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The plague of tourism
If we take a close look at inter-cultural relations, we shouldn't be surprised to find that mass tourism is one of the main reasons why we have some of the problems we now face. As the cutting edge of imperialism and globalisation, mass tourism has contributed both directly and indirectly to the unequal distribution of wealth in developing countries, environmental degradation, and the debasement of local cultures.
While the Bali bombing and other acts of terrorism have been linked to al-Qaeda, the fact of the matter is such attacks have been common well before September 2001. It was only after this date that they were all suddenly painted with the name and face of Osama bin Laden. Abu Sayf have always looked to tourists on remote islands as an easy target for kidnappings in order to generate income through ransom; the massacre at Luxor in Egypt, meanwhile, showed that western tourists are not always welcome; and in Columbia, kidnappings are of such regularity that it no longer makes headline news.
Still, in the post-9/11 world there is no doubt that tourism is now more severely affected by terrorism. One of the first priorities for Bush after 9/11 was to pump money into the industry (especially the airlines) and to launch a series of commercials to promote travel to and around the US. More recently, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing in Istanbul on November 20th, 2003, stocks in the tourism and airlines industry suffered losses.
While not justifying such attacks against foreigners (and local enablers alike), one just has to look at how the travel industry is set up to understand the hostility many have toward foreign tourists. Mass tourism threatens the fragile ecosystems of many idyllic areas. Ironically, mass tourism inevitably wrecks the peace and tranquility that people set out to enjoy. In the desperation to escape the hustle, bustle, noise and grime of urban life, tourists end up replicating these same problems in their idyllic holiday locations.
A massive show of inequality
Yet it's not just in Asia and other foreign destinations that the plague of tourism is apparent. Millions of travellers to Europe's own beauty spots endanger the continent's fragile ecosystems, not to mention snarl up the roads. With tourism already accounting for 6% of jobs within the EU (currently it employs over eight million Europeans), 9% of consumer spending, and accounts for more than 5% of GDP in some areas, the question is of huge economic as well as ecological importance. And the pressure on beauty spots is certain to increase, with the World Tourism Organisation predicting that the number of tourists arriving in Europe will double to 720 million per year by 2020.
Aside from all this, there are also huge social costs, and these are often acutely felt in developing countries. Club Med is perhaps the most horrendous, as it sets up walled compounds to isolate rich travellers from the poor locals. Other tour operators have similar systems in place. Not only does this introduce a massive show of inequality, in many cases so-called "folklore" performances tend to undermine and even belittle the authenticity of local cultures and traditions.
All this is facilitated by the present wave of globalisation. Countries whose local industries have been destroyed by global capitalism are being persuaded to shift their focus and resources to that of a "service" economy. Along these lines, mass tourism plays a huge part. As a result, so-called "development" is geared to making areas more tourist friendly and not actually developing a region or area for the immediate benefit of the local population. Likewise, people are trained to participate in this new "industry" rather than taught to set up their own, independent enterprises. Thus, when the number of tourists decline due to political, economic, geological, or meteorological events, not only do tourist-based industries suffer, but wider government policy as well.
In order to secure an increasing number of tourists coming to the country, government policies sometimes teeter on the brink of absurdity. In Hungary, for instance, a plan put forward by successive governments to overcome rural decay and depression was to promote "village tourism" on a large scale. Part of the program included foreign language courses for villagers. Another program sought to develop thermal baths, resulting in almost every small town and village in the Galga valley (which lies just east of Budapest) to seriously consider -- and even plan for -- such a tourist attraction, even though the area is not known for thermal baths.
But it's not only tourism in the form of foreigners in search of sand, sea, and sex which is having a negative impact. Elite tourism, as in the case of some sport events such as golf, also leaves a scar. In fact, the expansion of luxurious golf courses for the privileged few has even led to stresses in some western countries as well. In 1991 Canada called out the troops to end a blockade of bridges to the island of Montreal by indigenous people who were protesting the plan for a golf course on their land. Similar protests and confrontations have been witnessed elsewhere, mainly in under-developed countries.
From the "Grand Tour" to mass tourism
While mass tourism provides an extravagant display of wealth, exacerbating the inequalities which exist as well as forging new ones, it initially began as something completely different. While it's hard to point to an exact date when the notion of "tourism" began, as there have always been travellers in the past (e.g., Marco Polo), it is generally accepted that tourism as we know it today began with what was called "The Grand Tour". The success of Thomas Coryat's book "Coryat's Crudities" is often credited with starting the craze for the Grand Tour.
In the 18th century, the Grand Tour was a kind of education for wealthy British noblemen. It was a period of European travel which could last from a few months to 8 years. During the Tour, young men learned about the politics, culture, art, and antiquities of neighboring countries. They spent their time sightseeing, studying, and shopping. Italy, with its heritage of ancient Roman monuments, became one of the most popular places to visit. Sometimes, the trip south was as liberating sexually as it was aesthetically. Likewise, France at the time was at the height of style and sophistication, so young men went there to throw off their coarse behavior and put on the polish that set them apart as the aristocracy of Britain.
During the 19th century, most educated young men took the Grand Tour. Later, it became also fashionable for young women. A trip to Italy with a spinster aunt as chaperon was part of an upper-class lady's education.
Since that time, however, tourism has gradually evolved (and some might say degraded) into the mass tourism we have at present. Yet, even among the modern tourists of today there have been attempts to distinguish one group from another. Many backpackers consider themselves to be "travellers" and not "tourists", as if to highlight the fact that they are more culturally sensitive. However, at the end of the day in most cases these "travellers" are not much better than the so-called "tourists" they disdain.
All this doesn't mean tourism is a bad thing, and that we should throw the baby out with the bath water. For serious travellers, learning about cultural traditions, past history and, most importantly, the local language or languages, are a must. Ironically, modern technology has a role to play here. Use of the Internet can help to promote cultural understanding and enhance the tourist experience.
In the end, a more social friendly form of tourism won't solve the enigma of terrorism, nor will it guarantee that tourists and tourist attractions won't become a target in future attacks. Sadly, in Europe both the Kurds in Turkey and ETA in Spain use terror against tourists in their struggle against their respective governments. On the other hand, if these and other countries weren't so dependent on the tourist industry, then perhaps these targets wouldn't be regarded as so desirable in the first place.