Environmental Baggage. (Editorial)

Alternatives Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Environmental Baggage. (Editorial)


Your bags are packed and waiting at the door. Months of planning, preparation and anticipation and you're finally embarking on "the big trip." We have all been tourists, whether we travel to far corners of the earth or just a few kilometres to the cottage, whether we visit an all-inclusive resort or a small ecotourism lodge in the rainforest. And while we may be "just visiting", our impact as tourists--the lingering legacy of tourism--persists in the destinations we visit, "destinations" made up of communities, natural and built attractions, and exotic cultures.

Tourism is big business. Some say it is one of the fastest growing and most economically valuable industries in the world today. In Canada, for example, the economic contribution of tourism is greater than mining, fisheries, forestry or agriculture. In 1999 tourism receipts totaled an estimated $50.1 billion.

Despite these figures, modem mass tourism is a "baby" industry, and we have only just begun to understand its effects. Until recently, tourism wasn't even considered a subject worthy of academic study. After all, tourism is all about play and fantasy, not work and business. And we wouldn't want academic critique to ruin all the fun.

Most people see tourism as a benign industry--clean, non-extractive of resources, bringing foreign currency and investment to poorer world regions. But we know this is not always the case. Tourism requires large amounts of (often scarce) water for swimming pools and golf courses, threatens natural areas through overuse and infrastructure development, leaks large sums of local currency to import foreign goods for tourists, and diverts local control of resources to international developers and investors.

Despite these concerns, many countries, particularly those in the poorer regions of the world, continue to embrace tourism as a panacea for their economic woes. But tourism can have a positive legacy as well. Greg Ringer's article on national parks in Uganda explores how tourism has helped preserve threatened landscapes, species and cultures.

Tourism researchers have stated that small-scale, community-based tourism is best at protecting the environment and maintaining the natural and traditional characteristics of a place. …

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