tourists looking at the sea
Photo: VIDAR NORDLI MATHISEN/UNSPLASH

The social responsibilities of the tourism industry 

Long before the coronavirus epidemic induced a slumber upon tourism, there had been mighty rumblings among the environmentalists concerning the huge carbon footprint caused by this industry’s frenetic pursuit of logistic expansion. 

Throughout Europe, cities, historic locations and beach resorts groaned under the burden of accommodating nearly 500 million passengers arriving yearly – mostly by low-cost airline flights but also by  cruise liners and cheap rail passes.

Mass tourism, encouraged by cash-hungry councils, had become a monster despite the social discontent of local citizens whose neighbourhoods were transformed into hot spots of costly short-term rentals, bars, clubs, outlets for fast food and souvenir shopping.

Although the industry emerged last year from its coma, its leaders have continued to disregard the burgeoning crisis caused by climatic change and the necessity to  exercise a discipline to drastically reduce the associated pollution which has a potential for leading to economic and social disaster.

Mr. André Jordan OBE, the doyen of Algarve’s famous golden triangle of tourism, recommended two years ago that the way forward lay with “Residential Tourism – A Better Alternative” whereby marketing should be directed principally to affluent and sophisticated people of good education, wealth and experienced lifestyle who will firstly sample the high living of quality hotels and then invest in top-end real estate which will not only enable relaxation but serve as a pleasing location for distance working via the internet.

He suggested the reinforcement of existing facilities such as golf courses, marinas and private aerodromes and even went on to suggest a reduction in the rate of VAT to 10% to encourage this economic growth.

Perhaps he had a point. The recommended reduction and eventual exclusion of “low-end tourism” and its associated squandering of natural resources is environmentally sound and Portuguese workers who have been displaced by tourism will be able to return to the fields and factories to produce the food and goods which the elite deserve through their investment.

The not-so-posh majority of tourists who add very little, by comparison, to Portugal’s wealth will thus be reduced in number with the ending of ‘Local Accommodation’ and the plague of discontent induced by Airbnb and other tour operators. Hopefully, this will encourage the eventual return to the social housing market of apartments and houses at affordable rents for the Portuguese.

But this is too serious a subject to be trite. Tourism and its profligate cousin – fashion – must volunteer an irrevocable agenda for self-regulation which will diminish seriously threatening dangers and result in a culturally acceptable mode of reduced travel for all sections of the community. If it does not, government regulation and rationing become inevitable.

Comment By Roberto Cavaleiro