Habitat loss, overtourism, and the consequences of climate change have put more and more travel destinations at peril, even as the pandemic’s forced shutdowns gave once tourist-trampled places a breather.
This prompted us to ask our newsletter subscribers and Facebook followers the question: “Should there be places on Earth that are closed off to visitation? Should the wilderness be restricted in some way?”
Responses swamped our inbox, with most making arguments for limiting tourism. “The last few decades have taught us so much about what happens to wild places when people trample them,” wrote Margaret Cervarich, pointing to the trash pileup at Everest base camp.
“Many pristine and protected areas should be off-limits to humans completely, in my opinion. And a carefully evaluated few should be allowed for scientific studies,” wrote Charlisa Cato. Several, including Alper Takci, felt the limitations need to go further: “We should seal the whole planet off to humans.”
Indeed, some places have closed to travelers temporarily, including Iceland’s Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon—made viral in a Justin Bieber video. Maya Bay, in Thailand’s Phi Phi archipelago, was overrun and its coral destroyed following the 2000 movie The Beach with Leonardo di Caprio. The beach, which has been closed since 2018, may soon reopen under stricter conditions. Other destinations have banned specific activities: In Hawaii, a new law goes into effect on October 28 prohibiting swimming with spinner dolphins.
We put the same question to the experts. Most agreed that locking places away from people is not the answer. “I am opposed to the idea that you would, at face value, ban tourism to fragile places,” says Jeremy Sampson, of the UK-based Travel Foundation, a nonprofit working to improve the tourism industry. “The fact is that certain kinds of tourism can help protect natural resources or preserve heritage.”
This is an excerpt from an article by Norie Quintos, originally published by National Geographic.