As I was looking again at pictures of my trip to Angkor, I wondered how long it would take before it becomes impossible to have such a unique experience visiting the temples when they are nearly empty. With the ranks of the middle class growing quickly in places like China and India, the number of global tourists will probably rise inexorably over the next few years and decades.
The increasing awareness of the need to reduce our impact on the earth has been mirrored by the appearance and rapid development of "responsible tourism". At its most basic, it consists of resorts designed to limit their impact on the environment, potentially combined with real or emblematic support for a local regeneration project. That trend is not limited to the countryside: hotels in urban locations have also understood the potential draw of green credentials (a good example is the hotel I stayed at in Bangkok).
One step up, luxury experience-based destinations are being created in the unlikeliest of places, for instance in proximity to areas in Africa devastated by war or famine. They help desperate governments earn some much needed cash, some of it dedicated to protecting the local wildlife. Tourists can even pay a lot of money to work hard and live rough but feel good about being involved in a local project.
But when even publications like Good magazine focus on places to go see and visit, who will rise to suggest that maybe the best eco-tourism is no tourism? How about not flying anywhere, and not discovering the last stretches of earth not yet conquered by mankind? Alternatively, why not encourage discovering the wonders of places like Iran or Syria, which might help us create bridges with nations that we are so unfamiliar with? Americans love to vote with their wallet and with their feet. Maybe it's time we voted with our passports!