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Tourism – troublesome or enriching?

Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: Environmental, Business and Policy Solutions
Forfatter: Megan Epler Wood
Forlag: Routledge (Storbritannia)
Tourism is under scrutiny in a thought-provoking book about a world industry in expansive growth.


This summer, Bergens Tidende showed a picture of cruise ships fogging the center of Bergen with a dark blanket of sulfur dioxide and other exhaust gases. At the same time, local politicians and business along the coast are enjoying record numbers in a tourist industry with annual growth, which both leaves NOK and creates jobs. But tourism also gives more garbage, more queue and more stress. On the holiday island of Mallorca, the locals hammer on the windows of the tourist buses and want the tourists away from the island. So everything is not just the joy and the old, economic growth despite. A very relevant book analyzes the entire problem complex.

The author of Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet, Megan Epler Wood, is nobody in the field. She founded The International Ecotourism Society already in 1990, runs a consultancy in the field and is the director of a dedicated department of sustainable tourism at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. She builds her book on her own experiences, as well as having reviewed large quantities of available literature and statistics on the topic. An added bonus is the unique online collaboration she has had over six years with over 200 students globally, through Harvard Extension School. The students have mapped local tourism companies.

One of the world's largest industries

The tourism industry accounts for nine percent of the global economy, according to Epler Wood, and it's growing. It generates huge CO2 emissions, waste, wear on ecosystems and cultural gems, contaminates local drinking water and bathing places, while consuming local water resources in a way that allows tourists to have water but is in short supply for residents. At a time when sustainability is on the business map, the tourism industry simply cannot continue as before, writes Epler Wood; it needs to be renovated, improved and changed. And it is urgent. The number of tourists increases with each passing year. There were about 500 million registered international tourists in 1990, the number has doubled in 2018 and is estimated at 1,8 billion in 2030. If these tourists are to travel and consume in the same way as today, locals along Norwegian fjord arms can, Walkers along the Bryggen in Bergen, residents of Venice, Barcelona or Mallorca really start to worry. These statistics are otherwise deficient, Epler Wood writes, in that it does not include national tourism. China has 55 million visitors each year, but 3,63 billion Chinese travel locally. And this local tourism is increasing most, especially in Asia, the scene of the new big travel boom, the author claims. This means massive expansion of hotels, infrastructure and airports – which can be a good thing, because tourism creates growth if managed.

Impressive expertise

Through nine dense, knowledge-filled chapters, we gain insight into the economic aspects of tourism (both positive and negative), the cruise industry, the airport segment and airlines, hotels, accommodations, tour operators and so-called destination-driven tourism. Here are the latest available statistics, local, national and international case studies and a factual discussion about good and less good aspects of this global industry. This is not necessarily a book you read from book to book, but just one of these chapters is enough to provide a deeper insight into a topic that will only become more important in the years to come.

CO2 emissions are expected to increase by 100–300 per cent, energy use by 154 per cent, water consumption by 152 per cent and general waste by 251 per cent.

The part of the industry that receives the most negative spotlight is the cruise sector. The author is sharp in his criticism of poor labor market policy in the industry. In addition, there is a lack of waste management, tax evasion and a kind of mafia-like pressure and tactics against small (and sometimes larger) ports to pay as little fees as possible. This industry has also been subjected to journalistic scrutiny in Norwegian newspapers this summer. According to Klassekampen (19.7.), None of the 100 new cruise ships under planning are zero-discharge ships. In the same article, we can read that a cruise ship that burns 40 tonnes of fuel a day will emit as much CO2 as 13 diesel cars traveling 000 kilometers a day.

An optimistic foundation

The author is nevertheless conditional optimist, since many of the world's countries agreed on the so-called climate agreement in Paris in 2015. Previous agreements, such as the Kyoto agreement, did not cover the travel segment. The Paris agreement still does not cover maritime carbon emissions, but has nevertheless created the opportunity for serious financing of sustainable measures through a separate climate fund, where $ 100 billion will be mobilized by 2025. Epler Wood believes that secure funding will be the key to achieving the ambitious climate targets , which will also apply in the travel and tourism sector. 

Epler Wood is advocating a public-private partnership, with the help of prestigious educational institutions that can operate as a global consortium and that can assist UN organizations. This will include transnational efforts to create meaningful environmental impact indices, statistics, use of the latest GIS tools, good certification systems, realistic, enforceable legislation as well as a new generation of skilled tourism professionals at all levels. It will also require that today's weak tourism ministries, directorates and offices gain greater power. In most countries, the tourism authorities operate largely as mere PR and sales agencies.

A book for all politicians

The tourism industry still shows a surprising lack of concern about climate change. At the same time, conservative tourism scenarios show more than a doubling of resource use by 2050. CO2 emissions are expected to increase by 100-300 percent, energy use by 154 percent, water consumption by 152 percent and general waste by 251 percent. At the same time, there is a shortage of staff and budgets to deal with the ripple effects of the tourism explosion. Ultimately, it is nature and communities that have to pay the price. 

This book is a professional book, written in an accessible journalistic tone. It should be read by everyone in the tourism industry, locally as well as nationally. It will also be of great benefit to everyone in the aid industry and in the UN system.

With this summer's elaborate reading of the cruise industry's "ravages" in Norwegian fjords fresh in memory, the book proves to be an important input also for politicians both locally and at the county level, and for everyone in the industry committee at the Storting.

The book is also an indirect reminder of the troubling aspects of the hectic huts and palaces that are now popping up like mushrooms all around the mountains and beach zones – which are part of the same problem complex? 

Andrew P. Kroglund
Andrew P. Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer. Also Secretary General of BKA (Grandparents' Climate Action).

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