Nine regions to reconsider in 2024.
It might seem incongruous that Fodor’s, which aims to inspire travel, publishes an annual No List, which actively discourages tourism. But the No List isn’t a hit piece. It’s not a round-up of spots we revile–but a declaration of places we revere.
We love these destinations. And we know you love them, too. But our frenzied admiration and incessant need to experience them–whether prompted by the “Instagram effect” or the bucket-list rebound–are not sustainable.
That’s why the 2024 No List focuses on three main areas of tourist impact–overtourism, trash production, and water quality and sufficiency–which not only harm the destinations themselves, but the local communities who rely on them.
We hope this list will encourage readers to find new ways to interact with some of the world’s most iconic attractions, rather than avoid them altogether. For all its negatives, tourism is also hugely positive–it bridges cultures, builds awareness, improves economies, and connects us to the land that gives us life. But only when done with care.
As conscientious travelers, we need to constantly ensure that we’re treating our world–and the places we adore–with respect. Because right now we’re hurting the ones we love most–and these destinations are crying out for relief.
Key takeaway: Venice has been plagued with overtourism for years and continues to be unable to resolve its problems. Their newest method of curbing visitors, a modest entry fee, is unlikely to work as a disincentive for tourists.
Long preoccupied with engulfment by water, Venice now agonizes over drowning in tourists. The rising tide of visitors continues to strain an already fragile beauty and is leading to adverse effects for people and place.
Venice is no stranger to the No List, appearing on it in 2018 after large cruise ships were banned due to lagoon ecosystem damage, and also last year, citing the “unpalatable ratio” of visitors per resident. Despite action by the Venice city council, things have not improved.
After multiple delays, the city has finally agreed to implement a €5 tourist tax for “hit and run” day trippers in 2024. It will be trialed for 30 non-consecutive days during select spring and summer weekends. Visitors will have to pre-book tickets, and there will be some exemptions, such as travelers under the age of 14 and Veneto region inhabitants seeing family members in the city. There have also been proposals to erect turnstiles at busy city access points to ameliorate tourist flow issues.
Many Venetians have deemed the crowd-combatting measures insufficient, leading to mass protests. A group of concerned Venetians wrote an open letter condemning the plan as insufficient: “No remotely competent person can believe that the application of an entrance ticket for 30 days over the course of a year could influence the management of tourist flows in a city that welcomes 30 million visitors.”
Susan Steer, the Venice representative of the Venice in Peril Fund (VIPF), a UK non-profit aimed at the conservation of Venice and its artistic and historic legacy, notes that many locals are skeptical of the entry fee, which puts Venice on par with a theme park that charges people to enter. “It is unlikely to work as a disincentive,” she says. “The tax is tiny, so will not be prohibitive, there will be no gate system–that would cause chaos–and enforcement is likely to be piecemeal at best.”
Day-trippers, who do not make substantial contributions to the economy, are not the only source of Venice’s problems, according to Steer. “Recent years have seen the construction of thousands of new hotel beds in nearby Mestre, which is technically part of the city of Venice,” she notes. “This has gentrified a very run-down area, but at the same time, these are budget hotels whose guests are now putting immense pressure on local transport networks getting into Venice.”
The VIPF was the first of several international organizations founded following an appeal by UNESCO and the Italian government after Venice’s 1966 flood disaster. Its chairman, Guy Elliot, similarly pinpoints traffic as one of the city’s pressing challenges. “Venice was not built or adorned in the expectation of such large crowds,” Elliott says. “Traffic of any kind affects the integrity of architecture and works of art as well as the environment generally. All are damaged to some degree. For example, the foundations of buildings are under assault from, among other factors, the moto ondoso, the wave action caused by motorboat traffic.”
In addition to Venice’s architecture and artifacts, its permanent residents are also in danger. Advocacy group Venessia.com Association estimates that there are fewer than 50,000 remaining residents in Venice and laments that citizenship there is “becoming extinct.” Locals have been priced out as landlords prioritize renting per night to travelers who pay more, and resident-focused businesses, like hardware stores and butchers, have transformed into tourist-friendly emporiums selling t-shirts and gelato. Ultimately, Venice may have been too successful in attracting tourists while becoming unlivable for residents.
The dire situation in Venice has prompted UNESCO to act. They proposed adding Venice to its World Heritage in Danger list in 2021 and again in 2023 due to “irreversible” damage caused by climate change and mass tourism. In July, a draft resolution outlined several concerns for Venice and its lagoon, such as the “impacts of tourism/visitor/recreation, including damage to building fabric and cultural context, through conversion of residences for tourist accommodation or commercial use.” Eventually, during UNESCO’s 45th World Heritage Committee meeting in September, a panel vote kept Venice off the list, which could have jeopardized the city’s World Heritage status. Responding positively to the verdict, Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro called it a “great victory.”
