Are tourists and tourism businesses freeloaders?

The WTTC and UNWTO led the way in establishing the idea that tourism is the world’s biggest industry, or at least one of the largest. It was Sir Colin Marshall, then chairman of British Airways, who let the cat out of the bag when he launched the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in 1994. He described tourism and the travel industry as “…essentially the renting out for short-term lets of other people’s environments, whether this is a coastline, a city, a mountain range, or a rainforest.”

This is factually correct, when we are tourists, staying away from home for at least one night; we are using someone else’s place for business or pleasure. When we are away from home, whether for business or pleasure, we use both private places and public spaces, we pay for the use of hotels, restaurants, bars, cafés and some attractions. But for the public spaces we use and enjoy, we pay nothing – in London for example tourists pay nothing to climb on the lions in Trafalgar Square, walk on the South Bank or visit the British Museum. It is the local people and their governments who fund these attractions.

The same issues arise in the countryside, both natural and cultural heritage needs to be funded. It needs to be maintained, litter needs to be removed, footpaths restored, buildings maintained and visitors managed. Scotland, Switzerland and Swaziland attract tourists for a range of reasons, but prominent amongst those reasons are the views. And tourists do not pay to look at the view or walk in the countryside. The tourists and the tourism businesses do not contribute to the costs which arise from their use of the landscape or the public spaces.

The industry argues that it pays tax like any other. And that’s the problem, like any other. The dairy pays taxes too, but the dairy does not collect rent from the tourists for the use of other people’s environment – hotels and tour operators rely on the public realm but do not contribute any more than other businesses to its maintenance.

On the Thursday of World Travel Market we shall be asking the question: Are tourists paying enough for entrance to the world’s natural & cultural heritage?   Hetty Byrne of the Forest of Bowland and Ruth Kirk of Nurture Lakeland will be sharing what they are doing to encourage tourism businesses and tourists to put back into the places we love to visit.

I don’t think that tourists and tourism businesses are paying enough – how do we ensure that they do not collect and keep all the rent – some of it needs to be used to support the natural and cultural heritage which attracts the tourists in the first place.

What do you think?

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