COVID-19 prompts rethink of mass tourism

COVID-19 prompts rethink of mass tourism

The coronavirus pandemic has forced famous tourist destinations to question their business model, though economic realities are likely to stand in the way of major changes.

Nature has quickly replaced hordes of visitors at sites like Machu Picchu in Peru, where sightings of elusive Andean bears have caused a buzz among conservationists.

And in Thailand, which has seen a drop in arrivals of more than 83 percent, marine fauna including dugongs, turtles and whale sharks are enjoying a rebound.

The Thai government has decided to close more than 150 national parks for an average of three months a year and to limit access so that animal and plant life can flourish.

“From now on, we want quality tourism, we don’t want a mass tourist influx into our national parks,” said Varawut Silpa-archa, minister of natural resources and the environment.

Visitor fees might have to rise to compensate for the lost income but “it is the price we have to pay” to preserve natural resources, he told AFP.

Educating travelers

Access to Machu Picchu has also been curbed, and Peruvian authorities are mulling ways to develop a more exclusive model.

Local mayor Darwin Baca said they hope tourists can be convinced to stay longer, for example with guided visits to natural sites such as waterfalls while waiting to see Machu Picchu.

The site normally takes in about $5.5 billion per year according to official estimates.

Jean-Francois Rial, head of the travel agency Voyageurs du Monde, thought it might be possible to “educate visitors” to seek out less well known sites, or to visit outside of the peak seasons.

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