“The world has understood all the work we have done to defend our city,” he wrote.
Though it may have been a temporary relief to keep its status, no one should consider the continual deterioration of Venice as a victory.
Key takeaway: Excessive tourism and a lack of approved management plans are causing damage to the Acropolis and the loss of traditional ways of life in surrounding neighborhoods.
Post-economic crisis, political unrest, and pandemic, the Greek tourism bureau sang the marketing siren song, bringing travelers flooding into Athens. There’s fear that if the surge of visitors continues unchecked, the most Athenian boroughs will culturally erode and physically disappear.
Athens’ top tourist attraction, the Acropolis, and its iconic monuments, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Propylaea entrance, have seen a record boost in visitors–around 17,000 people daily. But that number is far too many for the UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to World Heritage Watch, a non-governmental organization that supports UNESCO, the Acropolis does not have the tourism control plans required by the UN World Heritage Convention, even though Greece is a signatory. To combat the volume of tourists, the Greek government issued a new timed-entry system for visits which started this September. However, the new “Visitor Zones” system allows a daily cap of 20,000 visitors–fewer than the 23,000 daily visitors at peak tourism times but still thousands more than the current average.
While most overtourism outcry has focused on the number of visitors going through the monuments, heritage watchdogs have also been monitoring damage to the living rock itself.
“The rock of the Acropolis has traces of the original primitive cults and pre-classical and post-classical monumental phases,” says Dr. Tasos Tanoulas, architect, preservationist, and president of the Greek National Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which is the official technical advisor of UNESCO. “The rock is as much of a palimpsest and material evidence of pre-history and history as the monuments.”
Not many come to the Acropolis to take photos of the ground, but it should be just as revered as a Parthenon selfie. UNESCO credits this hill as the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, theater, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech, “which provide to this day the intellectual and spiritual foundation for the contemporary world and its values.” But in 2020, the Greek Ministry of Culture paved paradise to cater to more tourists. And part of that intellectual and spiritual foundation is now covered in fresh reinforced concrete, which Tanoulas reports has sealed access to 5th-century B.C.E. antiquities, as well as the living rock underneath.
Management plans are required for all UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, but this construction happened without one. Now the World Heritage Watch is sounding the alarm before future paving happens–pavement that could cover nearly the whole of the Acropolis plateau as well as vestiges of older or minor buildings. Tanoulas has monitored the impact of this new construction for three years for the World Heritage Watch annual report, and this year’s update says the construction “circumvented the Greek legal frameworks and international standard-setting instruments concerning the preservation of cultural heritage monuments.”
“Certainly, all the historic sites of Athens may concern World Heritage Watch, but for the moment, the Acropolis is the focus of attention because of the problems rising from excessive tourism and the radical measures taken without a management plan demanded for a UNESCO World Heritage Monument,” says Tanoulas.
What’s worse is that the new pathway didn’t alleviate much congestion. “The cementation of the Acropolis has not solved the problem of tourists’ access, as the long queues of this year prove,” he says. “The crowds on the Acropolis are practically out of control, and damages to the Propylaia, which is the only way in and out the Acropolis plateau, have been officially reported. The Ministry of Culture announced that they have a plan to ‘widen’ the Propylaia to facilitate the traffic of the western access of the rock. What this could mean is unthinkable; something similar could happen only in an imaginary dystopia.”
For Tanoulas, it’s a flash-in-the-pan pathway that’s not worth the sacrifice of thousands of years of history. And the erasure cheapens the value of this site. “All is becoming a scenery, a kind of theatrical set for tourists who will see the place shortly and then go–getting no real experience of the place,” he says.
While historians try to protect Athena’s temple, residents of central Athens are trying to protect other popular tourist attractions: their homes. Nestled under the Acropolis, the charming old neighborhood of Plaka, which sits atop layers and layers of ancient Athens history and hillside, is buckling from the massive crowds. And it’s losing its iconic charm in exchange for more tourist bucks. Residents say that a 1999 presidential decree that was supposed to protect the character of Plaka has been ignored. While new hotels are not permitted, many of the historic buildings are being flipped for Airbnbs, and the government has turned a blind eye to other “land uses,” such as using rooftops for new restaurants and bars. The use of rooftops is prohibited for these neoclassical buildings, and residents say they’ve been sleeping with earplugs because of the mix of loud music from each new venue.
“The historic center of Athens is pretty small,” says Tina Kyriakis, founder of Alternative Athens, a tour company that focuses on locally-owned businesses and off-the-beaten path experiences. “The center has been flooded with hotels, Airbnb apartments, eateries, bars, cafes, restaurants. And while there is nothing wrong with new venues opening–many are very interesting additions to the urban tissue–when these new venues push daily local life out of the city and no longer co-exist with the traditional aspects of Athenian life, the city loses its interest and becomes monothematic and consequently flat. Athens is not an open-air museum like Paris, Rome, Barcelona, or Venice. Its charm is its local life. And if the local life is no longer interesting, what will attract the future visitor to this city?”
