Nina Zu Article Writer
Although it feels like we've only just begun to hear about the umbrella term "alternative tourism," this way of traveling was in fact first described in the 1950s. In fewer words, it covers a wide category of mass tourism alternatives that aim to bring tourists closer to the local communities. For those looking to experience a destination from a point of view different from those available through mass tourism options, alternative tourism offers a wide range of activities which we will be discussing below. So keep reading to find out more about this sustainable form of tourism.
What Is Alternative Tourism?
Alternative tourism aims at people looking for other forms of tourism beyond what is considered "the norm," or better said - mass-tourism. It strives for the initiation of a new relationship between the tourists and host communities.
The basic idea is to integrate people into local life instead of closing them in the tourism enclave, cut off from what's around them. Various branches such as ecotourism, agritourism, community tourism, and others of such kind put emphasis on these particular values that are so important to this concept.
There are also other dimensions - social, cultural, and environmental - inseparably included in alternative tourism. And one of the important aspects is participation. This means that the local communities are (or should be) directly involved in all stages of the alternative tourism process, which are planning, developing, and managing the final tourism product. The needs and wishes of the locals are regarded, prioritized, and taken into consideration in the planning stage.
What Is the Difference between Mass Tourism and Alternative Tourism?
As you may have already realized by now, mass tourism and alternative tourism are very different from each other. Mass tourism is an organized movement of large numbers of people visiting popular tourist destinations, often during peak season. It is the most popular form of tourism also because more often than not, it is the most inexpensive way to go on holiday.
Some countries such as Italy, France, Mexico, Thailand, and the United States gained a lot in popularity, becoming major tourist destinations. But the impact of the tourism economy is not without negative effects. The overcrowdedness of a location can have negative impacts on the residents, like a significant rise in the cost of living, congested roads, stress on local infrastructure, and harmful environmental effects.
Because the host societies rarely benefit from this globalized system that is mass tourism, a new model had to be created to give something back to the locals. Alternative tourism comes in with an innovative approach that allows one to get out of the dominant mass tourism model. As mentioned earlier, it considers the social and cultural dimensions of travel; the relationship between the tourists, hosts, and the environment; and the participation of host communities in the development of sustainable tourism strategies.
Here are the key takeaways you need to remember:
- Mass tourism typically involves locations such as resort towns, theme parks, business districts, and others which are very crowded.
- Alternative tourism usually involves destinations that are a bit more off the beaten track, unknown to the "regular" tourist.
- Mass tourism often includes package deals comprising transport, accommodation, and meals.
- Alternative tourism includes more flexible plans and options that are decided by the tourists.
- Mass tourism travelers usually have a fixed program.
- Alternative tourism travelers can make spontaneous decisions.
- Mass tourism travelers spend very little time on each site.
- Alternative tourism travelers have more time since they have the option of changing their plans.
- Mass tourism involves activities such as sunbathing on popular beaches and visiting world-renowned sites such as the Great China Wall, Paris' Eiffel Tower, or Rio's Christ the Redeemer.
- Alternative tourism activities are more geared towards active individuals who enjoy hiking, water rafting, and other outdoor sports.
- Mass tourism tends to generate a lot of garbage and damages, and some forms of transportations such as cruise ships have a large ecological footprint.
- Alternative tourism is relatively nature-friendly.
Types of Alternative Tourism
Events are an important motivator of tourism. The hosting of significant events in a nation presents an opportunity to rethink the destination. This is why so many countries view the hosting of events as a vehicle for growth. Therefore, the industry is a dynamic and fast-growing sector that acts as a catalyst to change.
Ireland is a great example of a nation that knows how to leverage even tourism. The St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin attracts thousands of overseas visitors each year. The target for tourism events could be anyone from natives and young people to artists or people of a particular lifestyle or orientation.
Many people are curious to learn how a certain product is made. And always have been. It's now been more than 100 years since organizations, be it public or private, started to organize tourism visits to give travelers a peek into their world. Industrial tourism can be divided into the following categories: industrial heritage tourism, open doors, and scientific tourism.
Historical examples include visits to French wineries, Belgian chocolate factories, Maltese lace-producers, and Dutch cheese producers. In Paris, tourists had the opportunity to go on various tours that included textile factories and tobacco factories as far back as the early 1900s. In the United States, the Jack Daniel's distillery in Tennessee began to offer factory tours ever since it opened in 1866.
Photography is one of the main pillars of online marketing for tourism. Most visitors take countless photos during their trips to document their tourist experiences and then share the images through different social media. This phenomenon contributed to the emergence of a new term called "visitor - employed photography."
The power of photographic tourism lies in its ability to show the unknown things, shed light on the unnoticed regions, and convert the image to a tangible real world. Just think of National Geographic's photographer Steve McCurry, who has documented vanishing cultures, ancient traditions, as well as contemporary cultures for decades.
