Overbooked, by Elizabeth Becker, is our latest Travel Book Club Selection. It should be on every traveler’s reading list. I can promise you that it will change your perspective about the industry that employs 1 of 11 people worldwide. Yes, author Becker assures us, travel and tourism make up a mighty industry. Right up there with oil and banking.
Becker’s book is the result of five years of research. She was already an award-winning author, and journalist with the New York Times and Washington Post when she set out to learn more about the impact of the massive business that creates $7.6 trillion of the global economy.
“Overbooked” is a comprehensive analysis of the travel and tourism industry
What did she find? Beyond the fact that travel and tourism are “invisible” in terms of generating revenue and creating challenges on every level: environmental, cultural, planning, preservation…the list goes on. She tackles what the the book calls “one of the largest and potentially most destructive enterprises in the world.”
Becker tells us how travel and tourism is done all over the world:
- Who does it well: France and Costa Rica
- Who does not: Cambodia and Venice
- Who doesn’t do it at all: The United States
- Who is the next market: China
Be prepared to become alarmed
I’ll be honest: sometimes the book is painful and disturbing. Cruise workers getting paid $50 a month, with conscriptions of 4-6 months at a time…and no days off. The pollution and lack of oversight around travel in general, and cruise lines in specific. Camodia’s reliance on sex tourism and lack of care for the famous Angkor Wat. The destruction of Africa’s wild life reserves. Loss of local culture as tour companies scramble to deliver and house visitors in more comfortable settings: more water, more energy, more modernization.
For those of us who love to travel, Becker shares the history of travel, going back to the few years between world wars, as Europe tried to sort out the increasing traffic among countries. Arthur Frommer, author of the famous Europe on $5 a Day, caused Americans to start dreaming in 1957. By 1958, when the first plane (Pan American) flew nonstop from New York to Brussels, tourism was already humming along.
In 1960, 25 million people took an international trip. With an annual growth of 6%, there were over 1 billion trips in 2012. And there is no end in sight. Becker tells us, “Tourism creates $3 billion in business every day.” Every. Day.
Tourism is not about to stop. In fact, people of all ages and incomes are traveling more than ever. And they can get wherever they wish. But should they? Becker asks that question, too. As reviewer Zachary Karabell notes, “[Becker] shows us just how essential tourism is to global prosperity. You will never book a room, ascend the Eiffel Tower, or see the sites in quite the same way again.”
Overbooked has 390 pages, plus 20 pages of research notes. Retail price is $17.