Yesterday I attended my first world café. It was quite different than what I had expected it to be. I knew it was for a school event as I had been invited by a fellow classmate and friend who happens to be in the same class. The course runs for three weekends throughout the entire semester – six hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was briefly informed on what the purpose of the world café was – it was to bring people from around the world together to discuss current environmental issues. I thought that each person in the class would state where they were from along with an environmental issue from their country, region, town or city; however, the event went on to be like a group brainstorming session about sustainable tourism.
Sustainable tourism is one topic of environmental concern that I believe does not get enough attention. Scientists and society always talk about sustainability, and by now, the word “sustainable” has become a label which has been plopped onto signs and in front of titles so that consumer believes they are doing the environment good when purchasing or taking part in certain activities. The word sustainability, defined by The Oxford English Dictionary, is the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level; in the perspective of the environment. The definition states that “sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance.” When we consider the definition given to us by The Oxford Dictionary, we should ask ourselves if everything that has been advertised as sustainable, actually meets those standards. In most cases, the answer is no because we live in a society that is more focused on the economy rather than the environment. By slapping words like sustainable or eco onto products, consumers are more likely to buy. As a society in general, we much more often try to see what we can exploit from the earth to make a quick buck rather than waste time and money protecting it for future generations.
So, what is sustainable tourism and is there even such a thing? How does tourism affect the environment and society as a whole and separately? These are just some of the questions that we tried to answer during the world café. It was interesting to hear from people around the world with an age span of 19 to 60. It was even more interesting to learn that we had similar ideas of ways to combat the practices of non-sustainable tourism that are carried out today. Iceland for example, was shockingly different than Alberta on how they operate their tourism industry. As an overview, Iceland has very few national parks, three to be exact. These three national parks, Snæfellsjökull est. 2001; Þingvellir est. 1928-30; Vatnajökull est. 2008, are supervised by the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources as well as the Ministry for the Prime Minister; however, much of the famous tourist attractions are privately owned and some natural wonders are even situated on farmers’ lands. These privately-owned places of interest lack the infrastructure for such a massive influx of people, either because they do not want to spend the money or in farmers’ cases, they do not have enough financial resources to go through with it. It is interesting to note that during my studies in Iceland I’ve learnt from many other foreign students, that the countries of North America are part of a rare club in which they charge for one’s entry into national parks. Europe, including England amid their Brexit vote/crisis, do not charge for one’s admission into national parks. This is quite interesting seeing that here in Iceland, with the rapid increase of tourism over the past few years, and the expected high of 2.3 million tourists this summer, the government has yet to come up with a plan to build infrastructure (such as bathrooms) needed in tourist areas.
With the lack of infrastructure in place, the environment becomes severely damaged as people do things such as walk off trails to dispose of garbage amongst other things. Therefore, the need for infrastructure is critical in countries such as Iceland in order to minimize human impact on the environment.
As a reader and concerned citizen, what do you think sustainable/sustainability means, and do you think there is such a thing as sustainable tourism?
by Allison Crawford