I started thinking about the sustainability of mass tourism after moving to Prague, the Czech Republic’s capital. The heart of Europe. The pearl of cities. A city that sees nearly 8 million (!) tourists every year. (1) Let me remind you that Prague has some 1,5 million inhabitants. The tourists – or should I say the MASSES of tourists- are ubiquitous especially in the historical centre. So much, that they have slowly pushed the locals away and the centre is now more like a museum than an actual image of the local life. All the locals avoid the historical centre as best as they can. I actually last saw the Prague castle when I was 8 during a trip with my parents. I would like to see it again, but I simply don’t have the nerves to struggle through the groups of Chinese tourists. And all the other tourists. Neither I have the nerves to see all the tourist traps, over priced beer, “traditional” Czech food that is everything but not traditional and all kinds of so called “street artists” charging astronomical prices for letting your children take a photo with them. And finally, as a minimum waste person, I don’t want to see the 99% of the tourists buying bottled water, eating take-away in McDonald’s and simply leaving MASSES of trash behind.
I’m not a moron – quite the contrary – but Prague in high season simply makes you wonder whether this is right.
There are even worse examples of cities where mass tourism became too much. Take Venice for example – the number of tourists flooding the city every year got so high, that the local authorities are now introducing an entry fee to the historical centre, ranging from 2,50 to 10€, depending on the season.
It is not just cities’ infrastructure, the old buildings and the locals who are suffering. Mass tourism is damaging natural sights just as much. Machu Picchu in Peru, Maya Bay in Thailand or Bali in Indonesia are among the most well-known examples. High numbers of tourists affect the environment and local ecosystems. Just recently Machu Picchu announced that there would be restrictions on the number of visitors, who will now have only 3 hours to visit the most visited sites of the complex, which seem to have deteriorated greatly because of the rising number of tourists.
Why is all this happening?
The answer is simple. Firstly, world’s population is rising. In the last 60 years, the number of people have risen 2,8x – from 2,5 billion to nearly 7 billion people.(2) The income is on the rise, too – people simply have more money. On the other hand, the costs of traveling (especially flights) are decreasing and traveling is becoming more and more accessible. The result is inevitable: more people travel and people travel more.
What can be done?
The answer is a bit more complicated here. It seems like the population will keep growing, as well as our income. The middle class will increase in developing countries, and so will the number of tourists.
Thinking that people will change and start behaving responsibly and considerately to both our natural and cultural heritage is a utopia.
Nevertheless, there are few realistic options that come to my mind.
One option could be to tax the flights, or more specifically the aviation fuel, (which haven’t been taxed till now btw), which would increase the price of the flight tickets.
Another option is an entry fee – if we want to reduce the number of visitors, we simply impose a barrier for them. Once again, the effect depends on the price of the fee – the 2,50€ that you pay in the centre of Venice are less likely to discourage you from going there than an 1,200€ entry fee that you pay to see gorillas in Rwanda. High fees help you to select the tourists that are genuinely interested in the place, they will appreciate their visit and thus not behave as pigs. Nevertheless, this is easily applied in a national park or a historical site like Machu Picchu, but much more harder in a city.
Limits can be an option, too. In other words, limiting the number of tourist that can visit the site or (like in the case of Machu Picchu) limiting the time they can spend there. Once again, easily done in case of natural sites, much harder in cities.
All these options are to be done by the authorities. However, we, as tourists, can do our part, too. So, let me give you a list of tips on how to be a good traveler.
Sustainable traveler’s guide:
Choose destinations that are not overwhelmed by tourists. In case you choose such a destination, try to go off the beaten path and get to know the less known places and things.
To get into the destination, try to reduce flying and use a train instead, if possible. Avoid cruise ships! Once in the destination, use an eco-friendly mean of transportation – preferably walk, use a bike or the public transport, do not rent cars and avoid taxis.
No take-away food.
Don’t buy take-away food, eat in local restaurants instead.
Bring a water bottle and refill it, don’t buy bottled water.
Bring you own bag, don’t take plastic bags in the supermarkets.
Support local communities-eat in local restaurants, sleeps in local hotels (not international chains) and buy locally made souvenirs.
Behave as you were at home.
Behave as you would behave at home – do not let water running just because you don’t pay for it, turn off the lighting, recycle and simply do everything as if you do it normally back home!
– and the most important one –
Leave the city in a state you want the tourists to leave yours!