Mashpi vs. Cancun: Contrasting Mass and Alternative Tourism

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What is it that draws some people to unique, remote, destinations? Is it the same thing that attracts other people to popular, highly accessible tourist traps? Well, in this blog, we compare two examples of very different destinations: Cancun as an example of mass tourism and Mashpi Lodge as an example of alternative tourism. This blog provides a clear structure for contrasting mass and alternative tourism. Each section dives into a different aspect of these, providing a comprehensive comparison.

What is Mass Tourism?

Mass tourism refers to large numbers of people visiting a tourist destination within a certain period. This is because the destination is a rather accessible, popular, or ‘trendy’ type of place, which is often overcrowded and has numerous hotels, amusement parks, restaurants, and even shopping centers.

What is Alternative Tourism?

Alternative tourism seeks to provide travelers with unique and authentic experiences, where they go to lesser-known and less accessible destinations. They seek interaction with nature, and activities with local cultures, and above all, they are environmentally friendly, as their impact is minimized.

Chakrita Finch Bay

Key Characteristics of Mass Tourism

One way to think of large-scale tourism is as a model involving many people traveling to a specific destination. This may be due to the high demand for popular destinations that attract a broad audience.

Hotels, amusement parks, shopping malls, and other places offer good promotions, and visits multiply, leading to a massive influx of tourists and exploitation of the destination.

For example, the popular destination of Cancun, Mexico, is known for its sprawling beaches, resorts, and activities. It has become a destination with an enormous influx of visitors. It is worth noting that the tourism model in Cancún reflects a popular strategy for tourism promotion at the international level.

One other notable feature of mass tourism is its often significant impact on the environment; too many tourists can cause damage to natural ecosystems, such as reefs, beaches, and forests. Also, in local cultures, the presence of tourists can lead to changes in customs or traditions. This is especially the case where destinations shift from traditional sources for economic sustenance to a tourism-based service industry as their primary economic source; all but guaranteeing that their environment will bear the burden of mass tourism.


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Key Characteristics of Alternative Tourism

If mass tourism is what one finds in popular, highly accessible destinations with lots of tourism infrastructure, small-scale tourism is pretty much the opposite. In the alternative tourism model, tour groups tend to be intentionally small, allowing for interaction with local people, better-guided tours, and a focus on enriching travel experiences.

Focusing on small groups allows for a more personalized and unique experience tailored to the needs and interests of the travelers, immersing them in the culture and nature that are part of the destination.

Alternative tourism favors lesser-known and more remote destinations. Travelers looking for this type of experience are typically interested in learning about the culture and history of the local communities in places less affected by mass tourism.

Day 2 Quito Mashpi Waterfall Background

The Respective Impacts of Mass Tourism and Alternative Tourism on the Environment

In contrast to mass tourism, alternative tourism promotes respect for local cultures, valuing what visitors can learn about local customs and traditions and encouraging tourists to be environmentally conscious. In mass tourism areas, it is harder to get past the superficial layers of grab-and-go style tourist traps to experience a more profound connection with the destination.

Let’s look at three impacts of mass tourism:

  1. Economic Impact: Significant Economic Contributions

Mass tourism is an important source of income for the destination as tourists spend money on accommodations, transportation, meals, and recreational activities, all of which contribute to the local economy.

  1. Environmental Impact: Potential for Overuse and Degradation of Natural Resources

The environmental impact of mass tourism is significant in tourist destinations where an influx of visitors can degrade natural ecosystems; pollute rivers, lakes, and beaches; and have a major impact on marine and wildlife.

  1. Cultural Impact: Cultural Commodification and Loss of Authenticity

Mass tourism risks a great cultural impact on different tourist destinations, and the greater the influx of tourists the more traditions and customs adapt to meet the expectations of visitors.

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Conversely, let’s examine three impacts of alternative tourism:

  1. Economic Impact: Smaller Yet More Sustainable Contributions to the Local Economy

The economic impact of alternative tourism can be beneficial for local cultures and communities as they gain a wider clientele for authentic handicrafts and a greater demand for accommodations, food, tours, etc. This allows communities to diversify their sources of income. Alternative tourism also goes hand in hand with environmental conservation. This can benefit the local economy in the long term to preserve ecosystems and cultures.

