The appalling scenes on Uluru, formerly known as Ayres Rock, have recently brought the question of responsible tourism starkly into focus. The striking 1,141ft.-high rock is a sacred site to the indigenous Anangu people, and it is due to be closed to climbers from 26th October this year—the 34th anniversary of the land being returned to the tribe. Sadly, rather than respect these people and their history, thousands of tourists have flocked to the site to tick the climb off their bucket list before the ban.
Sadly, the same is true at sites across the world, as massive influxes of tourists put at risk the very wonders that they have come to view. The magical Machu Picchu in Peru has to close its famous Inca Trail for a whole month every February just to clear the litter and repair the paths. Stonehenge in England had to rope off its ancient standing stones (which had survived the elements for thousands of years) from the public in 1977 to stop any further damage from tourists.
It is a Catch-22 situation because we all want to see these wonders of the world with our own eyes, yet very the act of doing so puts those wonders at risk. Tourist numbers have soared at sites like Angkor Wat, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and hundreds of other famous places around the world.
This creates not only wear and tear on the fabric of these buildings but also problems with litter, souvenir hunters and even vandalism. This is not to mention the impact of the support industries that grow up around these locations, which change the local environment beyond recognition.
What are the alternatives?
We need to remember that there are endless wonders to see in the world without crowding out ancient sites. In Australia, for example, there are plenty of other things to do, like visiting the Sydney Opera House and the famous harbour bridge, seeing the strange wildlife in the bush or watching world-class sports like horse racing, cricket and rugby. In the Far East, you can explore and enjoy the rich cultures of today, without shuffling with the crowds through the temples of the past.
Before the boom in worldwide tourism, these exotic, ancient sites in faraway lands were places to be read about and dreamed about, and perhaps that is what they need to go back to—before we spoil them forever. With modern 3D immersive technology, we can explore these places as if we were there, without damaging them or offending the locals.
As tourists, we have a responsibility to vote with our feet and choose not to add to the problems at these sites, because if we keep going at the rate we are, there simply won’t be sites like this to see in the future.
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