Losing the charm of Athens means losing its authenticity, too. And it’s not sustainable. According to the Greek Tourism Confederation, visits in 2022 skyrocketed post-pandemic, but both the amount of time and money spent on holidays went down. Rather, Athens has faced a new problem: a wave of day-tripping tourists coming from cruise ships. In 2022, Athens saw 760 cruise ships–more than ever before.
“Cruise ships are causing the biggest crowd problem on the Acropolis,” says Kyriakis. “We know when there are many in Athens because the situation is just chaotic for the monument on those days. Imagine nine cruise ships with 2,000-3,000 passengers each on the same day. There is very little benefit to the city from cruise ships. Most of the visitors will eat on the cruise ship and they will shop for small souvenirs. They will do tours of 50 people with one guide and will use a transfer to and from the cruise ship. The vast part of the income from these services will stay with the cruise ship company and the ground handler. What will remain to the city is the chaos caused by the visitors and the burden on the sites.”
Mount Fuji, Japan
Key takeaway: Visitors aren’t fully recognizing the risks and detrimental effects of climbing Mount Fuji and are putting themselves at physical risk while overcrowding a sacred summit.
Symmetrical, sacred, and often snow-capped, Japan’s highest peak has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Mount Fuji was called “Fujisan, Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration,” and in recent times, it has been inspiring hordes of hikers hoping to reach its summit. In their trail, avalanches of rubbish are left for volunteers to clear, including urine-filled plastic bottles. Many climbers opt not to pay the voluntary 1,000-yen (US $6.70) cooperation fee that helps with safety and conservation.
Scaling the 3,776-meter (12,388-foot) mountain is a prized and increasingly commercialized experience. There is a summit post office for sending postcards and letters, an official app to prevent getting lost, and Wi-Fi signals were installed in 2015 for navigation, safety, and naturally, social media check-ins. It is also a dangerous pursuit. Risks include hypothermia and altitude sickness as well as fatal blows from falling rocks. Some ill-equipped climbers are also risking their lives on “bullet climbs,” whereby they hike in the dark through the night without breaking up the journey by resting in a mountainside hut (as is advised), take in the sunrise, and then descend on the same day. The already arduous hike is made more perilous as human bottlenecks form along the way, raising the risk of accidents.
Richard Campbell climbed Mount Fuji on September 9 via the Fujinomiya trail, right before the mountain closed for the year (climbing season lasts from early July to early September). An avid traveler and mountaineer, it is the busiest hike he has ever been on. “The experience was incredible but also reminded me a bit of those photos you see on Mount Everest with hundreds of people in line,” says Campbell, who founded 10Adventures, a private adventure travel booking platform. “Looking up or back down, it was humans every meter or two, as far as the eye could see.” Campbell reports that the route is quite rugged with numerous pinch points. He had to descend in stops and starts when getting stuck behind slower hikers and often had to wait in line while large groups passed by.
Figures released by Japan’s Ministry of Environment showed that during this year’s climbing season, 221,322 people ascended Fujisan’s four hiking trails: 137,236 went via the jam-packed Yoshida trail in Yamanashi, one of two prefectures that Mount Fuji straddles; the less-visited Shizuoka Prefecture has three routes, which received 49,545 (Fujinomiya), 19,062 (Subashiri), and 15,479 (Gotemba) hikers each.
It isn’t only the summit that’s besieged. The Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station on the Yoshida trail, 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) above sea level, is a popular start and end point for visitors, where an assortment of souvenir shops and restaurants serving Fuji-shaped rice portions await. Accessible by (electric) car and bus, some four million people visited it this summer, a 50% increase from 2013 when Mount Fuji was awarded UNESCO heritage status.
To safeguard its legacy, several communities around the sacred mountain sent the Yamanashi prefectural government an official request in June, pleading with them to introduce additional safety measures and limit the number of hikers permitted on trails. A cap of 4,000 trekkers per day has been proposed but implementation seems uncertain. It is hoped that a still-to-be-built light rail service will one day replace the current access road to the busy Yoshida Trail 5th Station, allowing officials to limit entry while attracting a more upmarket, intentional traveler.
As things currently stand, Mount Fuji itself is not the place to find the stillness and sanctity that inspired countless poems and paintings from Japanese folklore; the active stratovolcano is now best admired from a distance.
San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, California
Key takeaway: The number of visitors combined with lack of oversight and environmental awareness has led to the deterioration of what should be a natural oasis for Los Angeles County.
Officially designated to the National Forest Service by President Obama in 2014, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is comprised of land from both the Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest. The area makes up about 70% of available open green space for Angelenos. It was intended to be the “crown to the Valley of Angels.” Not even a decade later, the crown is covered in trash, tagged with graffiti, and posing an increasing threat to nature.
