Comment: When less is definitely more

Operators and agents play a key role in responsible tourism, Kerry Golds, UK managing director of Abercromie & Kent

The need for responsible travel, ensuring sites remain places of interest for future generations, is not a new phenomenon. It is, however, one we all need to heed on our holiday wish lists and one that tourist attractions are rightly taking very seriously.

News from India recently that the Taj Mahal will be restricting access to domestic tourists to 40,000 a day (from a peak of 70,000) is yet another marker. Machu Picchu limited its daily visitor numbers to 2,500 back in 2008, although with numbers still outstripping this since 2011, a timed entry system is now in place for better enforcement.

The Galapagos and Antarctica have embraced a number cap to protect flora and fauna. Barcelona and Venice are also taking steps to curb cruise ship access, while Dubrovnik’s mayor has seen success from an initial restriction of 8,000 visitors a day to its historic centre.

Plan for the future

These decisions will send far-reaching ripples, with implications for operators, agents, travellers and local populations.

The inevitable tourism truth is that with popularity comes wear and tear. While eschewing growing visitor numbers and financial success may seem anathema to running a successful business in the short term, destinations’ longevity must be safeguarded.

Forward-thinking operators are taking steps now. These need to be carefully controlled at a local or even national level to ensure any economic benefit of tourism is not dramatically impacted at a rate that will harm the local population. Responsibility also lies with the traveller, who must understand that it is a privilege, not a right, to visit important sites.

Get off the beaten track

Of course, tourism has many positives. Local economies can gain, and wildlife and vegetation can see benefits from savvy tourism through greater awareness and protection. Indeed, some travellers are now choosing this as one of their holiday objectives, travelling with us to help communities first-hand.

With these changes, we see great opportunity. Taking a more responsible, rather than a ‘me too’, approach to travel may open up some roads less travelled, and identify new sites with an opportunity to grow a tourism economy in unchartered territory.

This is where the operator or agent’s role is key. Understanding limitations and offering opportunities will ease pressure on ‘over-exposed’ sites.

We are increasingly curating holidays away from the beaten track. Mayan culture is becoming de rigueur for any trip to Latin America, with Belize and Guatemala climbing up priority lists. The waters of Lake Atitlan instead of Lake Titicaca and the ruins of Tikal rather than Machu Picchu are opening new doors for tourists and new economic opportunities for locals.

For those attractions that remain under threat, Unesco and individual attractions are taking positive steps.

As individuals, we all have a role to play in every travel decision we make. How, where and with whom we travel will inevitably determine the look of our planet for generations to come.