What's the Big Deal with Undertourism?
Striking a Balance between Undertourism and Overtourism
While the travel industry has been concerned about overtourism in recent years, the pandemic has us asking whether undertourism may be equally problematic. Overtourism is the idea that a destination has too many visitors, leading to negative effects locally. It also indicates that people are traveling too much on the whole, leading to negative effects globally. By contrast, undertourism is the exact opposite. When a destination has too few visitors, or when people are traveling too little, we’re seeing not only negative economic effects but also, paradoxically, negative environmental effects. The pandemic has provided us an opportunity to consider how to travel in good balance to protect the places we travel to when we’re there and for generations after we’ve departed. For most of us today, travel is not only about cultural exchange but also about enjoying and protecting our natural world. Keep reading for more information on how to strike a balance in your own tourism as the world resets.
In today’s world, tourism and conservation are inextricably bound together. Given the context of climate change, on the one hand, tourism produces carbon emissions and an ecological footprint that has consequences for the natural world. And yet, on the other hand, travel provides us with up-close experiences that deepen our empathy for and investment in the future of the planet.
Beyond that, though, tourism has become economically linked to conservation across the globe, which means that when travel decreases, conservation diminishes along with it. Undertourism decreases the funding available for the protection and maintenance of nature and wildlife. Unfortunately, undertourism may spur a vicious cycle, causing low visitation long after the pandemic has ended. Those declining social and financial investments could put many habitats in jeopardy of abandonment.
For example, tourism is essential to African safaris that promote conservation and anti-poaching. Undertourism in Africa has taken a toll not only on the economy but also on wildlife because conservation efforts are dependent on taxes raised by tourism. When tourism is down, animal poaching is up because safeguards against it are poorly resourced. Thus, African safari tourists can make a difference to wildlife management and conservation simply by going on vacation.
Tourism is also key to marine protected areas, where a drop in tourism revenue leads to a drop in protection enforcement. Palau, for example, may soon have to open up its waters to international fishing due to the decline in tourism in the islands, and international fishing is already underway outside of the Galápagos Islands.
As these brief examples show, sustainable tourism is the crucial to protecting nature and wildlife. Traveling sustainably today means balancing biodiversity and human well-being.
If this news about undertourism has you wanting to travel sustainably right now, I have good news for you. Ecotourism destinations focused on nature and wildlife are, by and large, low-risk destinations during the pandemic. Undertourism has only increased the remote, uncongested, mostly outdoor nature of these destinations. Here are my top 3 recommendations for ecotourism destinations right now:
1. Puerto Rican Beaches:
Since recovering from Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico is the top undertourism destination in the Caribbean, offering an uncramped alternative to crowded island beaches and cruise ships and allowing you to spend your money in the community rather than at a large resort.
It was just over a decade ago that the Galapagos were at risk of overpopulation and mismanaged tourism that caused UNESCO to put the islands on its danger list in 2007. This archipelago is now one of the most environmentally conscious places to vacation. There are limits to the number of travelers who can visit protected areas, and even a visitation fee is imposed to aid in preservation efforts.
3. African Safaris:
The definition of remote, an African safari is an ideal destination in pandemic conditions. Rwanda and Tanzania opened to US citizens this summer, providing they arrive with negative COVID test results. I will be taking a small group to Southern Africa in 2022, so contact me if you want to join the trip.
If these particular ecotourism destinations aren’t calling your name, you might consider mitigating the effects of undertourism by traveling to neighborhoods in need of spending as well as traveling in less popular seasons.
I’m grateful for this opportunity to think about how to travel more sustainably and responsibly, to use travel as a force for good. Get in touch with me today to help you plan your next vacation, ensuring your destination will continue to be there when you need it.