A global industry all about borders

Tourists pose at the Trocadero square with the Eiffel tower in the background at sunrise in Paris.

Image of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism
Author: Elizabeth Becker
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 464 pages

Travel can be romantic, adventurous, and exciting--but it's also a big business, says Elizabeth Becker, author of "Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism."

"It is one of the world's biggest industries" she says. One of every 11 people is employed in tourism. It is the second only to the energy field [when it comes to a] strategy of poorer countries ... to climb out of their poverty.

But wealth it brings can have negative consequences as well.

"You can see the schizophrenia when a local government wants to make money but then they're seeing the incredible destruction" she says."They drain the services and often they don't give much back to the local economy." Venice is one example Becker points to in the book. Visitors can overwhelm the city at times, far outnumbering Venetians. Stores favored by locals, like grocery stores, are pushed out for businesses that cater to tourists, including high-end chain stores.

The cruise industry has created similar problems in the spots they've chosen for docking and single-day destinations. Becker notes that some sites have created "sacrifice zones" -- "areas where tourists would be gently pushed to protect the greater area." Countries like Belize have resorted to the so-called sacrifice zones to help protect nature preserves.

Who's doing all this travel? And who causes the biggest problems? Becker says American tourists are getting a better reputation. But as for those traveling the most? That soon will be the Chinese.

"In 2009, more Chinese visited Paris than all of the United States." And the French have embraced them. Some stores have hired translators, restaurants have encouraged fusion Franco-Chinese cooking, and the French tourism board has paid close attention to the habits and likes of the Chinese tourist.

There are, without question, benefits to be gained by opening a country up to tourism. But still, "tourism is the typical double edged sword where it can bring so much pleasure but so much destruction." It's up to governments to figure out the right balance of regulation to preserve their resources and their economies.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism
Author: Elizabeth Becker
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 464 pages

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