Talking Point 11: How many tourists?
Have you ever wondered how many tourists are there in the world? No? Well, imagine a million people suspended in the air all around the planet right now. That’s roughly how many people are flying at any given time according to the BBC programme Super Sized Earth, a series all about how man has transformed the planet. That’s a bit more than the entire population of Edinburgh, Honolulu or Quebec flying through the air at any given time. Just imagine that.
Not millions but a billion
OK now try and imagine a billion people on the move. If you’ve been to Disney or Legoland you probably think you know what that’s like. According to the UNWTO (the UN body responsible for promoting sustainable tourism) December 13th 2012 was the day of the billionth international tourist. Yes, there’s now more than a billion of us crossing international borders each year in search of a good time. Can you even begin to imagine the impact of that?
Tourism is an incredible trillion dollar business and an incredible force of nature in its own right. Just consider the resources involved in providing food, shelter, transport, water and entertainment for a billion tourists. And, on the other side, the benefits reported to come from jobs, trade and economic development.
Of course individually it can feel like our own actions don’t make much difference. And it’s true enough that one locust can’t do much damage. But a million or a billion? That should give us pause for thought. Not that I’m saying tourists are locusts of course. Although when you look at where we tend to come from, why we travel and where we tend to go, it does look a bit like we move in swarms.
There may be a billion of us travelling but it’s still the domain of the privileged few and we shouldn’t forget that, or the responsibility that goes with it.
In an effort to stay upbeat and encourage more sustainable tourism, the UNWTO says we should turn one billion tourists into one billion opportunities. In the same way a billion travellers can leave a big footprint, they say a billion small positive actions can have a big positive impact too.
Of course sustainable travel is about much more than putting your towels on the rack, not requiring clean sheets every day or eating local produce. But those little things can help, especially if multiplied by a billion. As can a wider mindfulness about why, where and how we travel and the environmental as well as the financial cost of doing so.
Oh and just in case you’re wondering who the one billionth tourist was, it turns out to be Mrs Dale Sheppard-Floyd from the United Kingdom. She’s visiting Spain for three days. How ordinary.
How mindful are you of the impact of your travels? What kinds of things do you do to eliminate the negative or accentuate the positive impacts when you travel?
Join the Conversation
Talking Point is our series of short Photo Friday posts. Each week we pick a photo and post a talking point and invite you to join the conversation. Do leave a comment with your thoughts.