Mass tourism is not necessarily a bad thing. No, really.
Overcrowded spaces are changing destinations forever. Tourists move into historic arenas and nature spaces every peak season in droves, almost literally crushing the marble and foliage beneath their feet. Subsequently, the snowball-effect is that locals are squeezed out of their homes as more and more developers look to acquire buildings that house tourists, rather than residents.
But what if mass tourism was not necessarily a bad thing. The impacts of mass tourism is bad, but what if those were managed in a way that could benefit the area and the community travellers visit?
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Many look to sustainable ecotourism, for the answers. As it stands, this kind of travel is not necessarily attainable for the average Joe and Jane among us. Expensive lodges, wellness retreats and hotels in farflung spots dotted around the globe offer those who can afford it the choice to travel with a conscious.
But for many budget travellers, or especially those seeking convenient group or family-friendly travel, this is not always an option. Which is why they tend to choose package holidays that often equate to more bang for their buck.
A report by Unesco says that "The general package-holiday market attracts groups wishing to see an area and its culture but without a specific interest in a defined activity or subject matter. These tourists tend to be interested in general sightseeing and shopping, and may be interested in cultural attraction ssuch as museums, ruins or other well-known or documented historical sites.
"Tourists in this market tend to want the standard services and amenities offered by most general tours. They will probably not be satisfied with the services that a rural community can offer; more often than not, general international tour groups want comfort, ease of access, security and more upscale accommodations and food."
(Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan. PHOTO: Nicolas Datiche, Getty Images)
CNN reports that Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel says that the package holiday might just be our answer to the ever-increasing threat overtourism has on our environment. That is, if it is done in the right way going forward. The traditional package holiday needs a bit of a re-packaging.
As it stands, package holidays have its pros and cons:
Package holiday tour operators usually have their own planes or use budget airlines. This usually means newer planes, which again equates to fuel efficiency. Budget airlines also tend to carry more passengers, as they don't have any Business Class section.
Further than that, tour operators generally shuttle travellers around a destination by bus instead of using cars - another more environmentally friendly mode of transport.
A package holiday destination tends to see constant infrastructure development to accommodate more tourists, for example roads and other public facilities.
Package holiday travellers tend to stay at the hotel or resort throughout their stay, without investing in the local community. This means local artisans and business lose out.
Food, says CNN, is a big con when it comes to most package holidays. Because of the mass amount of travellers, buffets are usually the go-to at most resorts. However, this results in a lot of food wastage, generally. And to cater to international guests' tastes, resorts tend to fly in foods from abroad to accommodate Western palettes. This means more carbon emissions.
So, what can be done to fix it?
A report in the Nature Climate Change in 2018, found that transport, shopping and food are significant contributors to our travel footprint. So when we think about the pros of destination package holidays, we need to rework the entire package set-up, to include sustainable transport, shopping that uplifts the local economy and food options that help local farmers.
Transport to activities
To a large degree, the transport part is already there. But this needs to be extended to travel around the destination as well. Package holiday resorts need to encourage group excursions, be that to the town on bus, on boat to a nearby island or cycling as a group as a planned activity for the day.
Bookings can be made in groups to visit attractions, activities and sights. This would, in turn, respect the locals in terms of venue capacity as groups can be staggered to accommodate the needs of both traveller and the locals to avoid overcrowding and possible harm to historic or nature sight. Smaller bushiness should also be considered for these trips, e.g. in-home dining experiences, visiting local farms, galleries and restaurants.
Shopping and food
While containing tourists to a compound like a resort where they can enjoy the comfort of the beach, food at any hour, and drinks by the pool defines package holiday mode, we need tourists to inject some capital into the local community. That is, without alienating locals or destroying delicate spaces cherished by residents.
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Food should be sourced locally and local restaurants should feature as a part of an all-inclusive resort experience. If food is sourced locally, farmers benefit from tourism directly.
In terms of restaurants and local hospitality players, pre-paid programmes could cater to the needs of both the locals and tourists by predominantly featuring local brands and chains in their establishments. This way, patrons are able to feed directly back into the local economy.
But there are many ways in which resorts can encourage package holiday customers to engage with the local community. Organising shows or market nights at the resort, where tourists can buy products and, for example, street food from locals within the comfort of the compound environment.
Programmes could be set up by resorts that encourage local businesses to take part and be featured as part of the resort's offering.
Hotels like Tintswalo Lapalala and Hotel Verde Cape Town have set the standard in South Africa for constructing eco-friendly hotels and lodges that respect the environment. Resorts known for its package holidays need to be sustainable from the beginning. From its very inception. Think water-waste systems, solar powered rooms, no single-use plastic, etc.
Essentially, we need to rethink the way we think about overtourism. It's not about removing it from the equation entirely, and replacing it with ecotourism. It's about making mass tourism more manageable and beneficial for the local communities and the environment as a whole.
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