The ‘Dark Side’ of Tourism

In 2015, the small, rocky, South-Western Irish outcrop of Skellig Michael was featured in the now third highest grossing film of all time: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. The picturesque island and world heritage site is home to a series of 600 steps carved into the islands rock, leading to the somewhat intact remains of a Christian monastery that is over 1,200 years old. The island is also home to many birds such as the puffin.

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Rey, The Force Awakens protagonist, returns Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to him on site at Skellig Michael

Conservation efforts mean that access is limited to 180 tourists a day, and Irish government tourism officers believe that only half manage the journey because it is dangerous to approach in poor weather. Very soon after the film’s premiere, however, tourism businesses began advertising the area internationally. The area has now been flooded with people expecting access to the island, when current restrictions mean they will likely be unable to visit.

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Perceptions among tourists are often that visiting the island will lead to more money being available to protect the island. However, whilst this may be true, the money itself is largely used to protect the island from tourists themselves, so this can be somewhat self-defeating if tourists don’t respect the island and its heritage, as well as native bird populations that breed on the island.

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It is the responsibility of citizens to hold their governments and the entertainment industry to account. As users of international entertainment, we can hold governments and corporations to ransom by threatening to boycott their products if they do not take steps to protect the sites they operate in. With my knowledge of international politics I could use social media to pressure the United Nations, film companies and the Irish government to take reasonable precautions against environmental damage.

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