These amazingly simplistic questions are at the heart of a growing predicament centered around preserving those places in the world that are being “loved to death.” From the Grand Canyon to the Great Pyramids, around the world the growing numbers of tourists are impacting these irreplaceable sites.
Nowhere is that more evident, or urgent, than the Galapagos Islands. There are more visitors, more and bigger ships, more and cheaper hotels. More of everything. You can blame the hotels or blame cruise ships, but one thing is certain – there are no easy answers.
A recent New York Times article by Federico Rios Escobar focused on the growing number of hotels, writing, “Galápagos travel experts and locals say that land tourism is rising so rapidly because hotel development has exploded on the islands in the past decade.”
While the rapid growth of hotels in the islands is certainly an issue, it is only one of many topics that need to be sorted out. An in-depth serious discussion about the future of the Galapagos and its wildlife populations must include immigration, human population growth, illegal fishing and other such practices, and government oversight or the lack of it in certain areas. Plus one aspect that is not often cited — the adverse effects of discounting and “budget-friendly” hotels and cruise ships.
Yes, putting these fragile ecosystems ‘on sale’ is adding to the stress and burden on these fragile ecosystems. Traditionally, travelers came here by ship, seeking to experience and engage with the wildlife and the landscapes of the unique islands. But the Galapagos Islands are not necessarily for everyone. With the commoditizing of the destination, it is becoming more a product and less of a lifetime experience.
With that, come more travelers who may be looking for a cheap cruise or hotel for a quick getaway or to do some swimming, diving and fishing. It is not their fault that they show up with little understanding or appreciation of the essence of the Galapagos.
That is primarily on the shoulders of the sellers, who themselves may not have an understanding of who should be traveling to these unique islands or the damage done by sale discounts. The islands have a breaking point where they can no longer thrive with more people arriving along with the needed resources and people to serve them.
The government also plays a serious role by enforcing their own rules and regulations unevenly across the board.
So… Who? How? How Many? To these vital questions, we might also add “Why?”
If the islands and the wildlife are to survive, it will take a great deal of effort by all parties – hotels, ships, operators, travel advisors, government and travelers – to come up with viable and long-lasting solutions.