If a person is found asking for flight recommendations to Antarctica, the immediate assumption is that he/she is either a scientist or one of those extreme travellers who get a kick out of visiting the most inhospitable regions on Earth. Not anymore.
More and more people are packing their bags to head to ecologically-sensitive spots in the hope of catching a glimpse of these places before they fall prey to climate change.
This is not a doomsday prediction; this practice, termed 'last chance tourism' has been selected as the travel trend of the year. People are making a mad rush to every place that is in danger of being wiped out due to factors like climate change, deforestation, urban development and erosion due to pollution. As luck would have it, these happen to be some of the most breathtaking locales around the globe like Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Venice, Everglades National Park in Florida, Madagascar, Machu Picchu and more.
Blogger couple Nisha Jha and Vasudevan Raghavachari, who travel together and blog together at www.lemonicks.com, have checked Dead Sea and Venice off from their list. Says Vasudevan, "The Dead Sea is shrinking. Its size has reduced by almost one-third over the last 40 years. There were some resorts that were built on the beach side some decades back. The sea has receded so much that now one has to walk for almost a kilometre from these resorts to reach the water.
Nisha chips in, "While the Dead Sea is shrinking, Venice is sinking. More and more water is coming into the city and places like St Mark's Square are always flooded when it rains." The couple now wishes to go to Antarctica and Galapagos Island. Travel experts have also placed their bets on 'last chance tourism'.
Aloke Bajpai, co-founder and CEO of Ixigo, a metasearch engine that aggregates information from different travel portals, says, "We have been witnessing growing interest for 'last chance tourism'. With continuous changes in climate and natural environment, popular tourist spots are fast losing their uniqueness. Travellers are increasingly looking at places like the Great Barrier Reef, Seychelles, Egyptian pyramids, Venice and so on as must-see destinations before all is lost. Within India, the Taj Mahal remains a huge tourist attraction."
Professional photographer Divya Shirodkar was lucky enough to visit the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand before a cloudburst wiped out the place in 2013. Global warming was widely acknowledged as one of the causes behind the disaster. "There are some places that deserve to be on the list of endangered places because of reckless commercialisation and unplanned development. For example the double decker living root bridge in Cherrapunjee. A road to the place, which is now accessible only by foot, is being planned. This will destroy the pristine beauty of the place," she says.
While some feel this travel tend will shine the spotlight on the woes of these places, others feel that the influx of tourists will simply accentuate the process of ruination. These fears are especially valid in today's context when a majority of the travellers are competing for eyeballs on social media platforms and these places just serve to act as the perfect destination spots for them.
"Tourism is necessary but what needs to change is the way we travel and how careful we are while visiting ecologically sensitive areas," says Divya while Nisha adds, "For the time being, this trend will worsen the problem. We need to understand the impact of global warming and focus on responsible tourism."