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Wish you weren’t here?

By Tom Hall   8 September 2009 10:56pm Europe/London

I spoke to the Observer last week for a piece which appeared on Sunday about the damage tourism can do to special places from Easter Island to Venice, and the action locals and authorities are taking to protect the world’s treasures. The article was written in response to inhabitants of Easter Island occupying the runway of Mataveri International Airport, and Venetian authorities are discussing caps on the number of visitors, in particular day-trippers. From Egypt – where tombs may be closed to prevent damage from human activity – to Everest’s much-littered Base Camp, more of us exploring further means more damage.

Is more people made of stone and less of flesh and bone the answer for Easter Island?

Is more people made of stone and less of flesh and bone the answer for Easter Island?

This isn’t a new debate, and the answers aren’t clear cut. Tourism has brought money and development to, for example, Angkor in Cambodia, but who has visited there and wished their experience wasn’t a more intimate and private one? Then there’s the example of countries like Botswana. The country is almost devoid of backpackers, such is the emphasis on a high-spend, low-volume approach to tourism.

St Mark's Basilica in Venice on a quiet day

St Mark's Basilica in Venice on a quiet day

The easiest (and probably best) justification for our travels to special places, carbon binge and all, is that they put money into the hands of people who otherwise would find it hard to make a living. But it seems clear from recent events in the Pacific and Italy and countries all over the world that the balance needs to tilt. But how? You’re probably reading this because you love travel and love seeing the world – how about travelling less to mean there’s more of what’s special left to see?

Tom Hall