, my guilt lingers. It simply can’t do the Antarctic Peninsula and its inhabitants any good to have tens of thousands of people trampling through it year after year.

Of greater concern, at least to my mind, is the creeping introduction of tourism “experiences” in the southern extremes; submarines and helicopters are being made available for the super wealthy. Clearly there have been regulatory hoops to jump through. But is this really the way forward for such a fragile environment? Make no mistake, these experiences are being added for commercial gain, to create points of difference to win business and the tourism dollar. They certainly weren’t added for the good of the destination.

Closer to home, concern was raised only very recently about over-tourism at Cradle Mountain. It is, according to some, being “loved to death”.

The response from the Tasmanian state government was alarmingly blas. Capping the number of visitors would not be “good for the state”, we were told, and send the wrong message to international tourists. What nonsense. Genuine worries of over-tourism were disregarded with a dismissive wave of the hand.

There is no doubt great strides have been made in sustainable and environmental travel over many years. But even now, too much lip service is paid to this subject.

Travel and tourism brings economic benefits, and it vital for many communities. But the industry also has responsibilities. The Philippines Government took the ultimate call to stop tourism altogether, albeit temporarily. Others should take note.