The recent landmark UN report on biodiversity comes to the sobering conclusion that the decline of the world’s biodiversity is such that “it is eroding the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” Demographics are a major culprit: We were 1.5 billion people a century ago, 6.1 billion in 2000, and 7.2 billion today, but what the report also makes clear is the tight interconnectedness between climate change and biodiversity loss. Two observations: (1) the “value” of nature and the price we put on it will increase—the scarcer it is, the more valuable it becomes; (2) this will spur interest in any investment theme that has to do with conservation. Preserving and restoring nature is no longer “just” a moral issue but a question of the survival of our species and, as such, becomes an obligation.
This raises the issue of how over-tourism impacts biodiversity. The recent images from none other than Mount Everest poignantly captured the threat that too many human beings pose for our ecosystems. The pictures that went viral of the queues near the summit illustrate how a sublime wellbeing experience can turn into a congestion problem and a devastation of nature (the pictures come with harrowing descriptions of the ecological mess that the Everest business leaves on its trail).
What are the lessons for wellness resorts and businesses? It may well be that in the future, regulators, policy-makers or activists will decide that nature is best left alone (especially when it’s beautiful and pristine). But there is also a significant upside for those wellness businesses able to place conservation at the core of their offerings and do so in a way that is authentic (i.e., really walking the talk).
The extreme example of the conditions on Mount Everest is neither an isolated case nor an outlier. The combination of an expanding global middle class with increasingly affordable air travel means that the most desirable places are now suffocating under the number of tourists visiting them. Whether it’s Venice or Amsterdam, the top of Mont Blanc or Everest, the Louvre in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence, beaches in Thailand or Mexico, protected places in the Andes or in the US, there are simply too many people seeking access.
They inflict environmental degradation and exacerbate social inequalities by pricing out the local populations. Where is the balance between the many positive economic and social benefits that tourism brings to a local community (or region, or country) and the negative social and environmental costs that over-tourism generates?
This will be hotly debated in the years to come with different policies and measures put into place to mitigate the problem (tourist taxes, different kinds of regulations prohibiting certain activities, and so on). But it goes beyond that: With the growing recognition that climate and environmental degradation constitute an existential threat to humankind, the problem of over-tourism will conflate with that of the environment.
We, therefore, predict that the simmering concerns about over-tourism and travel by plane will come to the boil in 2020. The backlash is growing, and the wellness industry must prepare for it. The “do no harm” (to your community, to the environment) principle will become an obligation, and wellness companies, in particular, will be held accountable.