Endangered Tourism: Should we cut back?

Today’s traveler is consuming destinations at a harrowing rate. Remember when Prague was in? We’re so past that now. Anybody and their mother can get into Russia — and Cuba is just over the horizon. People are even organizing tours to Rwanda. Yes, Rwanda.

As the global economy evolves, and hot-spots diffuse from country to country, tourism’s impact is starting to weigh on the world. In urban destinations made out of concrete and steel, sustainability is inevitable; a tourist can land in Philadelphia, consume a dozen cheese steaks and see the Liberty Bell with little impact. But the world’s natural destinations are starting to bow under the weight.

The Galapagos Islands are a prime example. Tourism and associated businesses have skyrocketed on the island over the past ten years, resulting in an influx of invasive species in addition to the socioeconomic detriment (it’s estimated that only 7 -10% of each tourism dollar goes into the local economy). A great article published this past May by the Charles Darwin Foundation reviews a collection of recent data and highlights the gravity of the situation. It’s kind of scary seeing how the industry can turn into a monster and envelop a microcosm so quickly.

Ephesus, Turkey is another example. Part of these Eastern Mediterranean classical ruins have been reconstructed by the Turkish government and the archaeological community to show how life once was in the great city. Tourism has surged in the area. But is it right for us to rebuild a civilization based on our interpretation and for the tourist dollar? Should we leave the archaeological record intact and preserve the ruins as they lie?

Personally, I’m torn on the topic; we struggle with the same thing in archeology every day. Should we excavate a site, disassemble it and learn from it, or should we leave it in place, study it from the outside and preserve it?

Should we go to the Galapagos Islands, disturb the ecosystem just to take some pictures and impress all of our friends?

Should we take pieces of the Parthenon from the Acropolis and put them in a museum? A similar issue was posed to the Times writer Andrew Revkin at the end of last month and he too notes the sensitivity of the matter.

Starting today, Gadling will begin to explore some of the travel destinations that skirt this line — sites that are either in danger, reconstructed — or into ruin. We’ll let you make the decision on whether to rush and see these places before they’re gone or try to preserve them.

Next up: an in depth study of the impact of tourism on the Galapagos Islands.