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The Beach and Sustainable Tourism

Lauren Wilson
People haven’t always been beach lovers. Before the mid-1800s, going to the beach for fun was almost unheard of. Now, more than one-half of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometers of an ocean, and almost 60% of global travelers will visit a beach this year. In the US, almost 70% of families will take a beach vacation together in the next year. Cruise travel, providing access to difficult to reach coastal locations, has increased almost 50% in the past decade.
 
This strong propensity to seek coastal destinations means significant economic impact from tourism spending. In an effort to create a year-long, tourism-driven economy, locations are flexing their shoulder-season muscle by creating more and more reasons for tourists, predominantly empty-nester Boomers, to visit during off-peak times.
 
But with heightened travel comes over-tourism and environmental impact, including loss of marine life, water and air pollution, erosion due to sea level rise, and disruption to the local habitat and culture. Sustainable tourism has reached a critical juncture in which we need to decide how we pursue our love for the beach responsibly.  
 
“Going to the beach” is a relatively new phenomena for humans. Throughout antiquity all the way to the Industrial Revolution, the coast was associated with disease, danger and drowning. It wasn’t until the British Romantics, in their pursuit of the sublime, sentimentalized the appeal of the sea in art and literature; many found the invigorating effects of the ocean a potent tonic for ailments.
 
In the late 19th century United States, trains from densely populated urban areas allowed the city dwellers of New York to cool off in Coney Island, and Philadelphians to walk the promenade in Atlantic City. Post-WWII, highway infrastructure made the entirety of the US coastline accessible – and incredibly desirable. Modern bathing suits, surfboards, and disposable incomes all combined to create the beach-loving culture we have today.
 
Our predecessors weren’t that far off – numerous studies have shown that the beach has many positive physical and mental health benefits. The sound of the water, the negative ions in the air, and even the color blue present in the ocean all serve as de-stimulators and mood enhancers. Rachel Carson describes “the pleasure periphery” of the beach, the “fleeting and transitory” boundary between land and sea where we are “dedicated to the pursuit of health and leisure.”
 
Describing the initial appeal of the beach, expert on tourism cultures Jean-Didier Urbain writes that the “pristine emptiness of the beach” conveys a lack of sense of place. “Unlike the countryside, the beach is not so much a place of return as a place of new beginnings.” This abstraction of the beach has allowed us to disregard both the culture and environmental implications of beach tourism.
 
Fortunately, the tide is shifting in terms of the recognition for sustainable tourism. Higher cognizance of a traveler’s carbon footprint, the sharing economy of both accommodations and rides, the taboo of drinking from plastic water bottles and straws, are all becoming more mainstream in travelers’ lives.
 
And last week, attendees at Skift’s Global Forum focused on travel’s responsibility to the world. Executives and experts recognize that they have much to do and offered high-level potential possibilities: promotion of new, off-the-beaten-path destinations; regulation and oversight; reduction of hotel waste and resources; and training of individuals from local communities to benefit from tourism. It will require systemic change across travel sectors and locations to make the widespread impact that is required to preserve our favorite beach destinations.
 

Get in touch to see how you can drive tourism with sustainability in mind by making real, human connections with consumers.


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