July 2016

This month is the beginning of the summer holidays and many will look forward to travelling to different countries to enjoy some well-earned rest and recuperation, and to have some fun. For some, going abroad is about venturing to new places to discover new cultures, eat different food and learn about other traditions. For other holidaymakers it’s about creating a little piece of Britain abroad, eating fish and chips and listening to UK pop music but in a sunny climate. . It sounds better to be a pilgrim rather than a tourist; there seems to be something noble and worthy about a pilgrimage whereas a tourist has simply paid some money to sit on a beach somewhere.

The German film director Werner Herzog called tourism a deadly sin; he may have a point. The same way that tourism can encourage the preservation of socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, mass tourism may also erode traditional values by introducing foreign elements which are in conflict with the cultural, historical, and religious heritage of the community. But we are all tourists now; travelling has never been more widespread, it would seem.

In many cases a steady flux of tourists has either made the lives of locals actually seem worse because resources such as water or electricity are diverted from them in order to satisfy the needs of hotels or prices of land and products skyrocket so that the necessities of life are no longer affordable.  These problems usually arise with poor regulations and planning, and are not the fault of the poor locals just trying to get by. 

What tends to happen is that a wealthy few who own the land and develop the property end up becoming richer, while the local people end up being pushed out or overworked at their new, menial hotel job.  In other words: rich foreign investors and developers gets more money at the expense of the locals. 

Tourism is an industry; many peoples’ livelihoods depend upon it. But those of us who act as consumers of the tourist trade might want to tread carefully as we journey to far flung destinations. We don’t have the right to go anywhere simply because we’ve booked a ticket. Our rights as international consumers do not override the rights of others to live according to their own beliefs and customs. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.’

Revd Steven Rothwell