Wreaking havoc in cities around the world

Created date

October 30th, 2019
June 17, 2018: "Tourists Go Home" inscription over the litter bin in Venice, Italy.

Industries in virtually every sector have embraced sustainability. From utility companies to clothing manufacturers to agriculture—businesses are changing the way they operate with an eye toward preserving the environment, protecting communities, and replenishing resources. 

As defined by the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

For manufacturers, sustainability means recycling and reducing the operation’s carbon footprint. For farmers, sustainability means using environmentally safe pesticides and designing a waste-water system without impacting the community water supply. 

The travel industry is also seeking to be more sustainable, but to succeed, it must educate the 1.4 billion people who travel each year. Without their willing participation, the concept of sustainable travel is doomed to fail. 

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable travel as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”

Venice is flooded with tourists

Each day in Venice, Italy, an estimated 32,000 travelers disembark from massive cruise ships to explore the historic city. They may have lunch or indulge in a gelato. They may even buy a souvenir or take a gondola ride, but at the end of the day, they head back to their cruise ship—bypassing the city’s hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. 

These day-trippers clog Venice’s narrow streets and bridges making life difficult for locals. At the same time, the cruise ship tourists spend very little compared to the traditional traveler who stays in a local hotel and enjoys the town’s many restaurants and cultural attractions for a few days. 

Fed up with hosting hordes of travelers without benefitting financially, the city of Venice began imposing a 10-euro fee to day trippers in September. The fee is waived for travelers who stay in a Venice hotel. 

Venice also has a plan to regulate how many people can visit each day. Starting in 2021, it will implement a booking system for entry into the city. 

Overtourism around the world 

The influx of nearly 20 million visitors each year has overwhelmed the relatively small city of Amsterdam. The negative impact of tourism has prompted the city to stop marketing itself to tourists—going so far as to suggest other Dutch cities they could visit instead.

Barcelona is Europe’s busiest cruise ship destination. It is also the number one most polluted port in Europe. The city recently declared an environmental emergency to deal with the problem. 

With its powdery white sand and crystal blue water, Boracay in the Philippines has received a lot of recognition from prominent travel magazines. Tourists have converged on the tiny island, overloading the town’s infrastructure. In April, Philippine President Duterte took the unprecedented step of closing Boracay to tourists for six months so they could deal with the problem. 

Fed up with the negative impact of tourism on their community, residents of Big Sur, Calif., devised a pledge they ask visitors to sign. The introduction to the pledge says, “The recent increase in the number of visitors is challenging the safety and well-being of residents, visitors, and the fragile natural environment. All of us can make a positive difference to protect and nurture Big Sur. Help us by taking and activating the Big Sur Pledge.”

Sustainable travel solutions

Travalyst (travalyst.org) is a group of travel companies, including Booking.com, Visa, and TripAdvisor, that have joined forces with Prince Harry, HRH, The Duke of Sussex, to promote sustainable travel and change the impact of tourism for good.

“Travel has the unparalleled power to open people’s minds to different cultures, new experiences and to have a profound appreciation for what our world has to offer,” Prince Harry said in a statement. “As tourism inevitably grows, it is critically important to accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices worldwide; and to balance this growth with the needs of the environment and the local population. Bringing companies, consumers, and communities together is our best chance to protect destinations and ecosystems for future generations.”

Being a sustainable traveler is not that difficult. It means using common sense and being thoughtful about how you spend your money. 

Reduce your impact on the environment. Choose reusable water bottles over single-use plastic. Use public transportation whenever possible. And only use the hotel laundry service for sheets and towels when necessary.

Support the local economy. Choose to patronize locally owned businesses instead of large multinational chains and try to stay in town so the local economy will benefit from your visit.

Respect the culture. Be mindful of what is and is not acceptable to locals, including dress codes and etiquette.

Respect animal welfare. Use reef-safe sunscreen to help protect coral reefs. Refrain from buying souvenirs made from animals, such as turtle shells or ivory. Avoid supporting businesses, like elephant ride vendors, that have been known to abuse animals.

Making these relatively small changes on your next trip could go a long way toward keeping the world’s most visited cities worth visiting.