Paradise lost

Shirley Nieuwland doesn’t just want people to travel sustainably (by avoiding climate-polluting air travel, for instance), but also to support local populations, cultures and economies when they do. Thus, socially conscious vacations!

TEXT: Marieke Poelmann


How do you positively influence the mindset of travellers? This is the question that preoccupies Shirley Nieuwland (28). For her PhD, she’s been researching sustainable and responsible models of urban tourism. And in relation to this, she is hoping to narrow the gap between academic research and what’s happening in the real world via her website,, and inspire both tourists and policymakers. “There’s no single solution to the problems of mass tourism, but awareness is key to everything.”

Should we be promoting tourism?

Three holiday flights a year to tick off all the hotspots. If we carry on in this manner, the risk won’t be limited to the loss of charm that these destinations are likely to suffer. Mass tourism also endangers the natural environment in these areas as well as the local population’s culture. Not to mention the fact that air travel is by far the most climate-intensive mode of transport.

‘Paradise found almost always means paradise lost’, states Shirley Nieuwland’s website. “That quote speaks volumes,” she says. “Many people travel in the hope of finding their own secret patch of paradise. But as soon as you find this, others quickly follow and it loses its charm. I witnessed this self-defeating process in action when I volunteered to promote tourism in Kyrgyzstan. It felt kind of perverse. The place was beautiful, with lots of nature and hardly any tourism. But once you start promoting it, it’s over. I began to think more about this once I returned home.”

“As soon as you find your secret patch of paradise, others quickly follow and it loses its charm”

From one of the masses to one of the locals

Nieuwland launched the website at the beginning of 2019. “I began my research at Erasmus University two years ago and was discovering so much that I felt a strong desire to do more with the knowledge. The site has two objectives: to allow me share the insights from my research with a broad audience and help narrow the gap between academic knowledge and what people are doing in the real world. I also hope my site can develop into a platform for policymakers and marketing agencies that promote leisure travel and urban destinations. I want to build a bridge between research and practice.”

In doing so, Nieuwland is hoping to make people more aware of the beneficial impact they can have as tourists. “You could stay in one place for longer and get to know the locals properly, for instance, instead of rushing from place to place to tick off the highlights. You can make quite a difference by living like a local instead of skimming the surface like a tourist.”



  • NAME: Shirley Nieuwland (28)

    EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in arts and culture studies from Erasmus University Rotterdam and a master’s degree in human geography from Radboud University Nijmegen. She is currently doing a PhD in the Department of Arts and Culture Studies at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication.

    FUNCTION: Founder and manager of the website

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