Is sustainable tourism even possibe?

In case I haven't mentioned it enough, already: I live in Mallorca. It is a small island where tourism is big: roughly 12 million people visit Mallorca every year. And this number is only growing. 

Millions and millions of people come here year after year to play golf, although water on the island is scarce, or to go full on "all inclusive", giving all their money to multinational hotel corporations and not spending a penny at the local corner shop.

This kind of tourism is neither beneficial for the island, nor sustainable. 

Great parts of the costal areas have been mutilated by large concrete hotels and mass tourism. The island is literally on the verge of collapse.

Mallorca went from this:

Playa de Palma 1948, Source: Facebook "Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca"

Playa de Palma 1948, Source: Facebook "Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca"

To this:

Playa de Palma 2015, Source: Zeit.de

Playa de Palma 2015, Source: Zeit.de

So, let's just promote sustainable tourism, right? This will solve all the problems.

Sustainable tourism sounds awesome:

Visitors inform themselves about the local culture and politics. They develop a genuine interest for the region they are visiting and are respectful towards local customs. They purchase local good from small businesses and care about their impact on the environment.

However, where and how do you accommodate 12 million tourists every year? In small B&Bs, on rural fincas? What are sustainable activities? Would you want millions of people hiking in the mountains?

Mallorca just hasn't the capacity for all these visitors. (I'm talking about Mallorca in particular, but I'm also talking about any other popular tourist destination that just can't take it, anymore.)  International tourism is booming and destinations have been welcoming the growth. Growth is everything in capitalism. The more the better.

Yet, many places have also realized that they need to control or even stop growth in order to keep existing for many generations to come: Barcelona introduced a ban for new tourist accommodations and Machu Picchu is limiting the number of daily visitors. Even the most informed and respectful tourist does harm if he comes in millions.

Not too shabby, right? And no tourists far and wide. Source: romania.travel

Not too shabby, right? And no tourists far and wide. Source: romania.travel

The only solution I can see, the only way to make tourism truly sustainable is to slow down and take a step back. You don't always have to travel internationally in your holidays. Don't choose the typical tourism hot spots that can barely cope with the demand. Travel to Romania instead of Rome. There are so many beautiful places in this world that are in no "must-see spots you have to visit before you die"-list. 

Actually, you don't have to travel, at all. There are other ways to spend meaningful holidays. Volunteer in your local community or if you want to visit another country, combine it with social commitment. Give something back.

I once volunteered at an NGO in India and they were the most memorable "holidays" I've ever had. I basically stayed in only one town for a whole month and really got to understand the people and their daily struggles. Some friends thought I was "wasting my time" by only staying in one place instead of ticking off the "20 must-see spots in India". However, I felt I was truly living the culture instead of just consuming it. 

Don't consume your travel destination. (In every sense of the word.)