Let’s face it, the last couple of years have been a bit of a nightmare for everyone. There will not be many corners of the world left untouched by Covid 19, and whether you have been unlucky enough to fall ill yourself or have lost a loved one; suffered financially, mentally or emotionally, it’s almost certain you’ll be desperate for this pandemic to be over so that we can all start to rebuild our lives.
‘The day the world changed’ has been used to refer to the events of 9/11 2001, which altered the way some of us travel and the security measures now in place. It also brought about some introspection and resulting attitude changes, although not always of a helpful kind. I would suggest that, for much of the world, March 2020 was ‘The month the world changed’. We might not have fully appreciated the consequences at the time, and many of us remained in optimistic denial. Nevertheless, as the weeks turned into months and the casualties increased all around us we were forced, once again, to introspect and re-evaluate what is truly important in our lives.
Is tourism important? Perhaps for us, it’s not top of the list. But for those who rely on it to feed their families it is.
We may never return to the carefree, hedonistic, pre-9/11 days and many hope that 3/20 will be a similar wake-up call in respect of how we value the planet and its inhabitants. Some may decide they aren’t ready to board a plane and sit tightly-packed with a load of strangers. Some may decide they don’t want to fly ever again, and for environmental reasons this is understandable. The travel industry is on its knees, almost everywhere. Perhaps there is a positive side to this: lots of places have undoubtedly benefitted from reduced footfall, disturbance and pollution. In several parts of the world nature is flourishing in areas usually swamped by tourists, and this has to be a good thing. Yet what of the people?
I have thought, long and hard, about how important travel and holidays are (or aren’t) during a pandemic, on a fragile planet. As someone who cares deeply about the environment, wildlife and sustainability along with the lives of humans in all corners of the world, particularly the less privileged, there is no easy answer.
Probably we should all think twice before taking a flight, especially when there is an alternative way of reaching our destination. I have been as guilty of this as anyone, and I vow to try harder. But I feel that ‘travel’, in a general sense, is so important: for our own emotional wellbeing, for cultural understanding and enrichment, and for the societies we visit who can benefit so greatly from our (responsible) presence.
In many cases local people depend and rely upon the income we provide and are suffering terribly, now that we cannot be with them. From desert camps in Morocco to resthouses in Sri Lanka; from refugios in the Dolomites to coffee houses in the Canaries; from tuk tuk and landcruiser to minibus drivers, everyone in our Vistas locations is eagerly awaiting our return, and I am revising next year’s departure dates with a tentative feeling of hope.
Meanwhile, when does ‘enough’ become ‘too much’?
Here in the UK, our governments have gone all out to encourage us to take ‘staycations’ which, by their original definition, meant holidaying at home (as in, your own house, perhaps taking day trips). This phenomenon has been translated into ‘let’s all get into our cars or campervans and go to the countryside as cheaply as possible, without a thought for the environment or local people’. Rural areas have been inundated and, in some cases, completely overwhelmed. Some are drowning in litter, illegal fire remains and even human waste. I will save my full rant for a post on my own website (www.mary-king.co.uk) but the situation in parts of the Scottish Highlands has become so bad this summer that I have been forced to rethink the new trip ‘Sketch the 500’ until the worst of this is over. I sincerely hope it soon will, but I have withdrawn the trip from next year’s schedule. I have had to confront the worst face of tourism and thoroughly examine my role within it. I have heard the cries from communities living along the ‘route’ we take on this particular trip and they are saying they can’t take it anymore. I can not, in all conscience, add to their anguish.
There will always be those who do not care (about anything, it seems) and I have no idea how one could legislate against that. My hope is that once the worst of this crisis has passed and the world begins to open up again, governments and individuals will have learned some valuable lessons and somehow we can find a balance, enabling local people to earn a living; individuals to broaden their minds and feed their souls with adventure; and cherishing and protecting what remains of the natural world.
No matter which Vistas holiday you join or how you get there you can rest assured we tread as lightly as we can in the destination, but of course, nothing is perfect. If you would like to discuss your environmental/cultural concerns or have any suggestions for how I can improve, then please drop me a message. I am always ready to learn, and take on board new ways to lessen our impact.