Alternative Tourism

In recent years, the term alternative tourism has been discussed by people in hospitality industry. It might be relatively new to you. In general, it is a kind of tour and travel scheme that is different from mainstream tourism services. Alternative tourism is often associated with such terms as green travel or sustainable tourism and preservation of environment. But the concept of alternative tourism is rather different from the latter two terms. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the world. People from around the world like to travel to other countries. They want to explore new places, new culture and new people.

Last week while I was watching TV5 Asie - a state owned French television, there was a program about alternative tourism. A travel agency offered tour package to a remote village in Suriname of Latin America. Tourists from Europe, mainly the Netherlands, go there in groups of less than twenty people to see how turtles lay their eggs by the beach. Watching turtles lay their eggs is a fascinating experience but if there are too many tourists around, the turtles will feel uncomfortable with their surrounding environment and one day they may not land on that beach anymore to lay their eggs. Government officials, in general, like to have more tourists to certain region in order to increase revenues from taxes. But if certain regions are overburdened with tourists, the local people will have to face what we say as culture shock.

Although tourism is a lucrative business, however it is vulnerable to such disturbances as epidemic (such as bird flu, H1N1 flu, malaria); terrorism; or local political conflicts. Travel agencies or tour operators who want to develop alternative tourism packages in certain counties or regions must ensure that their customers will be safe when traveling in the destinations which have been offered or sold to them.

That’s why in alternative tourism, the habit and lifestyle of the local people is left intact. Tourism is only meant to support the local economy but not completely replace the previous economic activities. In ideal alternative tourism activities should also promote the preservation of nature particularly rainforest, river, and marine environment. In tropical region, the coral reef has been destroyed by fishermen who use explosives, chemicals, or bottom trawling ship to catch fish. Coral reef areas that are located near the coastal cities are facing extinction. The massive amount of domestic and industrial wastes that flow to the sea in most of the coastal cities is a major threat to coral reef environment. Sustainable eco-tourism may not solve this problem but can raise the attention of the host countries and their respective governments that they can still preserve their natural resources without jeopardizing economic developments. Or they can improve the living standard of their people without destroying their surrounding environment.

In another program, TV5 also broadcasted how the Mentawai tribe of Indonesia hunt boar and perform natural dance ritual to heal sick person. Mentawai is an indigenous people who live in the Mentawai islands, a few miles from Sumatra. In the program, TV5 showed how the indigenous people cut a tree and make a canoe from its log. The message of the program is to show how close this indigenous people live with the tropical rainforest that is now facing the threats of irresponsible logging and conversion to mono-culture palm plantation.

It is important for us to be aware of such term as alternative tourism, green travel and sustainable tourism so that we will not be trapped into aggressive promotions done by travel operators who do not really know the meaning and purposes of such terms. by Charles Roring.