Planet Earth is not in good shape. Countless revelatory surveys, David Attenborough-narrated documentaries or unusual weather activity are still not enough to remind us of that. The greenhouse gases production has increased tremendously in the past few years, and of the many factors that have brought about this change, one industry that both suffers from and causes climate change all at the same time is tourism.
In the last year alone, Thailand’s popular Maya Beach has had to shut down until 2021 as it needs time to ‘heal’ from the effects of tourists, coral decimation and crowding. Indonesia recently announced that it would be closing access to the famed destination, Komodo Island starting 2020 because of illegal komodo smuggling. Iceland too has announced the closure of the picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, made even more popular after starring in a Justin Bieber video. These are only a few examples of destinations whose natural vegetation and wildlife have been affected by overtourism.
Let’s also not forget the impact of the aviation industry, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emission. In the midst of all this, how are countries striking a balance between earning from tourism and protecting their environment?
In 2017, Palau, a small island nation in the Pacific Nation became the first country to seriously take a stand. The government modified its immigration policy and made it compulsory for tourists to sign an eco-pledge to visit the country. Officially called the ‘Palau Pledge’, is a stamped pledge visitors have to sign. This is a promise to ‘act in an ecologically responsible way for the island’ drafted by the children in Palau. It also acts as a sustainable travel checklist with pointers such as ‘don’t litter’, ‘don’t feed the fish and sharks’, ‘don’t drag fins over corals while swimming’, among others.
The nation partnered with advertising agency Host/Havas to create the first such immigration policy of its kind, and the move has, throughout the world, garnered attention and received awards for its ingenuity.
The Icelandic Pledge, for instance, is an ‘oath for tourists to respect Iceland’s nature and travel responsibly during their visit’. Unlike the Palau Pledge, anyone can take this pledge online and it is not an immigration requirement for travellers.
Similarly, New Zealand has come up with the ‘Tiaki Promise’ for tourists, which is a commitment to care and be mindful of the country’s environment while visiting. As opposed to strict do’s and don’ts, these are guidelines to help tourists as connected to the landscape as New Zealanders do. Some aspects of the Tiaki Promise ask people to ‘travel safely, and show care and consideration for all’ and also ‘care for land, sea and nature, treading lightly and leaving no trace.’ Again, this is a voluntary oath, one that hasn’t been weaved into the country’s immigration policy.
The fact is, we, as tourists, are creating an irreversible impact that nations can no longer ignore. And now they’re having to nudge us through friendly reminders and pledges. What does that show of us?