How Globalisation has commoditised addictive travel and creates a big opportunity for a better world.
I do it all the time - watch the crowds in leisurewear with name badges, often in matching Pac a macs, circling in the great queue round the duomo in Florence; almost filling St Marks Square and all the way around the lagoon to the Arsenale in Venice; in the Abbey Churchyard in Bath; in the Quadrilatero in Bologna; in Piccadilly Circus in London. I watch squadrons of 50 in marching order tramping behind flag-waving guide/leaders sometimes on bikes or segways in Paris or Prague or Amsterdam or wherever there is a tick-box sight to be seen and photographed.
And I think are they enjoying their experience of anonymous mass tourism?
They stay in a nice hotel or on a cruise ship, possibly eat some foreign meals, see some world famous sights and maybe meet some nice people. But at the end of the day they probably won’t remember much. But they did escape for a little while.
Was it worth it? After all, the price they’ve paid has been high. There’s not only the hefty price they’ve paid to the tour or cruise operator, travel agent or whoever, there’s also their time and commitment and the stress they’ve endured to get there.
There are, of course other costs too - mainly those that are borne by the rest of the world (“Us” in other words). Travel does not come without its environmental, social, cultural and economic costs - airline, hotels and land travel emissions spewed into our communal atmosphere.
Then there are the costs paid by the destination host community like higher priced homes, the commodification of their local culture, crowded markets. In other words the social costs of hosting visitors.
But, tourism is thought to be one of the world’s great success stories increasing from just 1 billion international and domestic travellers a year in 1970 to around 8 billion today.
Amazing, but how did all this happen so quick?
Globalisation caused it. As usual globalisation simply created prices that are just too good to miss.
In the same way that the rich west has gorged on cheap tech, cheap designer clothes, cheap coffee and tea, now we have become addicted to cheap holidays too.
Globalisation means that modern day slaver companies don’t need to move their slaves around the world to produce, for instance, addiction-creating sugar from cane. They can leave them at home to work on similar working conditions to produce clothes, tech, drinks and, since the 1970’s, holidays.
Of course, eventually, there will be a brick wall. Currently, the inhabitants of the developed countries consume resources at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population. We simply can’t consume as much as we do on a long term basis. It is simply environmentally unsustainable.
Also we can’t holiday forever in areas where there are human rights and workers rights problems - like Sri Lanka, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico, Myanmar, Dubai and the Maldives. It is simply politically unsustainable.
And we won’t be able to pile in to top iconic destinations that are now overfull like Venice, Florence, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris or Santorini. It is simply not socially sustainable.
Finally, without the massive demand and the mass numbers of tourists, the big global purveyors of commodity travel become economically unsustainable.
Of course there is a better way. At its heart tourism is an amazing activity with enormous benefits for everybody, but while we are all addicted to cheap throwaway clothes, easily replaceable tech and cheap holidays we are not likely to find it...
It will take a truly objective view. Maybe 2020 is the time?
The Sustainable Tourism Report 2020 deals in depth with this subject. A limited number of review copies may be subscribed now at a 50% discount HERE
There will be a masterclass to discuss this and other sustainable tourism matters – location Bath, date 7 February. To register for a place just email firstname.lastname@example.org