September 2019

It is said that travel broadens the mind. Why is that? Traveling shows you parts of the world that are different from your own and allows you to mix with people who have different cultures, ideas and ways of life. Meeting and living with those folks allows you to appreciate their views, food and experiences. That’s got to be good for everyone surely?

Back when traveling wasn’t as easy as it now is, you would be very likely to come into contact with many ‘locals’ and in doing so you shared a common journey. Hopefully the traveler learned quickly to understand and respect other cultures and the ways of doing things.  When the tourist failed to be respectful and tolerant problems tended to appear!

Recently we hear a great deal about over-tourism. This is when the number of visitors exceeded the ability of a destination to handle the vast numbers of arrivals. The locals start to be overwhelmed by not only the numbers of tourists but by those visitors failing to be sensitive to the daily life of the place with which they are suddenly presented.

Much of this is appears to be caused by the ways we ‘arrive’ as tourists in a new destination. I remember being in Central Australia at the huge monolithic rock called Uluru.  Uluru by the way, is a sacred site to the Pitantjatjara Anangu, the Aboriginal people of that part of Australia, who have been residents for millions of years. Europeans only arrived in the area in early 1800’s and promptly renamed Uluru as Ayers Rock after a politician of the time. Failing to recognize the area as sacred, it became a tourist destination.  I was there to photograph ‘The Rock’ as it often appears to change color as the sun sets – it is quite magnificent.  I set up my cameras on tripods in the scrubland (known as The Bush) some distance from the sandstone monolith in almost total seclusion with just the other 10 members of our party, and waited for the sun to set.  Suddenly and apparently out of nowhere (bearing in mind this is in the center of Australia, pretty much a thousand miles from anywhere!) came literally dozens of tourists buses each disgorging about 40 or 50 people.  As the sun began to set and the Rock changed color the silence of the Outback was filled with the clicking of camera shutters and “oohs”, “Ahs” and chattering of the tourists.  As the sun finally went down, I turned and as quickly as they arrived, the tours buses disappeared into the night leaving the bush, and our small party in silence.

Much the same thing is currently happening in places like Venice where enormous cruise liners pull into the lagoon and unload up to 5000 tourists each. The effect is catastrophic for the Renaissance City.  Regrettably a significant number of the visitors appear to treat the City as some sort of theme park. Having disembarked from their floating home from home, they almost consider the residents as actors much like the ‘cast members’ as they are called, at DisneyWorld. In Rome, tourists have been seen paddling in the Trevi Fountain, much to consternation of the Romans. Machu Pichu has resorted to limiting the number of visitors in fear that World Heritage site will be destroyed by sheer numbers of travelers. 

Regrettably some tourists seem unable to moderate their own cultural values and nuances and impose them on the place they are visiting.  I’m sure many of us have seen this type of behavior.  The western tourists who wears inappropriate clothing when visiting another countries sacred site or temple. Unthinking visitors who trample on rare plants or who feed wild animals that the locals certainly wouldn’t encourage.  We’ve been in churches and other religious places where the peace and solemnity has been disturbed by unthinking visitors talking loudly or taking photos.  

No one set of tourists or travelers is worse than any other and the problem has been present for generations, it’s just that the cruise liner, Jumbo Jet and tour bus has made it easier for large numbers of people to arrive in a destination bringing with them their own culture and ways of behavior. Their sudden arrival makes assimilation and consideration of the local culture very difficult. Unless one is made aware of what the locals deem acceptable behavior, you as a tourist can unknowingly offend.

Travel does indeed broaden the mind.  The mind however needs to be open to learning. The visitor must be conscious that they are indeed only visiting. The tourists are guests and must understand, tolerate and absorb local culture.  Locals should be willing to be welcoming, and attempt to gently educate their visitors.  Only then can the collective minds be broadened and benefits of tourism can be shared.