  1. Environmental Impact: More Sustainable, Eco-friendly Practices

Alternative tourism promotes a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option, usually focused on connecting with nature. Visitors participate in activities such as hiking, scuba diving, and wildlife observation. This type of excursion relies on greater environmental awareness and a dedication to conserving biodiversity.

  1. Cultural Impact: Encourages Preservation of Local Culture

The cultural impact of alternative tourism is often positive, instilling in visitors a greater interest and appreciation of local cultures and their ancestral knowledge and practices. It also fosters a cultural exchange, where tolerance and openness to new ways of life are encouraged.

Day 1

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mass Tourism

Mass Tourism Advantages

Mass tourism has some advantages, for instance, it can be of great economic benefit to the destination or region, and it can be easy and convenient to visit for tourists. Mass tourism destinations usually have numerous attractions such as museums, amusement parks, and monuments, offering a wide range of activities.

In terms of accommodation, they can also have a lot of variety, especially when it comes to offers of packages and discounts for guests, adapting to a wide range of budgets and preferences.

Busy places tend to have better transportation, whether by air or land, or, in some cases, by river or sea, which makes it easier for visitors to travel to these destinations.

Finally, for tourists who like social interaction, mass tourism destinations can attract people from all over the world. In some cases, this promotes a sort of cultural exchange between visitors from different countries. That said, when it comes to remote, alternative tourism destinations, people from different nations around the world may also get the chance to meet, but in smaller numbers.

Mass Tourism Disadvantages

Mass tourism has several disadvantages. The massive influx of tourists can exert significant pressure on the natural environment, causing erosion of trails, and pollution of beaches, rivers, and fragile ecosystems.

Other problems caused by a massive influx of visitors can include excess waste generation, depletion of natural resources, and pollution, all of which have long-term repercussions.

In terms of culture, high-in-demand tourist destinations can feel quite commercialized and lead to cultures adapting to visitor expectations, gradually letting go of their authenticity.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Alternative Tourism

In contrast, alternative tourism promotes sustainability, cultural integrity, and unique experiences, enabling visitors to deeply connect with history and nature.

In many instances, as is the case with Mashpi Lodge in rainforests of the Ecuadorian Chocó, visitors can establish a profound connection with environmental conservation efforts and protection of natural areas and wildlife. Guests gain a new awareness from their visit to Mashpi and tend to adopt more environmentally conscious and sustainable practices in their daily lives when they return home.

Alternative tourism benefits local communities and cultures, too. It encourages the participation of local people as direct hires, service providers, and handicraft artists. In the case of Mashpi Lodge, no one knows the surrounding rainforests as well as the naturalist guides that work there; a majority of which grew up in neighboring communities.

Alternative tourism does not appeal to everyone, and it can be more expensive

Alternative tourism destinations tend to be based in remote and off-the-beaten-path areas, which makes travel more complicated and expensive.

In alternative tourism areas, there may be fewer entertainment options, which may not be what certain visitors are looking for.

Fewer accommodation and transportation options may limit where visitors can stay. However, this is usually offset by the number of accommodations (hotels and lodges) that offer their own exciting excursions. In fact, for many visitors, excursions are just as important as great amenities. Fortunately, Mashpi Lodge has both!

Forest Walk

Mass tourism provides access to popular attractions and amenities, whereas alternative tourism offers personalized and unique experiences with fewer tourists. While mass tourism can result in environmental degradation and a loss of cultural authenticity, alternative tourism emphasizes environmental conservation and values the traditions of local residents. Furthermore, while mass tourism benefits a broader region and its commercial stakeholders, alternative tourism directly supports local communities.

Both mass tourism and alternative tourism have a place in the tourism industry. The choice between one or the other depends entirely on travelers’ preferences. However, in this day and age, more and more people are looking for destinations with a sustainable and environmentally responsible approach to their tourism models.

What type of experience will you choose? Will you go for the easy and popular destination? Or the experience that offers you a transformative and extraordinary adventure?

Spa Mashpi

Updated:April 15, 2024

Published:September 19, 2023

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