While the land earned a National Monument title, the National Forest Service wasn’t given additional funds for the new portfolio addition in 2014. So in the absence of employees, volunteers have stepped up to try to tackle the trash.
Three times a month, volunteers from the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders meet for trail maintenance. But they also have to help with trash efforts, from cleanup to scrubbing graffiti and addressing vandalism. Another volunteer group, East Fork’s Golden Preservation, is solely dedicated to removing trash along the East Fork River. The group weighs the amount of trash from the site after each meetup. A recent two-hour session saw more than 800 pounds of trash. To date, they’ve cleared more than 8,000 pounds of trash. But the problem isn’t really trash–it’s the people.
“It’s the number of people that are impacting the areas,” says Mark Stanley, Executive Director of The San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. “It’s what’s being left behind. It’s the fact that, yes, it gets graffitied, and apparently, it’s difficult [for the National Forest Service] to keep up with the maintenance of seven facilities. And, of course, with that number of visitors and the lack of oversight that’s there, it’s impacting the habitat.”
The San Gabriel River runs through the mountains. The largest headwater, the East Fork area, has become a swimming hole oasis, but it’s also turned to blight amid piles of trash, and its use is impacting the surrounding environment.
“The rivers are being dammed to create swimming areas,” Stanley said. “In the riverbed itself, we have an endangered species called the Santa Ana sucker. And, of course, with people building rock dams and changing the flow of the water, that’s impacting the fish. And it impacts not only fauna that’s endangered but all the other fauna as well.”
While Stanley and other environmental leaders can try to help with capital planning and share research, their hands are tied when it comes to operations. The National Forest Service has the final say on habitat protection, visitor management, and infrastructure within the 346,177-acre National Monument. And currently, the latter is lacking, as there’s no visitor’s center, unlike older, more famous National Monuments managed by the National Park Service. Fodor’s reached out to the San Gabriel Forest Service and their PR office but did not receive comment.
Stanley says it’s not just about financial resources, and the problem won’t get solved just by hiring more employees or building a visitor’s center.
“It’s about stewardship resources. It’s about awareness,” he says. “Yes, we need additional financial resources, but we also need to create better awareness and educate people about the impacts that they’re making. A lot of people don’t even know that swimming in that river and creating pools is disturbing the habitat… And I can’t fault people who just may not know. They’re looking for a place to get out and be out in nature.”
Monument status means nothing if a monument isn’t revered. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is Indigenous Tongva land, home to 300 California-endemic species that only grow in the San Gabriel Range, and includes more than 600 archeological sites with evidence of more than 8,000 years of human history.
“Yes, we need additional dollars,” Stanley added. “We need funding. But we also need understanding as well.”
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Key takeaway: Management of Ha Long Bay’s tourist boating activities along with growing fishing communities are contributing to refuse and diesel in the water, and attempts to curb pollution are easily circumvented and only half-heartedly enforced.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Vietnam’s popular tourist destination of Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin in Quảng Ninh province, attracts millions of travelers. This breathtaking seascape, comprising 1,600 islands and islets of towering limestone karsts cloaked in rainforests rising from the emerald sea waters, is a quick, three-hour bus ride from Hanoi. However, overtourism and marine pollution have been putting pressure on the ecosystem for decades. The number of visitors to Ha Long Bay in 2022 was more than seven million and is expected to be around eight and a half million in 2023.
On bay cruises, it’s not uncommon for visitors to see water bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, and fishing-related refuse floating in the water along with rainbow-colored streaks of oil and grease from tourist boating activities. Junk from residential areas and fishing communities lines parts of the beaches.
“The trash is certainly an issue and will be a part of your experience the entire time,” says digital nomad Johnny Chen of Johnny Africa, who spent a month in Vietnam in 2023 and wrote about the problems with visiting Ha Long Bay. “There would be patches of trash that were sizable and disgusting, and other areas where there were a few stray pieces of trash. The pictures of Ha Long Bay are incredible from above, it may tell a different story on the surface,” he says about his three-day cruise experience in April.
Despite a ban on single-use plastic on boats since 2019, Chen was offered small water bottles onboard. Other travelers had similar experiences as evidenced by TripAdvisor reviews that called the bay dirty, polluted with Styrofoam litter, and crowded with a “greasy layer of ‘scum’ that floats by in waves.”
“The problem in the bay right now is that there’s too many people there and they don’t have an effective waste management treatment solution,” says David, who studied marine pollution in the bay and has been living in Hanoi for more than five years. He has requested anonymity fearing reprisals (David is not his real name). “All the plastic is going straight into the water, and they have far too many people going on huge cruise liners.”
In Vietnam, by law, three-star hotels and cruises must provide two water bottles per person, per room. David says the authorities don’t have the infrastructure to deal with all the plastic waste.
