Tourism is broken. Here's why, and what to do.
The darkest nights of travel
By Alex Farlander, founder of Travelhood
December 22, 2023
Launching a new project before the holidays may not be the best idea, but I like the date. December 22, the day after the darkest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.
In 2014, I got an enormous burnout after 10+ years in the booming travel industry.
So I slowed down and decided to study international tourism. I was very curious to learn from the experience of the global industry leaders, who had 50+ years of experience.

And here’s what I learned, in simple 3 words.
Tourism is broken.
It is out of balance nearly everywhere in the world.

Let me explain.

When you travel, it is really hard to make right choices even if you have the best intentions.

Good-looking "non-profits" often are ugly for-profits.
Would you want to walk with lion cubs in Africa, organized by a local non-profit organization that will tell you stories about how they protect the wild?

It’s a trap – in reality, these lion cubs most likely are being bred for the hunting industry, and will be killed when reaching adult age (google: canned hunting). You pay for their food (typical revenue of lion walks is between $1-10K each day), and hunters pay for their heads (which is around $5-15K per trophy). Some good-looking "non-profits" are very profitable.
It can damage the lives of children
How about visiting an orphanage as a volunteer English teacher for a day?
Teach kids English, spend great time together, take pictures, and promise to keep in touch.

Instead of making the world better, it created a fast-growing market of orphanages, where 80% of “orphans” have at least one living parent. And for kids, this lifestyle leads to depression and a high suicide rate (google: orphanage tourism).

And this promise to keep in touch, most of the visitors never keep. Life is busy.
And brings nearly nothing to the destination
How about spending a holiday going on a safari in Kenya? At least we bring money to the local economy, right?

If you spend 10 000 dollars on a holiday package, as little as only 500 dollars stays in the local economy. 95% of travel spending in Africa ends up in the pockets of international corporations. 5% are left in the local economy. (google: tourism leakage)
Are you even sure that your money goes to the right hands?
The last thing.
How do you even know who gets your travel money?
The mafia presence in travel is at the highest levels after covid.

In Italy, 4450 hotels and restaurants are under direct threat of getting into mafia hands, who use hotels and restaurants for money laundering.

If you want to know where it leads, google for Acapulco's downfall from a dream destination that once hosted JFK and Jacqueline's honeymoon, into a gangster bloodbath, raw sewage dumped into the sea, and ultimately being hit by 5-category hurricane Otis in 2023.
And these are fairly well-known ugly cases of the tourism industry.

There are many more, that are quite impossible to navigate if you aren't diving deep into the research. And if you dive deep, you may get depressed rather quickly.
On the side of local travel professionals and small entrepreneurs, responsible tourism is a hard business to do. It’s very hard to take off - there are a zillion tour operators worldwide who struggle with little sales, a lack of employees, and most of the profits taken away by platforms. Google alone earns almost 20bn a year from travel ads.
Tourism is highly crisis-sensitive. During my years in the industry, I went through 4 major crises, and endless minors (which were the reason for my burnout). So most of the industry can’t grow because we are constantly dealing with things like political instability, wars, extreme climate events, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, Ebola, swine flu, etc. There’s a huge new threat coming from AI tours, and even a bigger threat from polycrisis (imagine having a tourism business in Acapulco being hit by hurricane Otis).

We are in the darkest nights of travel, and we need to find solutions.

But there's good news

If managed properly, better travel can save the world

(or at least significantly contribute to its protection and restoration)

Tourism has the power to redistribute wealth from cities to rural places.
Unlike most other industries that move money bottom-up (you buy groceries in the supermarket, most of the money ends up in corporations), tourism works another way – wealthy people are bringing their money to pay for authenticity and local products.

That's why tourism is the main source of income for many remote communities and creative projects. Communities in places like Western Mongolia live much better thanks to tourism.
Tourism is naturally diverse and supports creativity
Because the central value of tourism is to change the environment, there is a whole spectrum of tours, activities, adventures, and other experiences. And there'll be more.

Knowledge, wisdom, and creativity are important creators of value in experiences. Tourism is not only sea, sun, and sand anymore - it's festivals, tours, celebrations, and retreats that create a lot of value. All you need to be successful is to be authentic, know how to serve this market, and have a great network of local connections.
Travel is a powerful tool to educate & connect people
It is hard to change the minds of adult people. Many people are suspicious, many are too busy. If you want people to care about something (like, their planet), it may take a lot of effort.

That's where travel has one of its superpowers. People who travel are more empathic towards places they visit. If there's more tourism, there'll be fewer wars and polarization of society.

On the other side, tourism connects people from remote regions to the world, showing them opportunities to learn from global knowledge, as well as to appreciate their own heritage.
Travel experiences can drive regenerative economy
The old world economy is based on the extraction of resources.
The new world economy will be based on the creation of value.

Experiences, and travel in particular, have the potential to create a lot of value.
They can be used as a strong driver to bring money to the regenerative ecosystems.

We need more regenerative travel projects, and they'll have an enormous combined power to inspire a better world.

Travel is inspiring. People travel to feel alive.

It is a great mission to help them.

That’s why I decided to focus all my efforts on Travelhood, a community for people who want better travel.

For travelers, we create learning content, events, and trips together with local businesses.

For travel professionals, we create tools and frameworks to design regenerative travel experiences.

I believe that regenerative travel is the only type of tourism we need to develop.

The rest is damaging, even if they say it has “net-zero ground operations”, “carbon offset”, “leave your towel on the floor for sustainability”, blablabla. The more we travel, the more damage it creates.
Let’s learn how to travel better.
Join Travelhood and support this mission.
Let’s bring light to these darkest nights,
and the sunrise will follow.
About the author
Alex Farlander
Alex is a travel entrepreneur. Being born and raised in Siberia of late- and post-USSR, he spent 20 years of his tourism career working with hundreds of remote destinations worldwide. He is currently based in Mexico and works full-time to help travel entrepreneurs grow better businesses.

@alexfarlander everywhere
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