This morning, I was reading an article that said many destinations are cracking down on tourism because it is harming their local community. This makes me sad for two reasons: (1) Destinations are capitalizing on tourism and diluting a truly authentic experience for the sake of money. (2) Uneducated travelers could be ruining a good thing for those of us who travel for more reasons than going viral on Instagram.
Taking Advantage of Travelers
Anyone who has done a decent amount of traveling is aware of the phony souvenir stands selling “locally made” goods. I was once victim of one of these stands – I purchased an “artisan made” beaded necklace in NYC and later found it in multiple colors at a chain-boutique in Nebraska. We recently experienced another example of locals taking advantage of naive travelers in Hawaii. While in Kauai, we visited the Spouting Horn. On the way to the lookout point, visitors can walk through a small market of vendors selling everything from Lilo & Stitch paraphernalia and toy instruments to jewelry and handmade baskets. Many jewelry merchants were hocking “Made in Hawaii” accessories…many of which I had also seen in Mexico, Paris, New York City and on Amazon. Another vendor was selling beautiful baskets and bags made of woven orchid stems. When we asked where they were made, the vendor replied, “Fiji.”
Mutually Respectful Tourism
It’s sad that travelers have to be on their guard to avoid being taken advantage of. Here’s another example: Whenever I travel to a non-English speaking country, I do my best to learn basic communications and vocabulary to enhance my experience with the culture and to be respectful. Still, while in France, an unsuspecting baker didn’t realize I had heard her speaking English the day before; she also wasn’t aware that I understood enough French to piece together her frustrating remarks when I asked – in French – if she could help me in English. I’m not offended. I understand her frustration; but it goes both ways with tourism.
Respect Your Destination
As a traveler, I am only creating a problem for my culture when I act like an “ugly American.” Disrespecting a destination and it’s people only contributes to the wall they build, and misrepresenting your own culture has global implications. Take Mexico for example; crime and violence have provoked travel bans and warning labels. Having visited Mexico, I feel sorry for those who do their part to offer a safe and positive experience for travelers. Ben and I had an amazing time in San Pancho last year, meeting some locals we are now friends with on Facebook. Still, it was a little unnerving to see their military patrolling tourist areas.
Give me 100% or nothing
There should be no fast-food version of travel. I don’t want anything less than 100% all-natural destination. Don’t give me the diluted version created to pad your wallet and cater to the masses. If you want tourists to respect your home and show genuine interest in you and your community, stop coddling them with westernized amenities. Those who love your country and its people, will keep coming back and they will invite others. Those who can’t function outside of their happy meal comfort zone will stay home.