Or, Is Travel Really Good for the Planet?
The simple answer is no. Travel is destroying the planets resources and in many countries there is no way to recover from this destruction. Many countries were hit so hard by the economic meltdown that they have turned to tourism as their main income stream which is never sustainable and usually means that the planets biggest ‘users’ go to poorer countries and use precious resources such as water, electricity and food.
No government however has stopped the madness to give the locals what they need the most, ‘tourism tolerance training 101’. It is not easy dealing with demanding tourists or tourists from another country. Even if the tourist isn’t demanding, to the locals who have very little money and who might have never been able to travel away from their home, seeing tourist after tourist coming to their city gives the false illusion that tourists are wealthy and the hostility towards tourism in general begins to build. I think this is where the crazy notion that all Americans are wealthy comes from. Mike and I have heard this over and over again from people in almost every country we have been too and on every continent. They think that all Americans are wealthy which simply isn’t true. By American standards we are far from wealthy; we just travel smart to make our dollars go further.
This false perception that Americans are wealthy arises because many of the locals in some countries make less than $500 a month and they have never been outside of their own cities let alone explored their own country. What this mentality has done however is to make locals, who are working for next to nothing in income, have a negative attitude about tourists and how selfish and self-centered they think we are. In many of these countries the government leaders sold the locals a bill of goods telling them that having tourists and even retiring expats invading their shores would help the economy and therefore they would all make more money. This is really not the case.
This has lead to some locals not caring if they cheat tourists. We were in London recently and because the local bus was two hours late in arriving in the London bus station we had to have a taxi in a hurry to get us to the airport instead of having the luxury of using the cab we had hired which was no longer waiting for us. The dispatch ass who was behind the counter therefore wanted $100 to get us to the airport on time. We had no choice. I don’t waste time in wishing people ill but I also hope he’s still sitting on a toilet somewhere.
What the locals also see is crime rising in their cities, water shortages, costs of food and the cost of property rising; costs that wouldn’t be going up if those selling them didn’t realize that tourists and even expats will pay more for these items so they sell them for more to everyone. So locals are now spending more to live in their own countries. This is not the way to build goodwill.
In Panama we were there when the locals told us that they were being pushed further and further out of the town of Boquete because the cost to live there was too high now that so many expats had swarmed the city. Many of these families go back generations of living in Boquete and now they are being pushed out. When tourists and expats have an adverse affect on a local what type of relationship do you think gets built?
Take the recent request from the authorities in Rio, Brazil to its citizens. We are months away from the World Cup and they are already telling people to conserve water because they do not have enough fresh water to accommodate all the tourists who will be coming to watch the games. If you don’t have the resources why are you hosting the games and making the lives of your own people more stressful than it needs to be? Why isn’t their government telling the World Cup folks that they need to find some place else to go? Money! Lots and lots of money coming into the country from all those fans of the World Cup and no one voluntarily walks away from money. Especially heads of government no matter the true costs to its own people.
This is a pretty large issue and it’s becoming larger by the day. Locals are being sold a bill of goods that having tourists invade their shores will equate to a higher income for everyone. Take the falsehood surrounding cruise ships. Resistance to cruise ship passengers docking in certain cities is on the rise and in some areas they do not want cruise ships at all. We have heard locals scoff with comments about those getting off cruise ships who leave nothing behind but waste. They do not contribute to the local economy because they usually only shop where they are directed to do so; they take tours ascribed by the cruise line or an agent; they don’t eat in a local restaurant since all their meals are included in the price of the cruise. In fact most cruise passengers buy very little when off the ship besides ice cream or plastic trinkets; most of which are not made locally. There is not a lot of sympathy towards cruise passengers in some places where they get cheated or robbed. People in some countries where all these ships dock are starving or their children are starving and people do desperate things sometimes to survive.
I have a solution for this problem which I will write about in another piece; Tourist vs. Resident pricing and how to make this work so that the locals really like having tourists around. The leaders of all these governments forgot lesson one in Tourism Tolerance 101 – there has to be a reason for the locals to like having tourists in their country. Without a real tangible for the locals to see or to bank on, tourism feeds anger and disgust, indifference and even theft.
I’ve never been one to believe that things cannot be changed for the better. There is always time to act on positive thoughts and create a system where locals can thrive; where the planet does not suffer more than it needs too; where tourists still feel valued and wanted. I just hope I am right.