0n the right
Travellers who regard I themselves as sympathetic to the countries they visit could be doing more harm than good. Eddie Gibb finds out why.
Travellers regard themselves as different from tourists. They generally spend longer in the countries they visit. bargain directly with locals to arrange accommodation or buy food and avoid expensive, westemised tourist traps. Compared to the package holiday of the ‘If it’s Thursday. it must Cairo‘ variety. travellers probably get a better idea of life as it is lived.
But inevitably they leave something ofthemselves behind as well. ln some developing countries. the scramble for hard currencies that tourists bn'ng is throwing already fragile economies seriously out of kilter. A particularly extreme. not to say obscene. example is Thailand’s sex industry. centred on Bangkok but drawing young women. often by force. from all over the country. It's a favourite topic for television documentaries. but the basic
point that the sex industry wouldn’t exist without Western men is often overlooked.
No one is suggesting that backpackers are part of that scene but there are signs that other parts of Thailand are becoming spoiled by the sheer number of visitors. ()ne travel consultant admitted that northern Thailand was regarded as ‘all trekked out' by more experienced travellers. w ho are now looking for other ‘unspoiled’ countries to visit. Vietnam looks like it will be next on the list.
‘Travellers need to understand the issues.‘ according to Tricia Barnett. co-
Checking out Himalayan hospitality
ordinator of Tourism Concern. which promotes ‘sustainable‘ tourism. ‘They shouldn't feel that becatise they are travelling they are any different to a tourist. They‘re very similar except backpackers bargain harder.‘
Barnett believes that backpackers
have become the trailblazers. opening
up new regions to tourism with tour operators following. She cites the Goa region of India as an example; twenty years ago it was known about only by a
few hippies but now features on
peaktime television travel shows. Tourism Concern is campaigning to make holiday operators more aware of
'I'rt'kkr'rs” is on ()3/ 554 9977,
the impact tourists have on developing countries.
Another organisation which promotes responsible travelling is the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project. which has its UK base in Edinburgh. KEEP was formed because of growing alarm at the damage the 70,000 trekkers who visit the Himalayas annually were doing to the region. It offers trekkers practical advice on how to minimise the impact they have on the environment and indigenous culture. It is also looking for ways to ensure the local people who act as guides receive more of the benefits of tourist-generated income. KEEP estimates that of the £2000 a typical trekker pays fora three—week trip. only £50 reaches the mountain areas that suffer the enviromnental damage.
‘Unless trekkers. tour operators and the Nepalese authorities concentrate on tipping the balance in favour of local development and environment. the area could move towards a crisis.‘ warns KEEP director Johnnie Woods. 'Iimrism Concern mu he t'mimt‘lt’tl on 05’] «8‘78 9053’. lx'lflfl’. H‘lllt‘ll publishes a book/('1 ('(l/lt’t/ ‘lz‘sst'nliul lips/or
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The List 25 February—40 March l904 79