The Trevi Fountain stands quiet and undisturbed.
A similar story is told all over the world.
Rivers run clear of traffic again. Monkeys roam deserted streets. Air pollution declines.
Therefore, has the COVID-19 pandemic hit the reset button on over-tourism?
Responsible travellers must discuss how this pandemic can lead to greater eco-friendly tourism.
This article will look at the environmental impacts of mass travel including overcrowding and pollution.
We will look at how global travel can adapt to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Let’s dive in.
The impact of over-tourism can be felt all over the world.
In 2018, Italy recorded a yearly visitor high of 63 million tourists – equal to 172,000 tourists a day.
The Italian government proposed additional tourist taxes and fines to restrict tourism to manageable levels.
The observation of extreme environmental damage led to the temporary closure of Boracay to tourists.
Sihanoukville suffered irreparable damage from two decades of wealthy Chinese tourism.
Intrepid Travel has, therefore, removed the destination from their Cambodian itinerary.
These are just glimpses into the significant effects of over-tourism.
The travel community has often considered the growing need for eco-sustainability.
Can we reduce our carbon footprint by taking fewer flights when travelling?
From visiting less populated cities to exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations, responsible travellers are addressing the concerns of overcrowding and the climate crisis.
Travellers are now looking into alternative means of transport even if it results in longer overall travel time.
This could involve travelling by ferry or other public transport including trains.
If there are no alternatives to flying, we can look at ways to offset the carbon impact of our flights.
One of the most important steps forward has been the switch to eco-friendly reusable water bottles.
Switching to a plastic free alternative helps reduce plastic pollution and influences others to do the same.
The Vietnamese capital city Ho Chi Minh has introduced a new initiative called Refill My Bottle Vietnam.
Reusable water fountains were installed in over fifty locations around the city.
This significantly reduced the need for single use plastic bottles among locals and visitors.
The ethical treatment of animals has made notable progress in recent years.
A decade ago, visitors to Thailand would jump at the chance to ride elephants or take photos with monkeys in dresses.
In 2020, most tourists will only visit an elephant sanctuary so long as the animals are ethically treated.
The mistreatment of animals for comedic value is rightly condemned.
Sir David Attenborough-fronted nature documentaries have changed how we view the animals who share our planet.
We prefer to observe animals in their natural habitat over circus tricks.
We are a new breed of traveller. A considerate and sustainable group of people.
Rejecting commercial hotel chains, we’ve seen travellers switch to family run b&b’s and other local accommodation options.
This directly benefits the local community and supports people over global corporations.
Travellers increasingly understand the value of supporting local businesses and local communities.
Thus helping to reduce travellers’ carbon footprint.
It’s clear this wasn’t enough.
Changes were too slow to take effect and iconic destinations still felt the destructive impact of heavy tourism.
Pollution continues to choke the planet and palm oil plantations threaten our forests and their inhabitants.
Perhaps urgent natural intervention was needed?
Under the threat of Coronavirus, many international borders in the world have closed.
Arguably, the pandemic may cause a significant change in the worldwide approach to climate change.
We must learn from the mistakes of excessive travel.
The reopening of the borders is a golden opportunity for our species to change the way we travel.
One way is to change where we visit.
It’s time to give the most popular destinations a break so they can recover from heavy tourism.
While some go to the Greek Islands, let’s go to the Derawan Islands instead.
This also provides the chance to broaden our horizons and see new places.
This is our chance for tourism to benefit rural and regional destinations; to aid rice farmers and fruit farmers, help pay the wages of parents, of cooks and of drivers.
Tourism is so important for the local economies.
We can spread wealth around in a fairer, more economically and environmentally sustainable way.
Global travel will return and face us with a simple choice.
Do we continue as before or can we choose the alternative?
Every plane journey impacts the world, the environment and the local communities.
Each time we land in a new destination, we have the chance to help others.
When we travel, we make a difference.
Will we make the right choices when the borders reopen?
It’s up to all of us.
Cassie Ross is a travel writer writing about luxury travel for the everyday budget for The Luxe Backpacker.