Traveling the world without destroying it

Traveling the world without destroying it

Global tourism is booming, especially in developing and emerging countries. But it is increasingly becoming a problem for the people on the ground. New models are needed. Traveling the world should also mean maintaining it.

In the central aisle of Hall 4.1, sustainability is discussed at the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin. At the 160.000-square-meter site, which is home to 10.000 exhibitors from around 180 countries will be presenting their products and services until Sunday, but ies such as environmental degradation and climate pollution remain a marginal topic. "A big trend in tourism is going in the direction: further, faster, more often," says Antje Monshausen, head of the Tourism Watch office of the aid agency Brot fur die Welt.

Far away and expensive

Long-distance travel is more popular than ever. Last year, according to the Stiftung fur Zukunftsfragen, 13.1 percent of Germans took a vacation outside Europe. This is 1.7 percent more than in the previous year. According to the study, the strongest growth is in Southeast Asia. Overall, Germans spent 73.6 billion euros on vacations last year, according to the travel association.

Tourism is essential for many of these countries. The industry is also booming globally. Last year, the industry generated around ten percent of global economic output, according to a paper by the Development Ministry. The economic importance of the industry is thus greater than that of the automotive industry, it says.

Consequences of mass tourism

But mass tourism has become a problem for many regions. Environmental damage, displacement of the local population and social conflicts are often the result. "We can’t run away from the ie of sustainability," also says Parliamentary State Secretary in the Development Ministry, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel (CDU). The ministry therefore wants to improve cooperation between the public and the private sector.

A pilot project in the Central American region brings together local governments and cruise operators. Support is urgently needed, says a representative of the small Mexican island of Cozumel at the trade fair. Just under 100.000 people live on the Caribbean island, which is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world and attracts around six million vacationers each year.

Sustainability in this industry?

The tourist masses became more and more a burden for environment and inhabitants. Thanks to the pilot project, tourism representatives, politicians and civil society are now exchanging more information in order to take all interests into account.

"We want traveling the world to also mean preserving it. We want tourism that reduces poverty and protects the environment and culture," says Fuchtel. Global tourism will continue to grow – by four to five percent, the development ministry indicates. The ministry sees new, sustainable tourism concepts as a great economic opportunity, especially for poorer regions. "Tourism is also an opportunity to achieve greater local justice through jobs," says Fuchtel.

Protecting the environment and climate

Sustainable travel not only means job prospects for the local population, but also climate and environmental protection. Many associations and organizations in Hall 4.1 are committed to precisely this.

But the president of the Global Nature Fund (GNF), Marion Hammerl, admits that cooperation with local companies and hotels is by no means easy. Surveys repeatedly show that sustainability is becoming more and more important for consumers in the tourism industry.

Dream vacation spots are dwindling

According to a 2014 study by the Ministry of the Environment, 42 percent of the population think it is important that tour operators are committed to environmental protection and species conservation; 12 percent are prepared to pay a little more for this. In addition, Hammerl says, what companies advertise is increasingly dwindling: dream beaches and reefs.

"The loss of coral reefs, which also result in eroding beaches, is a good argument for us," says the activist.

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