The Nature of Tourism and the Path to Sustainability

View of Volcan Madura from my room at Totoco EcoLodge

View of Volcan Madura from my room at Totoco EcoLodge

This morning, while sipping my hot coffee and surfing the hi-speed internet, I sit waiting for my brunch of homemade yogurt and fresh fruits, accompanied by a three egg omelette. I really could be anywhere in the world right now. Some boutique farm to table spot in a trendy part of NYC or Austin. Maybe a Denny’s in the middle of Oklahoma (well, if it weren’t for the homemade yogurt part). Hell, I could be at an airport in Singapore waiting for my connecting flight to Hong Kong.

But none of the above would be correct.

Current location: Nicaragua’s Isle de Ometepe, overlooking the lake-beach which is surrounded by two magnificent and active volcanoes.  As of now, this gem of a spot is still a semi- secret, but without a doubt, in the next couple of years it will be fully baked by the ovens of tourism.

The question is: is this impeding influx of tourism a good or bad thing?

We have seen it before, and we will surely see it again until the end of time…Ko Phi Phi of Thailand, Playa Tamarindo in Costa Rica, Antigua in Guatemala, and Kuta Beach in Bali, just to name a few. Once a spot gets hot, everyone wants to go. It is common to hear backpackers complain amongst one another (much like hipsters whine about fashion and music), how the “place is so over” and “has been ruined by tourism”. On to the next pristine spot.  On to the hidden gem yet to be discovered by the masses of tourists. On to the new “it” place on the backpacker circuit- That is until it really becomes the “it” place for all types of tourists, and is “oh, so over.”

So who do we have to blame? And most importantly, should we really be wasting time blaming anyone at all?

First of all, I guess we should first look at the people who are bringing the tourists to these remote places in the first place- the backpacker in search of someplace off the beaten path. Every year, flocks of adventurers take off on pilgrimages in search for unspoilt stretches of beaches, and traditional, quite towns and villages. But just like anything good-art, music, books, etc, word will get out, especially in our current social media paradigm of Twitter, Facebook, etc. So if we are looking for a scapegoat, I guess we could blame these bright eyed and bushy tailed explorers for bringing in the noise.

Last week, I stayed at a friendly ecolodge located on Ometepe. The owner of Totoco Ecolodge, an amiable, tall Dutch man by the name of Martijn, shared the effects of tourism with me. The conversation started while discussing the new airport that is currently being built on the island, which will be a gateway for a bombardment of tourists.

He was pretty adamant that an increase of tourism is good for the island, because it brings in money. Seeing as Martijn is a big supporter of the sustainable tourism movement, I was quick to ask him his feelings about the effects of the tourist developments along the lot of Hilton, 4 Seasons, etc. (Although Omeptepe has a far way to go for the Four Seasons).

From his response, I quickly learned that he is a realist, stemming from his jaded views of human kind. This was somewhat disappointing for me, because I look up to him as a catalyst in the sustainable tourism movement. Isn’t he supposed to be positive and hopeful? But no. He said those big time developers will come in, because it is the nature of economics. As long as there is money to be had, they will flock. It is just a matter of time.

And he is right.

Wow. Remember that feeling when you found out unicorns weren’t real?

But Martijn does have some optimism for the future of human kind. He is a firm believer that all of our selfishness brought on by our economic drive that dismantles our capacity to love, are indeed not innate, but are all learned behaviours. In his eyes, nurture rules over nature.

So should we be worried about the onslaught of development? I say yes, if exploitation is involved. Otherwise, it is just the natural order of things.

However, the most important question is: how do we move into a new consciousness of appreciation for our planet, its resources, and all the humans we inhabit it with? According to Martijn, by teaching our children how to love one at a time. And he is starting with his one year old daughter Henrietta.

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