Roads Not-So-Less Travelled

A blog by Bija Knowles got me thinking about travel to ancient destinations.

In particular, Bija talks about Libya and its move towards promoting itself more as a tourist destination. Libya has long been one of the Holy Grails of travel writing because it’s been so difficult to get into (and to get around) it independently until now. This story by Jim Keeble has more on how the country is finally opening up to tourism.

It’s the same in countries along the old Silk Road routes, which are more tourist-friendly than ever. This encourages more people to discover the historic trading paths for themselves. And books like Silk Roads: A Route and Planning Guideby Trailblazer make it relatively easy to plan such trips.

The Benefits of Tourism

Tourism doesn’t only bring money to sometimes impoverished regions or leave visitors with stamps from exotic destinations in their passports. It also often draws external attention to local issues and puts previously ignored stories closer to the international spotlight. Would, for instance, an influx of tourism and the publicity surrounding it help preserve sites threatened with destruction, such as Kashgar? George Mitchell’s wonderful photos in Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road illustrate why the city is worth preserving (and seeing for oneself).

Before Lonely Planet, it was only the daring (or the sometimes daft) who travelled overland through the Middle East

Guide book publishers play a huge role in deciding who goes where and when. Lonely Planet is perhaps the most obvious example of one publisher originally just one couple typing away on their kitchen table changing the travel landscape and opening up new destinations. Before Lonely Planet, it was only the daring (or the sometimes daft) who travelled overland through the Middle East, stopping at the Pyramids and Petra along the way, or who saw Ethiopias ancient churches for themselves. Perhaps they were the lucky ones; people who experienced those magical places before they were forced to share them with busloads of other camera-wielding tourists.

Publishers such as Trailblazer and Bradt are setting themselves apart from the Lonely Planets by presenting formerly off-limits destinations to the mass tourism market. Bradts Iran and North Africa: The Roman Coast are excellent examples.

Regardless of how we get there or whose advice we follow, we are all surely richer for being able to share the worlds ancient wonders. But with this good fortune comes a duty of care and a responsibility to help preserve them. How this is best achieved is a debate for another day.