Why Popular Tourist Destinations Need to Develop More Sustainable Practices

South East Asia has undergone a relatively recent transformation from a relatively quiet and quaint destination during the late 20th century to a roaring region whose respective tourism booms are now leading to unintended and almost irreversible environmental damage.

Boracay Island

A view from Boracay Beach

Countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines have all benefited from the millions of tourists that each of their airports welcome into the country each year.

Take Thailand as the prime example. The country known for its tropical island getaways, ancient temples and stunning cuisines welcomed over 38 million international tourists in 2018. This is estimated to account for around 20 percent of Thailand’s national GDP and is certainly one of the key drivers of the economy.

However, the large influx of tourists doesn’t always leave a positive imprint on the region.

Two recent examples of this is Thailand’s iconic Maya Bay and Boracay Island in the Philippines. Both destinations were on the brink of no return following heavy growth in tourist numbers leading to skyrocketing levels of pollution. The environmental damage sustained from tourism was so bad that the authorities in Thailand and the Philippines both made the decision to ban tourists from setting foot in these locations during 2018.

Bird's Eye View of Maya Bay

A Bird's Eye View of Maya Bay

Maya Bay was made famous as the backdrop of the film “The Beach”, which starred Leonardo Dicaprio way back in 2000. The movie’s endorsement of Maya Bay quickly allowed it to become an iconic spot thousands of people came to see each day. However, the bay begun to deteriorate as it couldn’t cope with the vast increase in visitors and finally, in October of 2018, the decision was made to close the bay. Thai authorities who inspected the site found that more than half of the bay’s coral had perished in what was such a short period of time. The leading cause of this was certain chemicals found in sunscreen which caused bleaching, paralysis and death in the oceanic species. Pollution caused by the boats who brought tourists to the bay were also responsible for the deterioration in the environment.

There are now signs of recovery in the bay following the closure of the site. Corals have been replanted and some natural wildlife are beginning to return to its shores, indicating a slow but positive improvement in the environment. However, it remains to be seen when or if the bay will be reopened.

Boracay Island on the other hand, also closed its doors during April of 2018. The island which at one stage had been crowned the world’s best island, made the decision to shut down primarily due to the build-up of pollution. Hotels and restaurants who were not connected to the island’s sewerage systems made the decision to dump waste straight into the ocean while partygoers littered the streets with bottles, plastics and cigarettes.

Fast-forward six months to October 2018, and the island had been completely transformed. An upgraded sewer network is now in place which the island’s beachgoers would appreciate. The island has also banned the use of single use plastics, banned cigarettes, capped the number of tourists able to visit at any one time and is planning for electric vehicles to become the preferred method of transport.

A dramatic change in such a short amount of time is not without its losses. Many people who had worked on the island now find themselves without jobs with many businesses remaining closed as they are unable to comply with the island’s regulations. Estimates point towards losses of up to $1 billion US Dollars as a result of the island’s six month ban on tourists.

Hence, the decision to ban tourists from entering certain parts of the country has forced Thailand and the Philippines to give up on short term gains in order to secure a long-term future. These decisions will hopefully become the blueprint for a dramatic shift toward a more sustainable tourism model and sets a critical precedent for fellow tourist hotspots to follow in their footsteps before it is too late.

The blame should not fall entirely on the tourist bound regions for letting the environment to become so tarnished. It is also up to travelers to be conscious of the choices they make while they are overseas too. It could be as simple as making some small changes to your holiday routine such as the following:

  • Bringing your own water bottle while on holidays and filling it up wherever possible. Understandably, in some countries, the tap water is not considered to be safe for drinking which can make it hard to find opportunities to re-fill your bottle.
  • Take a reusable shopping bag with you to eliminate the use of unnecessary plastic bags.
  • Consider using sunscreen that is marine safe while at the beach or while snorkeling. Mineral based sunscreens such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally less harsh on the environment. However, the most effective form of sun protection is without a doubt your clothing.
  • Travel with your own toothbrush. This will save using toothbrushes that are provided to you in hotels which generally last only a handful of uses at best.

If you would like to share some of your eco-friendly travel tips, please feel free to leave a comment or alternatively, contact us directly and we can update this post to include your great ideas!


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