MASS TOURISM VERSUS ALTERNATIVE TOURISM
Mass tourism emerged in the past decades mostly because of the middle class growth, overall rise in paid time off and developments in the transportation and lodging fields. Over time, some countries gained a lot in popularity, becoming major tourist destinations. One of the most influential criteria defining mass tourism is the unreasonable influx of travellers at a same place. The overcrowdedness of a destination can have negative impacts on both the visitors and the visited, like congestion of roads, services and tourist attractions, lack of availabilities in hotels and hostels leading to the conversion of residential housing into holiday rentals, significant rise of the cost of living, residents’ exodus of popular cities and great stress on local infrastructure and surrounding nature. Another characteristic of mass tourism is the lack of consideration travellers show towards their host city, being economic, social, cultural and/or environmental considerations, which can lead to the polarization of wealth, deterioration of natural resources and hostility between locals and travellers. Here are some of the most common forms of mass tourism.
Despite the fact that cruises are rising in popularity, their negative impact is no longer a secret. First and foremost, it’s the cruise ships’ ecological footprint that mostly tarnishes their reputation. On average, a cruise ship burns 250 tons of fuel per day, while in comparison a plane burns 150. Considering that most passengers must fly to reach the cruise’s departure port, it multiplies their carbon footprint. Cruise ships are also notorious for their inadequate water treatment systems, dumping on a daily base an alarming amount of inappropriately filtered water that can be damageable for marine life. Also, the increasing number of ships docking at major tourist destinations is putting a lot of stress on harbours and infrastructure, which are degrading quickly due to cruising inflow. Passengers, whose shore excursions are usually very short, tend to disrupt local life, as they’re passing through quickly and in huge groups. Some concerns have been raised around the quality of life of on-board staff, who often comes from poor countries and accept to work relentlessly for a very low salary.
TIP: when shopping around for a cruise, try to choose a company that offsets its carbon footprint, docks at less busy ports and is known to offer a decent work environment to its staff.
By far one of the most popular types or travels, beach resorts also are one of the oldest tourism industries. Attractive for their all-inclusive formula, these hotel complexes provide travellers with total peace of mind, as they can find everything they need on site. Hence, they don’t need to carry around money or IDs, as restaurants, bars, entertainment and other commodities are already included in the vacation package price. That also happens to be one of the biggest critics of this type of travel; tourism revenues all converge to one place, which is often owned by a foreign company, preventing local communities from benefiting from the presence of tourists. On top of neglecting to involve local businesses, resorts sometimes privatize the most enjoyable beaches, forest and other natural attractions, granting exclusive access to their customers and forbidding access to local residents. Some big actors of the hospitality industry have also been caught up in controversies for mistreating their employees (improper wages, low grade accommodations, limited job options with no career advancement possibilities as they keep the best opportunities for foreign workers). The presence of masses of tourists at a same place can also have negative impacts on the surrounding natural resources, like overconsumption of water and electricity, narrowing of wildlife’s natural habitats and contamination of waterbeds and bodies of water by cleaning and esthetic products (sunscreen, insect repellent, perfumes, etc.).
TIP : choose a resort that is committed to protect the environment (limit food waste, use of biodegradable products and renewable energy, etc.) and favours local businesses by employing residents of the area with dignity and offer travellers the possibility to discover the local culture (presence of local crafters, traditional music performances, food ethically sourced, etc.).
We talk about overtourism when a destination is saturated by the amount of tourists, which outnumbers the inhabitants and causes negative consequences on their daily life (congested roads, limited access to popular attractions, rise of the cost of living such as rentals, restaurants, activities, transportation, etc.) Travellers often visit major destinations during high seasons, causing instability to business owners who experience increases in revenues during these peaks and precarious decreases during low seasons. Residents can be bothered the presence of too many tourists at once because they encourage the folklorization of their culture, hoping to witness exotic customs and theatricalizing their daily life.
TIP: avoid overcrowded destinations and, if conditions allow, pick a less busy moment of the year. Also, try to find alternatives to popular tourist attractions (there are a lot of lesser-known museums, ruins, temples, beaches and sites that are equally interesting but much less crowded).
Organized tours are not inherently wrong, but they can be problematic when mismanaged. Very large groups can bother residents and other travellers in many different ways; many people inside a restaurant limiting the access to others, traffic disruption when moving from one place to another, herds of tourists taking over popular attractions and gathering in large crowds to take selfies or use the restrooms... Travellers who hire foreign tour guides are keeping local residents from earning much needed/deserved revenues. On top of it, secondary revenues (like food, transportation and handicrafts) are often redirected towards big companies, as small shop owners can’t accommodate large groups.
TIP: hire a local company when possible and make sure you’ll be part of a small group, if a private tour is not an option.
Alternative tourism is an umbrella term for all forms of travels opposed to mass tourism. A special attention is paid to economic, social, cultural and environmental considerations. Alternative tourism aims to have a neutral or positive impact on its destinations. Although there are no rules defining it, beneficial tourism can take many different forms.
Sustainable or Responsible Tourism
Sustainable or responsible tourism considers all components of development (sociocultural, economic and environmental) to ensure that the tourist activities respect the residents and natural resources, for a healthy and well-balanced growth.
Solidarity or Fair Tourism
Solidarity tourism focuses on the socioeconomic growth of the destination; the revenues generated by the tourist activities are fairly distributed between the foreign and local businesses involved in the process and the profits are invested in neighbouring organizations and infrastructure.
Social tourism’s uses the travel industry as a tool to either create economic growth or provide greater access to travels to a vulnerable group of the population (i.e. a tour operator integrating marginalized youth to its workforce or a travel agency catering specifically to disabled people by offering adapted services for a more inclusive experience).
A type of tourism that involves the local population in tourist activities or involves the travellers in community activities to create bonds between visitors and visited, for a genuine intercultural experience.
This movement values quality over quantity and invites travellers to visit fewer destinations, but to really immerse themselves and fully embrace the local cultures and lifestyles.
Rural tourism invites travellers to venture off the beaten path by residing outside of the metropolitan areas to diversify the beneficiaries of tourism revenues and alleviate the big cities’ overcrowding.
Ecotourism is beneficial for the environment; it doesn’t only limit its ecological footprint, but it creates a positive impact on the local ecosystem by financing restoration operations or natural habitat conservation projects. There is also often an educational component in ecotourism.
At the end of the day, the point is not to reject or favour a specific type of tourism over another, but to raise awareness of the impacts, both positive and negative, that tourism can have. Preparing properly for your trip by researching the destination, season and company you would like to do business with can be enough to ensure you make the right decisions. Trying to support local economy as much as possible and reducing carbon footprint should be at the heart of every traveller's concerns, out of respect for the hosts and for the planet. Travelling is a chance and an honour that is unfortunately not accessible to all humans, so it must come with its share of responsibilities.