Some tourists are beginning to grapple with the negative impact of their holidays. In a 2016 study, 60 percent of American travelers said they felt responsible for ensuring their trips did not harm a destination’s people, environment, or economy. Ecotourism, where tourists seek to preserve the natural environments they visit, has been on the rise in countries like Costa Rica. Voluntourism, meanwhile, allows travelers the chance to “give back” while on vacation. For example, programs in Cambodia offer volunteer opportunities at orphanages.
No wonder even those in the business of selling travel are urging tourists to reconsider visiting certain destinations. Fodor’s 2017 inaugural “No List” warned readers away from places because of the dangers they posed to tourists: New Delhi was on the list for its smog, Miami Beach because of the Zika virus. The 2018 list took a different tack, warning tourists that they posed danger to places such as the Galapagos, the Great Wall of China, and Venice.
Tourism can also have a devastating impact on local climates and ecosystems, particularly in places that are already vulnerable to climate change. In Malaysia, for instance, coastal development — largely driven by tourism — has destroyed half of Langkawi Island’s rainforest and damaged its mangroves, which not only store more carbon than most tropical forests, but also provide a first line of defense against tsunamis.
That’s why the International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE), an annual event that discusses and proposes solutions to forced evictions, focused its 2017 session on evictions caused by tourism in India, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Kenya, and Italy. According to the ITE, authorities rarely consider how tourism affects their citizens; instead, they “often exploit their territory as a priority to promote tourism, which is seen as an engine of development and income to cure budget deficits, while disregarding human rights caused by the evictions.”
Globally, displacement for tourism development — including hotels, resorts, airports, and cruise ports — is a growing problem. In India, tens of thousands of indigenous people were illegally evicted from villages inside tiger reserves.
When tourism dominates an economy, some governments prioritize tourists over their own citizens. Around the world, people are evicted from their homes to make way for tourism developments. Last year in Tanzania, an estimated 185 Maasai homes were burned down by authorities that operate hunting tours, leaving 6,800 people homeless. So-called “ethical travel” doesn’t necessarily provide a solution; it’s been argued ecotourism in Tanzania contributes to the problem, as tourism dollars provide an incentive to turn Maasai pastures into safari grounds.
Bali is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Half of the Indonesian island’s rivers have dried up. Its beaches are eroding. In 2017, officials declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometer stretch of Bali’s coast. At the peak of the clean-up, hundreds of cleaners removed 100 tons of debris from the beaches each day.
The cause? Too many tourists — who just keep coming. This year, the Indonesian tourism ministry hopes Bali attracts 7 million foreign tourists, to an island of only 4 million residents.