A 2020 baseline study estimated that 28,283 tons of plastic waste is generated annually in Ha Long Bay, with 5,272 tons ending up in the sea. A whopping 34 tons of total waste is produced daily by tourist activities, affecting not just the tourist experience, but also the fragile ecosystem. There were once 234 types of coral reefs in the bay, but only half of them remain.
Another problem exacerbating the trash issue, David says, is the growing fishing communities around the bay. The polystyrene-based floating pods that are used crumble over time and produce a powder that washes up on the beach. These microplastics are now found in fish species, creating a threat to food safety. Ha Long Bay also has 20,600 hectares of farming ponds. A recent government mandate required fish farms to replace Styrofoam buoys with sustainable alternatives; many of the discarded Styrofoam buoys were then dumped into the bay. According to the Ha Long Bay Management Board, around 10,000 cubic meters of trash (including Styrofoam buoys) have been collected since March. The Board claims trash is being collected daily.
Another issue visitors face is the sheer volume of boats in Ha Long Bay. Phil Sharman, who runs The Hungry Travellers blog and was in Vietnam earlier this year, says, “Every cruise boat from the mainland aims for the same central area, so it’s like ‘ship city’ for the time you are there.”
Chen had a similar experience. “I could easily count 30 other boats around me, and the magical views of the Ha Long Bay limestone peaks were accompanied by hordes of cruise boats, including one party boat that had music blasting until 11 p.m.”
The quantity of ships contributes to the pollution. While some cruise companies operate well-designed and well-maintained boats, others are running on diesel that is leaking into the bay. A 62-year-old woman from Ireland, who asked not to be named, had a trip to remember in October after a swim in the bay left her covered in an orange film. “The scenery was beautiful, but I found it strange that they were hosing all of us down and offering brown colored towels back on the boat,” she shares. Others assumed it was a false tan coming off, but she realized it was diesel from the cruise ship. “The water didn’t feel like normal sea water; it was very calm, very silky and smooth on my skin, and there was no fish. There was no sign of life.”
Meanwhile, the rapid growth of Ha Long City, with an amusement park, luxury hotels, a cable car, and new residential areas, is putting added pressure on the ecosystem; the city only has the capacity to handle 40% percent of its wastewater.
Ha Long Bay needs a sustained effort by the government and tour operators to take appropriate actions to prioritize protecting the natural wonder. According to a blog post by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, it may be “necessary to reduce visitor numbers based on an objective assessment of the site’s carrying capacity.”
While restricting tourism would affect the lives of many people with no alternatives for income in the short term, not protecting the very thing that draws people could have long-term consequences. One way to ensure economic benefit while protecting the bay is by implementing a tourist tax and investing the income directly into cleanup, says David. Installing water fountains on boats and ensuring that the boats are compliant with environmental regulations could also help.
“This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that very status puts a responsibility on nations to protect them. They should not be changed or allowed to deteriorate,” says Sharman.
The Atacama Desert, Chile
Key takeaway: Chile markets the Atacama Desert as one of its finest natural resources, but that is at odds with how it manages the environmental preservation of the desert.
The Atacama Desert, along Chile’s Pacific coast, is made for superlatives, from its broad, sandy plains to its active geysers, emerald lagoons, otherworldly salt deposits, and windswept bluffs, bordered by the towering peaks of the western Andes. It’s marketed as an ethereal natural wonder and one of the country’s most romantic tourist attractions, including winning the World Travel Awards for most romantic destination. But it’s under threat from an unexpected force: our penchant for inexpensive clothing.
The fast-fashion industry creates 92 million tons of textile waste per year. That jacket from the sale rack at a store that sells mass-produced clothing might seem like a bargain at $15, but once it’s out of style, it’s destined to end up here. Chile is South America’s largest importer of used clothing, accepting 60,000 tons of unwanted garments per year, mostly from the U.S., Europe, and Asia. In the port city of Iquique, about 1,100 miles from Santiago, clothing merchants purchase garments by the shipping containerful for pennies on the dollar. Because the Chilean government doesn’t allow the dumping of textiles in landfills, merchants sort out the pieces they can resell. Everything else—as much as 85%—are tossed in a dump in the Atacama Desert, one so large that satellites have spotted it from space.
Kirsi Niinimäki, Associate Professor in Design at Aalto University in Finland, an expert in sustainable fashion and textiles, says, “The biggest problem is that more than 50% of clothing fibers are some kind of blend, such as cotton with polyester, polyamide, or Lycra, or something else that doesn’t actually compost at all, or needs a couple hundred years [to disintegrate].” Even natural fabrics like cotton, she says, are often treated with dyes and stain- or weather-proofing chemicals, which can leach into the ground. “The situation is quite unique [in the Atacama],” Niinimäki says. “I haven’t seen anything comparable.”