This specialized form of tourism involves locations and destinations that have become popular worldwide due to their appearance in films and television series. Cinema tourism is considered one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism at this moment.
Experts believe this is because tourists often seek symbolism rather than reality. Studies have shown that a film can have an immense impact on a destination's image and the viewers' decision to travel. In New Zealand, for example, tourists flock to the Shire, a region described in The Lord of the Rings. The movie Lost in Translation also seems to have piqued many travelers' interest in Japan.
Recently, an increasing focus has also been placed on experiences related to food. Gastronomic tourism is based on visiting food producers, restaurants, food festivals, and other special places in order to savor a special type of food, to watch how a food item is produced, or to eat a dish prepared by a famous chef.
Food tourism can range from informal visits to local farmers' markets in Spain to formal cooking classes in Paris. Thailand offers a plethora of cooking schools where tourists can take one-day classes in Pad Thai or regional specialty dishes involving seafood, coconut milk, and unique blends of spices.
Ecotourism is about building a culture of environmental respect and protection. One of its key principles is also understanding what the needs of the locals are so that tourism can help them improve their quality of life. For tourists, the rewards that come with the satisfying learning experiences of travel are enhanced through ecotourism.
Among the reasons why we hear of ecotourism so often these days is that remote destinations are now easier to access thanks to affordable flights and accessible infrastructures. Furthermore, people are becoming more interested in challenging and more educative tourism, while other travelers simply wish to be perceived as different. Regardless of the reason, joining the ecotourism cause can only benefit destinations and communities throughout the globe.
Rural tourism refers to any form of tourism that showcases rural life, culture, heritage, and art at rural locations. It allows guests to interconnect actively with local nature and community resources. It takes place in locations such as countryside areas, forests, mountain areas, and national parks, just to name a few.
In Europe, rural tourism has experienced a real boost in recent years. Ethno-cultural regions such as the Maramures region in Romania, Zlatibor in Serbia, Marvão in Portugal, Aosta Valley in Italy, Waldviertel in Austria, or Wielkopolska in Poland allow visitors to familiarize themselves with the tradition, history, customs, and gastronomy of these places.
A homestay is a popular form of hospitality where a guest lives with a resident of the city or village they are visiting. The advantages of choosing this over other lodging establishments include exposure to everyday life and opportunities for local advice, friendship, foreign language practice, and intercultural competence.
Alternative Tourism Advantages
Why should you engage in alternative tourism? Well, if you're not already convinced about the benefits of this form of travel, here are some of the powerful reasons why you should care about sustainable tourism:
It benefits the local community
When you explore as an alternative tourist that shops locally owned and operated businesses, you will not only encourage the employment of local people, but your money will also go back into that community. You will bring in profits that will help the community stay profitable after you have left.
It has a lower ecological impact
The things you do and the stuff you eat while on vacation have a huge impact on your ecological footprint. Part of sustainable tourism is eating what the locals are eating, which is local produce and food items from local businesses. After all, part of the experience of travel is to broaden your horizons in all ways possible by trying new things, including food. If you eat locally, you will save on emissions and taste fresher ingredients that the locals know how to prepare.
It helps to conserve natural resources
Many of the Earth's resources are not renewable. Alternative tourism allows you to participate in activities and tours that involve land preservation. Look for those instead of the zoos and landscaped parks where natural resources have been torn down to make space for them.
It allows you to be more conscious of your choices
If you're considering switching from mass tourism, it means you are already on your way to becoming a sustainable tourist. It's important to educate yourself before you go on vacation. Taking the plane to visit a destination when you only have three-four days to spare doesn't seem like a wise decision when you think of the carbon footprint you leave behind. Is there a closer place nearby that you could reach by train instead? You may find it's more convenient to choose the environmentally friendly option.
It gives you a more honest look into the lives of other people
By supporting locally-run tour guides you will learn the truth about their culture straight from the people that live there. You won't be fed the scripted information large tourism companies tend to deliver to the tourists. Wouldn't it be nice to glimpse into life as a local and learn what the community is truly all about?
It prepares you for the future
The mass-tourism industry, with its large ecological footprint and construction of huge hotels, is not sustainable. Travel is expected to become more expensive as every major travel destination tends to conform to the norm and offer the same services and experiences as others do. But communities are not supposed to be the same. Alternative travel ensures that one-of-a-kind communities remain as they are, which is what makes them special.
Lifestyles and consumer behavior have been known to adapt to changes in global needs throughout history. Consequently, it is not at all surprising that the increase in awareness concerning the precarious state of the environment as well as the social and economic situation of today's world have led to new trends in the way people live. Likewise, the tourism industry has been undergoing a similar change with the advent of alternative tourism. This form of tourism is a wonderful alternative to mass tourism, which is known to have many negative impacts on many host countries.