All over the world, there are countless sights to see that fill you with a sense of wonder, while simultaneously forcing you to stand back and realise how small humanity is in the grand scheme of things. However, recent years have forced society to confront its obsession with seeing the world, with an increase in climate change and human activities such as deforestation causing a number of these sites to disappear completely.
It’s one of those catch-22 situations wherein travellers are desperate to visit places they know will probably disappear in a few years, but they’re also acutely aware that tourism is a big part of the problem and so the correct thing to do would be to stay away and come to terms with the fact they’ll probably never see it in person. For instance, the Great Barrier Reef is over 7,000 years old, and yet as a direct result of human acidity – pollution, rising sea levels, invasive species, and tourism – it could very well be dead within the next 40 years.
Here at The Latin America Travel Company, sustainability and protecting the environment of those countries we love are at the forefront of our ethos, and we are always striving to find new ways to help the local communities and wildlife. For instance, in 2018 we launched a new initiative in which we planted trees in Peru’s Sacred Valley for every person that booked onto our Inca Trail tour.
That’s why we decided to create the At Risk Tourism Index, looking at the destinations around the world most at risk from becoming extinct, whether that’s as a result of climate change, over-tourism, or human activity, in order to discover where work needs to be done in order to save these destinations.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, it’s not a surprise that Thailand is at risk of disappearing as we know it for a number of different reasons. Notably, across the country, there are 489 different endangered species of animals, and Thailand is the 10th most affected country from climate change in the world.
Sweden was the least at risk destination, closely followed by Denmark and then Finland. Sweden is one of the countries least at risk from climate change, while people in Denmark produce as little as 0.047 kilos of plastic pollution a day, and Finland came 4th in the world for sustainable travel.
Following Thailand, the full top 10 most at risk destinations are:
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
It was interesting to see a number of European destinations featuring in the top 10, especially as over tourism is typically more associated with Asian and South American countries. Portugal had the 15th highest rate of plastic pollution in the world with an average of 0.27 kilograms of plastic waste being produced per person, per day. Additionally, Greece has a staggering 436 endangered species, and was in the top 20 for the worst over tourism score in the world.
At The Latin America Travel Company, we were thrilled to see that a number of Latin American countries – such as Uruguay and Panama – scored well as being some of the least at risk destinations. Uruguay, for instance, only has 90 endangered species in total, while Panama scored an impressive 4.8 for sustainable travel.
That’s not to say that conservation efforts in Latin America aren’t still crucial for the sustainability of these countries and the wildlife that resides here. Ecuador was notably in the top 10, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how at risk the country is from climate change in particular. For instance, rising world temperatures are causing the melting of a number of Ecuador’s glaciers, with 96% of the glacier surface of Carihuairazo alone having melted. Plus, as a result of deforestation and extreme climate change, a large swathe of Ecuador’s’ rare dry forests are being lost, which will have catastrophic effects on the environment.
The results by continent are as below:
- Most at risk destination in Europe: Portugal
- Most at risk destination in South America: Ecuador
- Most at risk destination in North America: USA
- Most at risk destination in Oceania: New Zealand
- Most at risk destination in Africa: South Africa
- Most at risk destination in Asia: Thailand
To create our At Risk Tourism Index, we looked at the following factors:
- Plastic Pollution
- Endangered Species
- Climate Change
- Sustainable Travel
- Environmental Performance
Using these categories, we established an overall At Risk Tourism Index score by scoring each country out of 5 across the elements and totalling this together, allowing for the highest available total score of 30. Plastic Pollution, Endangered Species, and Over-tourism were first assigned a ranking which was then scored out of 5. Full dataset available on request.