Gavin Tollman, Global CEO of Trafalgar, shares his thoughts with us on the issues and the best way to stop and prevent over-tourism.
I was deeply disappointed when President Rodrigo Duterte, the Head of State of the Philippines, recently made good on his threat of closing the Island of Boracay to tourists for six months. From now until October, the 2017 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award winning destination will be off limits to all visitors. In the President’s own words, this dream destination has turned into a ‘cesspool’. What a terrible precedent, a worst-case scenario and a stark warning to us all.
This is not new news. In 2017, we saw numerous scathing articles as regards the ‘over tourism’ debate and the outcry from concerned officials in destinations such as Dubrovnik, Barcelona and Venice, who called foul of the excessive crowds and pressure on local infrastructure. The rumblings are no longer an early warning sign. They are a painful reality.
But how do we stop the trend of the tragedy of not treading lightly? How do we unlock positive tourism growth and impact?
Frustrated at seeing the severity of the situation, I have established a three-step solution which I believe will aid long-term tourism management.
Step 1: Dissemination – Adopting a ‘365’ approach to tourism, working to ensure year-round tourism to ensure sustained destination visitation and resulting tourism business momentum. Travel is about giving, not just taking. Seasonal tourism management alleviates such pressures – it allows us to be enablers not eliminators when it comes to helping local businesses in the likes of Dubrovnik, Venice, Barcelona or wherever it may be.
Step 2: Dispersal – Encouraging discovery beyond the usual tourism centers, widening your travel path to discover other areas within the destination. At Trafalgar we take pride in encouraging our guests to discover the iconic as well as get below the surface of the places we visit by exploring villages, going beyond the expected and connecting with communities. Travel is about forging new paths, the adventure of delving deeper into destinations. By creating new and interesting experiences we not only promote lesser-known areas for our guests to explore, we ensure we are maximizing the immense benefits of for more people to experience the beautiful places we visit, all year-round.
Step 3: Direct Action – Let us all understand the power of direct conscious thought on what we do. We should recognize that at times we need to support, other times we need to approach what we are doing in a different way. A great example of this being the UNESCO listed Giants Causeway, which pre-2012 was struggling to cope with the ever-growing influx of fleeting visits. Hence the creation of a new sustainable visitor center to help manage flow, it was designed with a roof seeded from local grasses and also blended into the surrounding environs in a place of natural beauty. In 2017, Giants Causeway welcomed one million visitors. Moreover, the new facility demonstrated the importance of enabling and preserving as opposed to running the risk of eliminating, with people roaming without regard for what they are seeing. Trafalgar is proud to have been involved with such a commendable initiative.
It is imperative that when taking action in the destination, this must, must be done so in genuine partnership with locals – the emphasis being on working with them to ensure the betterment of the places they call home. In doing so we ensure a focus on safeguarding the natural beauty, cultures and traditions of the people and places we visit, which is how we are able to instill the power of travel to truly change lives, both for travelers and for those people in the places they visit.
Travel is one of life’s great gifts. We now know that it comes with great responsibility. We are blessed to be able to see beautiful places that excite our eyes and ignite a fire in our hearts. But we cannot let the places have a shared passion for be loved to the point of extinction. The future of our industry is now moving beyond exploration – let us ensure that becomes a firm step towards preservation, not elimination.
We must take action, now, or face the fact that the damage occurring may be irreversible. As little we are in this world, we can make a big difference by each of us changing our behaviors – opening our minds and eyes to how big a responsibility we have to help preserve our precious planet. This is our new travel destiny. Welcome to the new reality.