24
Apr

Is Tourism the Most Destructive Enterprise? Tourism explodes with globalization, enriching lives but destroying nature and culture.

By Elizabeth Becker

tourists1

The world has serious concerns over fiscal crises, security crises and environmental crises including climate change. 

And then there are vacations. Yes, vacations – the getaways when we can put aside lofty concerns and remember what living is all about: seeing friends, hosting family reunions, discovering a new artist at a provincial festival and running barefoot on the beach with salt air stinging our cheeks.

At least that was the definition of a vacation before globalization took off. 

Now vacations have joined the ranks of the biggest global industrial complexes. While few noticed, travel and tourism grew into a giant business sector and the world’s largest employer – beating out health care, education and retail. At least one out of every 11 people works in the industry, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Tourism contributes at least $6.5 trillion to the world economy every year. Since the 2008 recession, its growth rate has rebounded faster than manufacturing and financial services. And if frequent-flyer miles were a currency, they would be the most valuable in the world, even with all those blackout dates.

It turns out that tourism is the poster child for how to benefit from the global marketplace, for obvious reasons. Wholesale travel and tourism depends on open borders. With political developments and technology – new long-distance airliners that cross half of the globe in a single flight and the internet revolution – countries off the beaten path in South America, Africa and the Middle East are more accessible.

A chart of the rise of international tourist trips is a thumbnail history of globalization.

The modern era of “Europe on five dollars a day” began in 1960. That year 25 million trips were taken across foreign borders.

Ten years later the figure rose to 250 million, a significant increase but not earth-shattering.

Then came globalization and the opening of borders. The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s accomplished just that – opening long closed borders in Eastern Europe and Asia, a wide swath of nations behind what used to be called the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain. This newly opened territory represented nearly one third of the planet, and by 1995, when most had opened up to tourism, there were 536 million trips.

Last year, the 1 billion mark was broken with the UN World Tourism Organization celebrating the event at its Madrid headquarters.

I dissect and explore this explosion of the tourism industry in Overbooked. The elusive octopus-like industry is everywhere and nowhere. Everyone takes vacations, but few see the industry behind them. Nowadays, any endeavor can be transformed into a travel package. Read more…

Elizabeth Becker is a former New York Times correspondent and senior foreign editor at National Public Radio.

As published by YaleGlobal Online on April 23, 2013.

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