Every summer, an exodus of holiday makers leave the comfort of their homes in search of ‘something different’. While the definition of ‘different’ could entail any number of things from extreme sports to spa treatments, the basic principle of the holiday is to take a break and ‘get away for a bit’. As we plan our holidays and think about our upcoming breaks, lets think seriously about what we leave behind and what we take with us. What we choose to do and take with us on holiday is far more than tossing the mobiles and snatching up the sandals. We must remember to pack our principles.
When it comes to ‘taking a break’, we basically have two simple options. The first is to ‘redefine’ the word holiday. The society we live in today tells us that we haven’t have a ‘holiday’ unless we’ve gone abroad and done something exciting. How often have we heard or spoke the phrase – “I didn’t have a holiday this year” – simply meaning we didn’t go abroad? We can have holidays at home. While it might not seem as exciting as venturing off to foreign shores, many of us may live in places that we never truly appreciate. Some of us (myself included) live in lovely areas of the country which go unappreciated simply because the residents are either working or away on holiday. In that respect, the simplest, cheapest and most sustainable break from everyday life is to make the most of the place you live in. If necessary, find out why (and if) tourists visit. Go to your nearest tourist information desk and look through the brochures of things to do. If day trips aren’t your thing, we can also consider visiting family and friends. An excellent idea for holidays are to switch houses with a friend or family member for a week. This is cheap, easy, and doesn’t cost the earth.
The second option for going on holiday is to go ‘abroad’. It would be improper to write off foreign tourism entirely. It is the fastest growing industry on the planet and a source of income for millions of people. Simply boycotting ‘going abroad’ would have disastrous effects on many developing nations. There are ways in which we can bring our principles of social justice and sustainability with us so as to benefit the local economies. In that respect, it is really quite simple – consider what makes ethical, sustainable lifestyles at home, and translate it to your destination. If we shop in the independent stores and buy locally sourced produce at home, when on holiday we should purchase from local shop keepers. When going out for a meal, try to seek out the ones owned by locals. In many tourist destinations, money is spent in restaurants, bars and hotels that are all owned by foreigners and travel agencies. Visiting these places is the equivalent of walking through the market stalls to get to the supermarket.
The World Bank estimates that roughly 55% of tourist revenue generated in developing countries is lost from the local community. This loss is referred to as ‘leakage’. For example, the Komodo National Park in Indonesia, famous for it’s Komodo Dragons, is a hotspot for tourists from all over the world. Despite the millions of dollars made from tourism, 85% of the money spent within the park is lost to foreign companies and syphoned from the economy. The Caribbean only receives 30% of the tourism revenue back into the community. Galapagos Islands are similar with 51% losses. In 1994, the Bahamas only received 10% of the annual tourist income.
It is our responsibility to make sure we know where our time and money is going. Booking ‘all inclusive’ holidays is sure to cut out the majority of income and interaction with the host population. We should avoid tourist resorts that seclude us from the local community. Not only do these resorts put tremendous strain on the environment and resources, but segregate visitors from hosts, often breeding a resentment of tourists. By not going for the all inclusive tourist resorts we can reduce the footprint of our holiday. We need to get out of these areas, spending time in local restaurants, hotels and purchasing genuine souvenirs. This is how we can go on holiday and benefit the place we visit. Without conscious actions like these, we worsen the situation and compromise our principles. Tourism can have incredibly detrimental impacts on local cultures, peoples, wildlife and landscapes. Lets be wary of tourist attractions, activities and souvenirs so as to minimize our impact and make sure our money is reaching the people who need it most.
Many tourist destinations around the world have developed at the expense of the local community and culture. If we can, we must cut out the middlemen. Shun those chain hotels and all in one packages. There is so much more we can do. Before we take our breaks, lets consider how we will travel? Where will we stay? What will we do? Where will we spend our money? Subtly changing these things can change lives and reduce our footprint. If we wouldn’t accept it at home, lets not do it abroad.
- Book review: The Final Call – in search of the true cost of our holidays, by Leo Hickman