‘Sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ often precede ‘travel’ now, particularly in the blogging sphere. Being mindful of the planet is trendy in all aspects of our lives, including our vacation-planning. Is it possible to truly travel without having a negative effect on the environment? And what’s the greater global impact you make every time you travel?
We’re looking at the economic, employment, environmental and cultural impact across the globe, and showing you how to improve the way you travel to have the best kind of effect on the world.
Global economic impact
These are the statistics you will always see whenever someone is trying to show the positives of the tourism industry. Travel is a huge contributing factor to so many countries, both directly and indirectly.
First of all, let’s look at the most popular destinations in the world. France is at the top, and has been for years, welcoming 86.9 million international tourists in 2018. Spain and the United States recently switched places as the number of tourists in Spain increased to 81.8 million; in comparison, the US had 75.9 million visitors. In fourth and fifth place, China and Italy saw 60.7 million and 58.3 international tourists respectively.
Not only are there millions of people spending money to fly or get the train to these destinations, but they’re also spending money in ‘vacation-mode’. You know that mindset you get into as soon as you’re on vacation, where you’ll happily spend twice as much as you would at home. That means that on top of the flights and hotel, you’re also splashing out on food, drink, entrance fees for attractions, souvenirs and everything in between. For instance, think about how much you spend when you travel, then times that by 86.9 million. France is estimated to contribute 208.5 million euros (236.7 million USD or 185.6 million GBP) to the total GDP (Gross Domestic Product) this year. The total contribution of travel and tourism to the global economy was 8.27 trillion USD in 2017 (6.47 trillion GBP), an 8.8% increase from the previous year. That’s over 10% of the global GDP!
In other words, tourism is a big deal to the economy. When you go on vacation, every time you make a purchase, from the ticket for a water park to a bottle of water, you are impacting the economy. And naturally, more money means they can reinvest it into making the destination better to earn even more money.
As a result of economic success, it’s not difficult to realise that where there are tourists, there are jobs. 1/10 jobs in the world are supported by the travel and tourism industry. Spain’s increase in international visitors has resulted in a subsequent rise in employment opportunities.
Time for a bit of Economics 101. A small restaurant in a quiet location might be able to get more staff if the seaside village they live in starts to attract more tourists. In turn, the staff they hire then have money to spend on fun things (like vacations!) which can, in turn, contribute to the businesses in another seaside village. Now imagine that on a global scale - that’s what the tourism industry is doing.
When you choose a destination, it’s worth keeping in mind that the places with the highest number of tourists will, in theory, be designed to be perfect for those tourists. However, choosing to go somewhere more obscure and relatively untouched by the tourism industry means you’re helping their local economy. Plus, you’re much more likely to get an authentic experience.
This is where things get complicated. Tourism undeniably has a largely positive effect on the economy and employment numbers, but at what cost to the environment?
The biggest contributor to carbon emissions is the burning of fossil fuels for power and heat. Agriculture also has a huge impact on greenhouse gases, as does transportation. These are things we need and use every day. The unfortunate news is that unless you stop using your electricity and walk everywhere instead of driving or flying, it is impossible to not have a carbon footprint.
What you can do is make conscious choices to reduce it and offset your carbon emissions. We won’t pretend that we’re experts on this but we think that being mindful of where you’re staying and make conscious decisions to reduce your footprint, then you’re already one step ahead of many people. For instance, using public transport instead of a taxi or a rental car, or choosing to stay in a hotel which is trying to reduce its carbon emissions will make a difference. Interestingly, 73% of people believe that the local government of a destination should be responsible for making sure the environmental standards are sustainable. In that sense, tourists should not be wholly responsible for the sustainability and eco-friendliness of their vacation destination. Research the local government of where you’re thinking of staying to see what sort of initiatives they have in place and use this information to decide whether or not you want to visit.
The main takeaway is that it’s just not possible to have zero carbon emissions; you’ll never travel unless you plan on walking and cycling everywhere.
The effect of tourism on local culture is a debate that goes back and forth. On the one hand, it brings people together from different backgrounds to learn and grow from one another. On the other hand, tourism can engender greed and extreme forms of capitalism, diluting the culture as the local businesses cater to the people who are visiting rather than the people living there.
Picture Rome. A city where a stunning church is commonplace, and you can walk past thousands of years worth of history on your way to the shop. It’s romantic and beautiful and spectacular - except pizzerias have menus with pictures for people who can’t speak Italian and a 3 courses for €15 deal. You are badgered by people on the street selling you bracelets or umbrellas or whatever else is hanging from their arms. Any language but Italian is shouted amongst people who are holding their phones up to capture the Coliseum or the Trevi Fountain.
That’s not a particularly flattering image of tourists, we know. Unfortunately, it’s often the case at these ‘must-see’ hot spots all over the world. Anyone who has ever been to a big attraction would find it impossible to ignore how the crowds, the overpriced food, and the souvenir stands on every corner are the same everywhere you go. You can understand the argument for cultural dilution as a result of mass-tourism and the money which inevitably will be handed over by naive tourists.
However, tourism isn’t as big and greedy as it is often portrayed. There is an important crossroads of cultural collaboration when people from one country visit another to embrace and immerse themselves in a different society. Plus, when more people start to show interest in a destination, the historic and heritage sites are often restored and better cared for. We believe that if you remember to treat other people’s hometowns the way you’d want them to treat yours, then tourism allows people from all over the world to learn from each other in a way that you never could online.
What is TransferTravel doing about negative impacts?
TransferTravel.com is a solution to some of the economic and employment issues that arise when someone cancels their non-refundable travel plans. If you can no longer go on a vacation, that’s not just leaving you out of pocket; the money you would have spent in restaurants, shops and attractions is also gone from the pockets of the staff there. 440,000 hotel rooms are pre-paid but never used every day, which then has a ripple effect on the local businesses who rely on the people coming to the hotels to spend money.
By educating people about reselling their accommodation amongst other types of travel plans, we’re helping to keep those hotel rooms full of travellers who can support the local economy.
So is tourism good or bad?
It’s both. Tourism, like every other industry, contributes to global warming. However, one person choosing not to fly is still using electricity, heat, cars and other everyday things which release carbon emissions. It also can change, dilute and destroy the culture in popular destinations if tourists are disrespectful or if the local governments choose to capitalise on these visitors.
Yet, 9.9% of the world’s jobs are in the tourism industry. Without it, businesses and individuals across the globe would find themselves unemployed. And for the holidaymakers, travelling is an incredible experience. Every year, new technology makes it easier to discover somewhere new without paying through the nose for it. Whether it’s a vacation to unwind from the daily grind or you’re taking a year to explore the world, you meet new people and absorb new cultures. You see both beauty and poverty first hand rather than through a camera lens on Instagram.
You can’t ever win on either side of this debate. Tourism can be bad but it can also be so good. One person cannot be expected to stop travel and tourism’s effects on global warming, but they can do the research and make sustainable choices as an individual to offset carbon emissions. They can choose to visit destinations which don’t exploit their workers, but champion them and boost the economy in the process. You can be respectful of the places and people you visit, and remember that you are guest in their home.
So travel mindfully, and perhaps choose a second-hand vacation to help turn to the negatives into positives.