Becketwood Cooperative
An Active, Independent 55+ Community of Owners in Minneapolis

Tourism and the Environment

by Carol Spearman, Becketwood Member 


Having participated in the first world conference on “Tourism: A Vital Force for Peace” (1987) and having spent much time examining the positive and negative aspects of tourism since then, I question the benefits that will arise from increased leisure time and the present pattern of subsequent travel activities of an affluent aging population.

Tourism used to be promoted as an economic development strategy thought to have minimal environmental impact. The truth is a different story. Overbuilding has destroyed coastlines across the world and the sheer numbers of people damage many natural environments. Concerned groups are attempting to stop the destruction of natural ecosystems, but if the numbers are not controlled, even protected areas providing education for tourists will be damaged.

Not only the environment suffers from mass tourism. The culture of many countries, particularly in less “developed” areas, is being abused for the tourist trade. Religious ceremonies and traditional customs are paraded and promoted for the “customer.” Economic gains, from foreign money coming into an economy, also contribute to cultural change. Traditional occupations such as farming and fishing are left behind as land is purchased for hotels, and fishermen are encouraged to keep clear of beach areas, ultimately finding work in the tourism industry.

Maybe it is not too late for a more sensitive approach to tourism. A few suggestions:

ECOTOURISM. Although it can be criticized as simply a marketing ploy, Ecotourism does hold promise as a strategy of the future. Areas are set aside to preserve the lands and tourists are educated about use. Coupled with a control on numbers, this method could preserve places like wildlife reserves, barrier reefs and rainforests. Visitors can contribute by working in the area learning about conservation and taking information back to their own country.

PEOPLE TO PEOPLE EXPERIENCES. People to people ventures can be promoted to offset hostility between tourists and populations, particularly where there is a disparity in economic terms.

SERVICE HOLIDAYS. Travel opportunities to address some of the world’s problems are being initiated. With demand growing, it may be possible to travel to a country, work with local people on a project and have a useful travel experience that contributes to solving global problems. Projects include replanting forests, construction of buildings and teaching computer skills.

EDUCATION TRAVEL. More study tours are available and travel can be to learn as well as to give. Ancient crafts, dance, and meditation are possible areas for education. It may also be beneficial for U.S. Christians to learn from African and Asian Christians about the expression of their faith within communities.

ALTERNATIVE TRAVEL. Although it is fraught with as many difficulties as Ecotourism, Alternative Travel offers opportunities to experience other places in a different way. For example, in the north of Thailand a church group helped build tourist huts in a village. Visitors experienced life as it was lived in the village, ate local food and contributed to the economy. However, ecotourism and alternative tourism sites can handle relatively low numbers of people at any one time.

MORE: What can we do as individuals to best use our travel time?

  • Look at the possibilities to be involved in the local culture, learn the language, meet the people.
  • When you pay your travel bills, think about where the money is going and who is benefiting.
  • Seek out opportunities to make friends with people of other cultures you hope to visit and build reciprocal arrangements.
  • Consider volunteer work in countries you hope to visit. Build partnership programs through your church or other organization.
  • Be aware of the effects of your travel, for example, the generation of waste en route and call attention to it by writing to airline owners and travel companies.
  • More radical--consider staying at home: learn about local sites, participate in classes, or volunteer with a program that deals with issues that concern you.

In conclusion, we can all be more aware of the impact we are personally having on climate change in our daily lives and in our travel plans.



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  • Susan De Vries August 21, 2019, 9:20 pm

    Thank you, Carol, for drawing our attention to this issue. We love our travel to warm places and interesting cultures, but we also need to be aware of the unseen costs.

  • Jenise Rowekamp August 22, 2019, 12:51 am

    Thank you. These are such important things to consider. My spouse and I are on the waiting list at Becketwood. We spent 2 1/2 months in Greece last fall doing volunteer work with refugees. If the Becketwood community would want to hear more, we would be willing to do a presentation on our experience. Both organizations we worked with – on the island of Chios and in Athens – are always in need of more volunteers and are excellent organizations.