Travelers want to enjoy beautiful resorts with sparkling pools, sumptuous spreads of delicious fruit and food, and expect friendly service-personnel in crisp uniforms. For pennies on the dollar, vacationers often haggle to buy souvenirs made by the hands of local people, of rare and precious resources from the local environment. These artifacts are later hung it in a home or office and referred to as artwork when the traveler brags about their vacation stories. Little thought is given to the daily living conditions of the people of the developing countries where these travels take place. Nearly no thought is given to the amount of water and electricity used, or garbage and pollution that was caused by the extravagancies of First World vacationers.
People from rich, powerful countries have long taken liberties with lesser, vulnerable nations in the world community. Where did this greedy and entitled mindset come from? Technological advantages held by sixteenth-century European powers opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of feeling entitled to appropriate the precious resources of others who cannot defend themselves. When a powerful country exerts political control over another for its own benefit, it is called Imperialism. When a selfish country sends its own people to another for the purpose of resource extraction for its own benefit, it is called Colonialism (Stanford). The social, economic and ecological destruction caused by these practices, both past and present, are outside of the scope of this modest paper. It must be mentioned that it is an unfortunate reality that many First World consumers currently enjoying the numerous benefits of these practices are largely ignorant of how their comparatively extravagant cultures came to be. To what extent, then, can the average First World consumer realistically be expected to consider the consequences of the luxuries they enjoy and resources they so mindlessly consume while in a vacationing mindset?
If the ways the people of the First World treat their own countries is any indicator of their intentions towards those they visit while on holiday, the outlook is bleak. Natural resources including water, forests, minerals and animals have been depleted to shocking levels in the United States (Withgott, Brennan). Pollution and greenhouse gas emission standards in our country are being undermined for political gain (Withgott, Brennan 292). Depleted resources are what historically drove the countries of Imperial Europe to seek colonial acquisitions in the first place, and while some developed countries in Europe and Asia have taken measures to curb their consumption of resources and pollution output (Withgott, Brennan) complications caused by the current global economic crisis threatens to take priority over protecting the environment.
The textbook being used by Ohlone College for this semester’s Biology 108 class, Essential Environment: the Science Behind the Stories, argues that an emerging industry known as “Ecotourism” can be a solution to global environmental degradation. Cultivating an environmentally-friendly hospitality industry is described as an alternate choice for developing countries, rather than to industrialize, as has the First World. Authors Withgott and Brennan present that global and ecological awareness is on the rise and some consumers are becoming more mindful about their patterns of resource use. These well-meaning individuals consider the impact they make on the environment, including when they plan for a trip. The United Nations called 2002 “The Year of Ecotourism” (Vanderheiden and Sisson 1) and urged travelers to make environmentally considerate choices when planning their vacation accommodations. Though the First World has squandered its own resources and much of the Third World’s as well, it now asks the remaining, yet-developed countries to conserve for the sake of the planet and nice vacations? This is far easier said than done, and the group that must cooperate is also making the request. Vanderheiden and Sisson write:
The British website ResponsibleTravel features a list of common “myths” about Ecotourism and addresses the fears travelers may experience when considering this new type of entertainment. Such concerns as “It's all hard work, you can’t do any fun activities” and “It’s expensive” echo the thoughts of many faced with something as daunting as a change in their self-indulgent behaviors. The website for The International Ecotourism Society assures that “anyone can be a responsible traveler! You can get back to nature, or bathe in luxury”. While both sources attempt to give reassuring exceptions to these trivial concerns, academic research is to the contrary. In the Journal of Sustainable Development, Xilian Wang writes, “…ecotourism has certain educational connotation” (1) and asserts that unless consumers are well-instructed about the ramifications of tourism and the reasons for preserving the environment of their vacation destination, Ecotourism is for naught. This is a drastic change from our imperial past and current selfish consumer-culture. Are enough First World inhabitants capable of putting their egos aside, sacrificing their pocketbooks and learning a new definition of vacation, so this can really work?
Perhaps it is too precarious to rely on individuals to make this type of sacrifice. Wang further writes that, “The government should speed up establishing and releasing a relatively complete ecotourism act and details about its implementation” (3) which may be possible in the country that paper was published, but lesser so in a country where the phrase “it takes an act of Congress” means the same as “nearly impossible”.
Still, Ecotourism does have its fan base. In Ocean and Coastal Management, Carlos Libosada addresses the sentiments of the local people of Ecotourism destinations and writes:
Why aren’t the local communities the managers? This brings to mind stories of Canadian vacationers in Cuba, who enjoy all offered to them by the beautiful vacation resort where they’re staying, but dare not venture outside the tall surrounding walls, which are watched by armed guards (Interview).
"Your Travel Choice Makes A Difference." The International Ecotourism Society. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.