In an effort to curtail the problem, an “annual fire of great proportions” is ignited to reduce the textiles to ash and spidery polymer fibers. This spews toxic compounds into the air, threatening the health of wildlife and of nearby residents, especially those without the financial means to move to other housing.
Edgard Ortega, environmental manager of the municipality of Alto Hospicio, a Chilean municipality and commune located next to Iquique, noted in a BBC interview that “it is known that at least 60% [of what is imported] is waste or disposable and that is what ends up in the hills. Since there is no legal provision, the only solution is to burn [the clothes].” Ortega added, “Alto Hospicio is a vulnerable commune…Poor people pay the price for this business model that no one wants to take charge of.”
Previous reporting about the Atacama clothing dumps mentions several companies at work recycling the fibers, including PakChile and Ecocitex. However, Fodor’s emails to PakChile bounced; and the founder of Ecocitex declined to reply. Inquiries to Chile’s Ministry of the Environment, the Undersecretary of Tourism, and Chile Tourism went unanswered.
Although the Chilean government’s Extended Liability of the Producer law holds importers responsible for waste such as electronics and batteries, some groups have called for similar laws for textiles. Still, Chile currently doesn’t have enough human resources to control the illegal transport or dumping of garments. And so the cycle continues, threatening the unique biodiversity of one of the world’s most spectacular places.
Chile heavily markets the Atacama Desert as one of its best tourist attractions, an adventure land, where visitors are called on to practice “sustainable and conscious tourism.” But how the country presents one of its finest natural resources is at odds with how it manages the desert.
Niinimäki says, “The way we can really enact change is through legislation. Many countries are looking at what happens in the European Union currently, where there are several proposals underway. We are hoping that a big change is coming.”
Water Quality and Sufficiency
Key takeaway: The largest freshwater lake on the planet is facing fish-consumption advisories, ecosystem threats like invasive species and algae blooms, and stresses from overtourism, especially in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The mighty Lake Superior is called gichi-gami, “great sea,” by the Ojibwe for its vastness and massive waves. The largest Great Lake has made a significant recovery after the destruction wrought upon it by the centuries-long fur trade, 19th-century mining and logging, and post-WWII industrial production. However, the threat to the largest freshwater lake by surface area, containing 10% of the planet’s total freshwater, remains. Pollution-related fish-consumption advisories continue to affect communities, warming waters are causing algal blooms, and national parks and other natural areas are experiencing a surge in tourism, stressing the environment and local communities.
“It is the least polluted of the Great Lakes,” says Joel Brammeier, President and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, adding that is precisely why it must be protected. “Tourism is part of the lifeblood of Lake Superior, as it brings people to this beautiful place, but it has to be done in a way that consistently leaves the place better because communities depend on it.”
Indigenous people began inhabiting the boreal forests surrounding Lake Superior approximately 8,500 to 10,000 years ago. The Ojibwe, who call themselves Anishinaabe, came from the East Coast to the Great Lakes in the 1400s, subsisting on game, wild rice, and fish. Fish remains a staple, but it is threatened by pollutants. Fish consumption advisories in the Great Lakes began in 1971, and continue to undermine Indigenous health, economies, traditions, and cultures. In 2021, Wisconsin issued an advisory recommending against consuming more than one rainbow smelt during the spring. Fish around the spiritual homeland of the Ojibwe on Madeline Island in Wisconsin were found with elevated levels of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), human-made “forever chemicals” linked to cancer, a result of mining and manufacturing. Michigan and Minnesota followed up with similar advisories.
“For a lot of Native nations that live either on Lake Superior or in close proximity to it, fish has been the backbone of not only tribal economies but ways of life for a long time. These continual advisories have the potential to be really devastating,” says Katrina Phillips, a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe and Associate Professor of History at Macalester College. “In so many instances, First Nations are the people that bear the brunt of environmental degradation.” The Red Cliff reservation sits on the lake’s southern coastline and is a fishing community at its core.
Lake Superior is also facing invasive species, like sea lamprey, spiny water fleas, and zebra mussels that are hitching a ride on boats and threatening the ecosystem. More pressing is climate change. “The summer surface temperatures of Lake Superior have jumped dramatically since the 1990s. Tourists are starting to see algae blooms in the western end of the lake because the water is getting warmer,” says Brammeier. Lake Superior is among the fastest-warming lakes in the world. Algae blooms, seen as thick green scum, thrive when the water body is warm and overloaded with nutrition from agriculture. Some blooms produce toxins, which could threaten Indigenous treaty rights to hunt, fish, and cultivate wild rice.
