In which Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba, in the midst of a pandemic which has knocked the stuffing out of the tourism industry, and out of the folks who depend on that industry, offers a personal, and (as usual) contrarian view of the industry itself.
Once upon a college education, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba enrolled in a field course to study the biology of marine and terrestrial life on a remote island in the Bahamas. It was his first trip of any significant distance (‘travel’ not being something that could be made to fit within his family’s budget), never mind out of the USA. And, because, then as now, he is an idiot*, he booked the wrong travel dates and the wrong flights, so he traveled alone, and got to his final destination before everyone else.
Getting to that final destination meant a flight from Miami to Nassau (after one from Boston to Miami), and then an overnight stay. Since YFNA didn’t have a clue what he was doing with any of this, he had particularly no clue what to do with himself between the time he landed on Nassau and bedtime on his layover day. Not that, after all those plane tickets and other episodes of confusion, not to mention his college’s stripping of his life savings (which, by modern standards, was actually benign behavior), he had any funds to invest in doing stuff.
So he went for a walk in the park. Cheap. Easy. Safe. Yeah?
Then why was YFNA being followed?
Which he was … by a mob of about twenty children, mostly between about 5 and 13 years old. They were … watching him. Expecting him to … do … something. Like he was supposed to be doing … something. Like others that looked like him – white, wrong clothes for the climate, clueless – were … supposed to be doing.
A voice rang inside YFNA’s head. From a classmate, a far more worldly-wise (and wealthier) classmate. “Hey. You should watch these kids dive for quarters. Throw some in the water and man, they go after them! I don’t know how they see them, how they get down so deep and still come back up breathing, and with the quarter in hand! You should try this when you get there!”
Apprehensive, YFNA reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter – one of the few that remained to him. From the instant reaction of his followers, this was what he was supposed to be doing. He tossed the quarter, as far as he dared. There was a mad scramble. Yep. Exactly what he was supposed to be doing.
He left the park as soon as he could. He may have run, he can’t remember exactly. What he does remember is locking himself in his hotel room the rest of the day. Sick to his stomach. Ashamed of his species, and disgusted that he himself belonged to it.
In the ensuing years, YFNA has had the privilege of traveling to many places throughout the world. But always with some purpose in mind; to be there, live there, understand what was going on around him, doing something useful. Seldom, if ever, to just ‘go see’.
He remembers, while he was living there, New Zealand being disparaged as a tourist destination because it lacked 5-star hotels and “the standard amenities”.
He remembers, while he was living there, a banner that went up on the last bridge over the I-95 freeway in the state of Maine, saying something like “Thanks for your money, tourists. Now get out, stay out, and leave us in peace!”
He remembers, while he was (and still is) living there, the relief when the tourist shutdown in Hawai‘i actually made the roads passable – and the disbelief when folk realized that vandalism, and the flaunting of laws, persisted even after the tourists had gone. And the tourist, well before COVID was a pangolin’s sneeze, that yammered on a cell phone, in the midst of the beaches and the palm trees, ‘This place is the worst! Nothing to do here! No shopping, no big shows …’.
And the locals who disparaged funding for public education because ‘they’re just going to be working in the hotels’.
Famously, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), in The Innocents Abroad, wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness …” Glad you were able to afford to make the voyage, Mr Twain, and YFNA humbly begs to differ. It appears to him that travel, tourism of the ‘let’s go see, we’re rich enough to do it and make the locals do our bidding while we’re doing it, or else’ doesn’t kill prejudice, it enhances it. It fossilizes and internationalizes attitudes, reinforces caste distinctions. As in the case of Las Vegas, it reinforces bad behavior and then disseminates it, and its consequences, far and wide. It appears to YFNA that travel, without a purpose of humble service, is not a boon, it is a curse.
Given how the world is set up right now, many people are hurt by the curtailment of travel ‘at will’, and would continue to be hurt, at least in the short term, by the termination of tourism as an industry.
But, in the long term, especially if concerns about social justice are more than just the posturing vogue du jour, we are (it says here) better off without it.
* Credo: None of us is better than the worst of us. Life consists of a constant battle to prevent that worst from breaking out on others, which one either wins more often than not, or loses more often than not. Any form of self-image that minimizes that battle and impedes the task of winning it more often than not, that gets in the way of putting others ahead of oneself in the name of prospering a society that is worth living in, is the short road to personal and societal destruction. Speaking of masks.
Well written, and interesting, as usual.
Tourism may be bad (or not), but travel is generally good. Travel and live and learn with the people who live where you travel to. See how much smarter the natives are about everything in their space, than you are.
Nathalie — I think this was Samuel Clemens’ take away, too. Unfortunately, many people who travel go to see for themselves how much more superior and privileged they are compared to others, and when going in with such a mindset, it is very hard to learn.
I concur with Charlene’s assessment. It might also be worth noting that Twain’s quote was published in 1869, based on travel undertaken in 1867. At that point, extensive travel was still ‘new’, enhanced by railroad and steamship in ways similar in impact to the jet airliner and automobile of a century later – but not new enough to prevent the development of ‘tourist stops’, which Twain sharply, and sardonically, distinguished from ‘authentic’ destinations. Moreover, the (now ended?) era of travel ‘at will’ has not stopped the perpetuation of willful insularity, Facebook fans.