The vast majority of us has travelled as a tourist at least once, and all our attention is usually focused on the objective of the trip: be it culture, pure fun or simply relaxing.
From a holistic point of view, the human being is one of the many elements that form an ecosystem. However, a certain conceit is still broadly spread: the conviction that the relationship between human kind and nature is hierarchical, with us humans being at the top of a pyramid that sees all other living creatures beneath. When we talk about tourism, we do not pay too much attention to the impact that this millenary phenomenon has on the limited resources of the Earth and on the artworks, result of human’s efforts and genius. Abandoning the egocentric vision that we often have might be the starting point to re-think tourism in a sustainable way. The World Tourism Organization, specialized agency of the United Nations, defines sustainable tourism as the “Tourism that keeps into consideration its current and future economical, social and environmental impact, directing the needs of visitors, industry, environment and hosting communities.”
In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030, the goal number 12 is focused on responsible consumption and production, through the definition of strategies that make processes circular and resilient. More specifically, the implementing mechanism for goal 12 has been called “One Planet Network” and it entails six programs, which include “Sustainable Tourism”.
In order to achieve the desired results by 2030, an effective mobilization and participation of all the stakeholders involved in the tourism sector is needed. Tourism is considered a services sector, but in fact it generates wealth also in the production of consumer goods, and therefore constitutes a significant part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in many areas of the world. At the same time the ultimate challenge is the change of a paradigm and a cultural revolution, that allow us to see with completely different eyes the way of being tourists, providers, guests and hosts.
An interesting example in this sense is mass tourism, that is so typical of many attractive locations. Since decades, tourism has been assessed essentially on economic criteria, whereas other aspects that are not connected to profits are still greatly overlooked. For these reasons, sustainable tourism is in absolute need of a convergence between good public policy and forward-looking private strategies to monitor the efficiency of all touristic resources with the aim of making the supply chain sustainable for providers, visitors, host communities, environment. The “Report on consumption patterns and sustainable production in tourism policies”, indicates the most important thematic areas that have been taken into account from several nations in their tourism public policies: working conditions, gender equality, accessibility, efficient resources, research of local materials, good administration, risk and safety management, institutional strengthening, connectivity and visa support, technology and innovation, mobility at destination, biodiversity conservation, statistics and impact monitoring, local communities inclusion, preservation of cultural heritage, lodging and facilities, quality standard, production development and diversification, employment, marketing, investments and human resources development.
Recent news reaffirm that there are areas where the mismatch between environment and tourism is still very significant. In a city like Venice for example, discussions have been going on for years on the degradation caused by the invasive and non-sustainable tourism, due to the high number of visitors that every year invade one of the most fascinating and suggestive places in the world. A study from a group of international researchers, led by the CNR Institute of Marine Science and the University Ca’ Foscari (Venice), has produced an article published in 2017 on the journal “PLOSONE”. The result of these researches outlines the levels of erosion in the areas around the Malamocco-Marghera Canal, which is mainly due to the action of waves produced by large tonnage ships, commercial ship for the most part. At the same tame it is important to consider the impact of big cruise ships, a problem that has seen a return of attention following two accidents that happened in July and July 2019 respectively in the Giudecca Canal and in the San Marco basin. These accidents have led some activists to come together and continue the battle against savage tourism. Expanding the observation to the whole lagoon, the CNR research shows that every year more than 30,000 cubic meters of soil and seabed are subtracted from the margins of the canal and from areas that are protected for wildlife conservation. An example of this is one of the “casse di colmata” (lit. cases of overwhelmed), were the estimated average regression of the coast is 3-4 meters per year. From 1974 until 2015, it has been observed a constant lost of habitat, with more than one million cubic meters of sediment eroded in an area of only 2 kilometers of the Canal.
A responsible tourism is possible only if every player involved plays well their part. In this context, the institutions and the strategic choices made by governments and administrations play a fundamental role. At the same time our actions and choices as tourists and as laymen are equally crucial in making a difference. We might be inclined, in the close future, to live new places in a different way and to avoid a return to the logic of compulsive tourism, that quite often leads us to be average consumers of places that we post in thousands of pictures in social media but of which we have not perceived the human essence and the environmental balance.
By Nico Delfine