Welcome to STAND’s series: “A closer look at tourism”! If you’ve missed the first article looking into the way tourism is consumed around the world and introducing you to some disastrous consequences of mass tourism, you’ll find it here. In this piece, we’ll try to answer frequently asked questions related to unethical tourism and how the latter can be dealt with. In the next contribution, we’ll observe the world as we pressed pause during the lockdown, and will try to offer alternatives for a better future of tourism.
Does social media have an educational role to play?
Contributing to the problem, social media should take some responsibilities. I don’t know about an educational role per se, but it should definitely promote and raise awareness on what “a good Instagram” picture truly costs.
Beyond the platforms themselves, we, as followers, have to take responsibility, social-media wise as well, and be more demanding. Social media only have the power we let them have. A good start would be to only follow Instagramers that claim to travel ethically, and actually do so. Then, we might also want to look a little deeper than a few pretty pictures – posted by people whose job is to make you dream – before choosing a travel destination. Read articles, look up the history of the place you lust after, steeped into the culture, and try to understand the rudiments of it. Remember that monuments are more than just a pretty background.
Being listed as UNESCO World Heritage, blessing or curse?
The goal of the World Heritage label is to protect incredible natural and cultural sites around the world, even though it neither directly leads to funding for the protection, nor provides actual physical protection.
Once listed, monuments are put in the spotlight and receive a lot of new attention. Being listed brings more tourists, which therefore brings more money. The local population that directly benefits from tourism, lives better than before. Indeed, the UNESCO label creates employment, but in an unequal way. The label means that “Westerners”, mainly represented in the preservation domain, bring with them the “business mentality” which might be in real contrast with lifestyles in some parts of the world, and therefore create a change in the local cultures.
Also, the economic rise deepens social class disparities. The neighbourhoods close to the preserved sites are often the target of huge investments to transform the area, making it more “tourist friendly”. This leads to brutal evictions, often among the poorer classes, and allows the rich (foreigners) to inhabit the brand-new districts. Once again, power disparities are strengthened by economic growth.
Moreover, the label means new constraints. When a site is listed, an agreement is closed. Guidelines imposed by the Heritage Organisation have to be closely followed. They are strict, especially regarding the obligation to conserve the monument the way it used to be; “identically as before”. However, often the locals do not wish to live in the past, to live in outdated times. Worse, in some scenarios, traditions and customs have been exploited by the tourism industry in listed areas. In some parts of the world, there is a deep duality between heritage preservation experts and local actors’ practices.
The label is meant to protect, yet it leads to mass tourism. And UNESCO is well aware of the problem. For the last five years, it has revitalized the conversation within the Organisation. So much so that now, a tourist management plan is an important and strict requirement to be listed as World Heritage. If the plan is not good enough, not developed enough, there is no chance you’ll get listed.
Why are Chinese tourists portrayed as the evil incarnation of mass tourism?
When you think of mass tourism, you see Chinese tourist groups walking down the street as a pack. That’s one widely spread stereotype. Chinese tourists are often represented as being disrespectful, unmanageable, with a bad attitude, and much too numerous. All these critiques are baseless to them, and they have a hard time understanding them. They find the generality especially hard to swallow.
Often, they respond that it’s the result of a cultural shock. The Chinese culture values the bond between people highly. Community is a real feeling for them. They have indeed a “collective culture”. They were taught to live together, in what we would call “a pack”. Most of them aspire to connect with locals when visiting, but they’re often very shy. They will let anyone in, but will have a hard time taking the first step to talk to you. As is often the case, stereotypes and prejudices are based on a lack of different cultural knowledge and interest.
How to travel differently?
As I’ll address various responses to mass tourism in the next article of this series, I want to answer this question here by proving that you don’t necessarily need to get away to travel. Especially as we’re all stuck at home right now, and we wish we could travel. But travelling is not always an option anyway, even when we’re free to move. So here are a few tips to fool your head and heart into thinking that you’re away!
- Look up (new) ethical vlog travelers, travel podcasts, Instagram accounts, and follow their previous adventures! Some might even tell you how they reinvented their concept of traveling.
- Enjoy expats’ testimonies from all around the world. They can contrast your culture to the one they’ve learnt to live in. Comparing cultures, without judging, is always a great way to learn more about our own!
- Explore new ways of travelling. Get inspired and set new rules for your next trip to respect ethical and eco-tourism. Thinking of those guidelines ahead of time will increase your chance to stick to them while on vacation.
- Take the time to list what you would love to visit in your own country! We always tend to go far far away on holiday, when wonders wait for us so close. In addition, look at the bright side: your journey will be cheaper, and definitely more eco-friendly.
- Immerge yourself in global fiction novels or movies narrating a journey. Here are a few book suggestions: “And the Mountains Echoed” written by Khaled Hosseini and set in Afghanistan; “The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor” by Sally Armstrong and taken place in New Brunswick; “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly and set in Myanmar; “Il Bel Centro” written by Michelle Damiani and taken place in Umbria, Italy.
Here are some movies ideas: Michael McGowan’s “One Week” about a road trip in Canada; the “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” trilogy filmed over two decades; the two “Mamma Mia” musicals starring a collection of incredible actors; Sidney Pollack’s “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redfort; “The Bucket List” with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.
- Dupe your taste buds and try cooking recipes from around the world! Food is such a huge part of the fun of travelling. Get inspired here!
Keep calm. Stay home. And wait for the last piece of the series coming soon!
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
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