Once Lake Superior rebounded from earlier destruction, thanks to the 1972 Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Quality Agreement, tourists began to arrive in search of solitude and pristine nature. Last year, cruising in the Great Lakes brought a record number of 150,000 passengers, garnering mixed feelings from locals. Every summer, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gets visitors hoping to enjoy its beautiful forests and lakes, and the local economy depends on this tourism boom. But as popularity began to grow in the 2010s, it’s kicked off a frenzy that’s proving to be unsustainable.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, “campgrounds are completely overrun, the parking lots and restaurants can’t keep up, trash is everywhere,” says lifelong Munising resident, Paul, who requested a pseudonym to protect his identity in his small town. Paul can no longer enjoy the park without paying a fee. In March 2022, the park began to collect entrance fees for the first time. “This is my backyard, and I can’t even bring my dog to the same beach that I have ever since I was a child. I can’t have a relaxing day on Miners Beach without being surrounded by inconsiderate kayakers.”
Apartments are being converted into vacation rentals to accommodate tourists. Paul says it’s hard for younger people to rent, and hopes for more regulation on Airbnbs, or that the government allocates some of the increased revenue to build rental homes. “We don’t have the infrastructure to handle the amount of people we get.”
Increased tourism is causing more marine litter, leading to habitat destruction, shoreline erosion, and affecting overall water quality. Last year, over six tons of marine debris, including plastic, tires, fishing gear, and even bicycles and appliances, was removed by the Superior Watershed Partnership. More cleanups are scheduled along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Marquette County, in the Upper Peninsula, launched the “Respect Marquette” campaign in Spring 2022. In partnership with Leave No Trace and 40 coalition members across the county, their goal was to address the impact of tourists who came to the area seeking less densely populated locations during the pandemic. This first-of-its-kind partnership in the state urges everyone to enjoy its natural splendor with mindfulness towards nature through seven Leave No Trace principles.
“Since launching, we have definitely seen a positive impact on our natural spaces in decreased littering, less trail erosion, decreases in overcrowding, and more,” says Susan Estler, CEO of Travel Marquette. “Equally encouraging, we have noticed a change in the mindset of locals and visitors alike.” While this campaign sets a strong example for respectfully enjoying the outdoors, let’s hope other parts of the Lake Superior region take note and enact similar campaigns.
“The Ojibwe have lived here for hundreds of years. I would love for tourists to take a moment to recognize and understand that they are a guest on someone’s homelands,” says Phillips. “There are sustainable and responsible ways to be tourists, but being a respectful tourist is just as, if not more, important.”
The Ganges River, India
Key takeaway: The most important river in India faces issues of reduced flow, floating pollution, and the endangerment of its river dolphins–all exacerbated by a new luxury river cruise industry.
The MV Ganga Vilas river cruise ship set sail in January for a 50-day, 1,988-mile voyage along the River Ganges (or Ganga) from Varanasi in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. A ticket on the world’s longest river cruise was priced at Rs 20 lakhs ($24,000).
With just 36 tourists in 18 suites and a crew of 40, the MV Ganga Vilas is expected to set a precedent of luxury cruising in India, supporting national parks and local communities. However, alarm bells are ringing about the increase in river tourism on the Ganges.
The Ganges is considered sacred by the Hindus and gives sustenance to more than 500 million people. Over 40% of the country’s GDP is generated along the river basin.
But for decades, it has faced pollution. The Central Pollution Control Board reported in July that 46% of India’s 603 rivers are polluted, and the Ganges tops the charts. According to a 2015 World Bank report, almost 800 million gallons of sewage is dumped into the river daily, most of which is untreated. It is then used for irrigation, drinking, and other household chores by people living in the towns and villages along its banks. In January, fecal coliform was recorded in at least 71% of the river’s monitoring systems.
The river is considered to be the embodiment of Goddess Ganga, the goddess of purification, and many religious practices center around it. The water is considered pure, so people take dips in the river, drink its holy water, and use the water to cleanse their homes and surroundings. In Varanasi, the dead are cremated on the banks of the river and the remains are released into the water. It’s not uncommon to find floating bodies in the river—in 2015, more than 100 were recovered.
G. Asok Kumar, Director General of the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) at India’s Ministry of Jal Shakti (water), says that tourism is also responsible for the deteriorating health of the river. The basin is home to mythological, historical, and industrial cities, and there are 23 Ramsar Sites (internationally important wetlands), natural parks, and tiger reserves in the area that bring tourists all through the year.
“In the Arth-Kumbh [a religious gathering] in 2019, nearly 200 million people congregated in a three-month period to take a holy dip in the river. Meeting the water and sanitation demand of this floating population and handling the plastics and waste left behind by these tourists is a big challenge,” says Kumar.
A flagship project of the current Indian government is Namami Gange, a mission to conserve the Ganges. The government has initiated 409 projects worth $4.5 billion to clean up the river, including sewage treatment plants, surface cleaning, afforestation, sustainable farming, and awareness and education for communities. The initial plan began in 2014 and was supposed to take five years and cost $3 billion. By comparison, the restoration of the Rhine River, which is only 766 miles, cost $45 billion and took three decades.
The current clean-up efforts have shown an improvement in water quality, according to a government report.
