December 10, 2009

To Go or Not to Go?

That is the question, and one not usually answered with difficulty. We're studying Tourism again, and if I've got all the 'enabling factors' (desire, time and money) I don't usually think twice about jetting off to see some amazing attraction. But then I thought about this:

By the time I arrive home in January, I'll have been on 22 flights for the year. That means I'm responsible for about 7 tonnes of CO2. I have to admit, I feel a bit guilty. I don't go around burning piles of plastic bags and car tires, but I don't voluntarily neutralise my emissions with Ryanair either.

We were discussing this in class today, which brought us to the idea of a tourist tax. The idea that you should pay a tax for all the destruction you cause in your effort to see the Taj Mahal or the Acropolis or Stonehenge. As if the entry fees aren't enough already, some places have already implemented additional levies to try to undo some of the damage. Lots of churches in Europe ask for a donation for their upkeep, so why not everyone?

But here's the thing: when we go to visit ancient/fragile/historically significant things, we are contributing to their destruction. And not just those of us who scratch our name into them, or chip off a bit to take home, but every single person who goes there. The floors of Versaille, the canals of Venice, the stone of the Great Wall - they all feel the wear and tear over time. We can patch them up, or rebuild them completely, but then they're not really the same, are they?

So, our discussion moved to the concept of banning tourism. Do we shut down the ticket booths, lock the gates, and stop people going to these places to ensure they're not worn away to nothing? If so, if our only experience of these wonders is in books and films and photos, are they even worth preserving? Are we willing to pay to protect something we'll never see?

Oooh, I'm getting all uppity about the environment, sure, but seeing some the great wonders makes you wonder yourself - how much longer will they last? I'd like to think I saw Venice before it sank under the weight of over-fed tourists, but ideally I'd like to have seen it and be able to send my kids or grandkids to go see it too. I want it to last!

Do you think places should limit the number of visitors?
Do you think we should just keep going and worry about it when they're gone?
Or should we shut the shop, throw over the dust sheet and just wait till there are suitable virtual reality visits?

Food for thought. And seeing as food is low, I'll chew on this one for a while.

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