The Ecotraveller

The ethical traveller

Whatever your budget, travel is a luxury. Better communication and cheaper flights over the last decade mean that more and more of those who are privileged enough to travel are being bitten by the bug and infected with wanderlust.

You may have noticed that the title of this post, and indeed the title of the blog, can in many ways be considered a contradiction in terms: is it possible for travel to be ethical?

Concerns about climate change and peak oil are fueling this debate. It is increasingly considered unethical to travel by air because of the carbon footprint it leaves. Also questions about the social impact of tourism are being now being raised: with a huge increase in the number of international tourists, people are becoming aware that beating down untrodden paths to unearth never-seen-before parts of the world is resulting in the westernization and loss of many ancient and traditional cultures.

Now the World Tourism Organisation, an agency of the UN which promotes sustainable tourism, has predicted the decline in the growth of the international tourism industry due to the looming recession. So it seems it is the economic downturn, as well as environmental and social concerns, has caused the current change in attitude towards travel.

But people will still travel and it can in many ways be beneficial. Tourism conserves natural environments, cultural artefacts and traditional ways of life: a country will be encouraged to uphold and maintain its wonders if tourists want to see them because it is a way of generating capital.

Another view is that the tourism has an impact on the individual traveller themselves which in turn can help change the world – as well as the new trend in ecotourism and voluntourism, travellers help create a global community. This means they become international witnesses, preventing human rights abuses or environmental damage going unnoticed. They may also choose to become campaigners or donate to charities which help people in the part of the world they have travelled.

These two arguments come closely into conflict meaning there is no simple answer to whether or not it is ethical to travel. In this blog I do not aim to solve these problems or project opinion on to them: instead it will provide a space for discussion, digestion and interpretation of these travel and world issues as and when they occur in the media.

For an interesting and more comprehensive discussion of these issues outlined read Paul Miles‘ article about space travel in the Ecologist.