And Kumar says, that Ganges tourism supports communities. Women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) recycle or upcycle natural products of the river basin with assistance from the Arth Ganga project, a government initiative to highlight the cultural heritage and tourism along the river. Kumar says this has “helped them become social entrepreneurs.”
Nevertheless, research and reports are showing that pollution remains a major problem even after years of efforts.
Just this year, Haridwar, a holy town along the Ganges, was littered with 30,000 tons of garbage after an annual pilgrimage, Kanwar Yatra. In fact, the Ganges is the second-largest plastic-polluting catchment in the world after the Yangtze River in China.
Another contributing factor to pollution is the reduction in flow. For years, scientists have observed low water levels in the Ganges, and climate change is expected to reduce it even further. Per The Guardian, the burgeoning river cruise industry is relying on “dredging operations to maintain minimum depths for the navigation of cruise vessels on the NW-1 Ganges route.”
The addition of cruise ships presents new challenges to an important waterway already under duress. Indian conservationist Ravindra Kumar Sinha told The Guardian that disturbances by cruises will impact the Ganges river dolphin, which is already on the endangered list due to multiple threats–low river flow, pollution, fishing catch nets, and sand mining. Sound pollution will only add to it, as the dolphins rely on echolocation sounds or “clicks” to find prey and communicate. Researchers concluded that acute noise exposure causes stress to the species. If left unchecked, they may become extinct like China’s Baiji dolphins.
Kumar contends that the MV Ganga Vilas is a fully sustainable initiative.
But it’s unlikely that new and increased cruise traffic on the Ganges won’t adversely affect its dolphins. Avli Verma, a researcher at Manthan Adhyayan Kendra Centre, which studies water and energy policies, told The Guardian, “You cannot promote cruises on Ganga as eco-tourism while endangering the habitat and the existence of Gangetic dolphins.”
Koh Samui, Thailand
Key takeaway: Freshwater shortages have plagued Ko Samui for almost a year, as tourists flock to the island and consume 70% of the water resources.
Off the coast in the Gulf of Thailand is the popular destination of Koh Samui. Travelers love its beautiful palm-fringed beaches and indulgent luxury resorts. Just this July, the airport servicing the 88-square-mile island averaged 74 flights per day and more than 140,000 passengers. In the same month, the island suffered a major water shortage, and the authorities advised the public to use water with caution.
John Fritton, the co-founder of EcoThailand Foundation, says there’s been unusually low rainfall on the island in the last 12 months due to El Niño and local weather patterns, while water usage has increased with the post-COVID tourism bounce. “Generally, tourists have large water demands,” he says. “This year there has been a requirement for, essentially, major water rationing via municipality-piped water supply, so private water supplies from deep wells have continued to increase.” Fritton warns that this behavior could eventually deplete the island’s aquifers.
On July 2, residents were cautioned that there were only 30 days worth of freshwater remaining. Businesses were forced to buy water when supplies dried up; people paid Baht 250-300 (approximately $7-8.50) for 2,000 liters of water.
Prapasiri Poolsawat, owner of CU Club & Restaurant in Ko Samui, says that she still buys two to three tanks per night for Baht 500 (US$14). She blames the government for mismanagement.
But the water issue in Koh Samui is complex, notes Wan Chantavilasvong, an independent urban and environmental planning researcher. Koh Samui gets water from its natural reservoirs as well as an undersea pipeline from the mainland. “The undersea pipeline started operating in February 2019 in the hope that it will fix the water issue on the island, but in reality, it has not achieved what it had promised,” she says.
Chantavilasvong believes that the causes of this failure are the underestimation of water consumption in relation to the pipeline design and the high growth in demand from tourists and service workers after COVID-19–plus additional stresses on water supply caused by climate change.
The water shortage began in December 2022, and has continued since, especially in areas on higher grounds that require more water pressure to service.
Locals are holding the Provincial Waterworks Authority accountable for water scarcity due to broken infrastructures, Chantavilasvong explains. “Specifically, the broken watergate that allowed seawater to seep into one of the two local water reservoirs, and the ineffective pumping systems that disallow for water to access homes, hotels, and farms, on higher grounds.”
Tourism is also a factor–more people equals more water consumption. Koh Samui needs 30,000 cubic meters of water every day, and almost 70% is used by hotels and restaurants.
However, tourism is the main economic driver on the island, Chantavilasvong says. “Without such a large tourism industry, the island might have been forgotten and would not be able to use it as leverage to request the government to take action. As of now, the locals are utilizing the leverage and are signing a petition to be submitted to the Office of the Prime Minister.”
According to Fritton, fewer tourists would help the regeneration of the environment but may harm local economies that are tourism-focused. He suggests that the island “should put much more of an emphasis, and premium, on sustainable and responsible tourism, resulting in a more managed number of tourists, but maintaining income and simultaneously protecting the environment.”