Should Pollution Stop You From Traveling?

Shubert Ciencia, Flickr

Unless you’re traveling in the far backcountry, you’re bound to experience some pollution on the road. Go to New York City and there will be grime on your face when you return to the hotel room at night. But does the amount of pollution in a city or country stop you from traveling there?

In China, tourism has seen a serious drop in response to the country’s “airpocalypse.” In January the air was designated as hazardous to human health for several consecutive days, and the travelers haven’t been the same since; from January to June, tourism has dropped by 5%. In Beijing, it’s even worse, with the number of foreign tourists visiting the country’s capital falling by 15%. “… the air pollution trends in China will be difficult to reverse and their impacts will be significantly negative on the tourism industry,” said Tim Tyrrell, former director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.China isn’t alone. In northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has experienced a similar situation, with tourists avoiding the city during the spring when a lot of “slash-and-burn” farming takes place — that’s burning forest in order to make room for fields. And in Rome, you can’t cruise the Tiber river anymore on account of all of the trash in it.

But when it comes to pollution and tourism, it’s a two-way street. The effects of tourism on the state of air quality and beyond is just as big of a problem. Then of course there are those travelers who are moved to seek out the polluted areas of the world. But should pollution stop you from traveling?

In places where pollution is a serious issue, it’s a factor worth thinking about. In India for example, air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death. Not that a visit to the Taj Mahal will inevitably be your last, but if you think that you as a traveler are immune, think again. Check travel alerts and be aware of the air quality of the places you are traveling. Being informed is better than being sick.