There was a time when everyone -- or almost everyone -- seemed to be booking a cruise, a flight, or a road trip. But the pandemic has changed all that. Mass tourism is no longer a thriving business. And maybe, Martin Regg Cohn writes, that's not such a bad thing:
The march of mass tourism once seemed unstoppable — flotillas of cruise ships and jumbo jets disgorging swarms of tourists to invade ancient sites and intrude on living cultures.
The global trend lines were undeniably explosive, rising from 400 million visitors a year in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2019. Nothing could deter mass tourism, not terrorism nor war — not until it became a casualty of COVID-19.
The world’s biggest source of employment and entertainment has lost a staggering 1.1 billion tourists over the past year, slumping right back to where it was three decades ago. Today, we are almost all stuck at home, pondering the unbearable remoteness of being … locked down, with our luggage locked away.
But all those people produce lots of negative impacts:
As people search for ever more remote destinations to get away from the crowds, it creates new tensions and contradictions. How do we deal with the power imbalance that pits the visitors against the visited, the hunters versus the hunted?
By visiting an unspoiled place, do we spoil it for others — the “others” who live there, and the “others” who come after us? The tidal wave of tourism has a way of engulfing the most tranquil waters.
The truth is that mass tourism, or over-tourism, was already becoming a drag on the environment, a drain on water resources and a deterrent for future visitors.
If you’re surrounded by your fellow travellers who come from the same place and are going to the same place, you have to ask: Why travel to the far ends of the earth only to feel like you never left home?
It’s not just the overwhelming crowds but the underlying infrastructure that can be so unsettling. Mass tourism leads to the bulldozing and demolition of traditional structures to make way for new tourist hotels with huge restaurants and oversized parking lots.
When this is over, tourism will return. But should we be willing to take the journey?