This is a question I have often pondered and no wonder if you think about the reputation tourists have: the French tourists are considered intolerably arrogant, the British are always wasted (as are the Icelandic), the Germans are so cheap that they fill their pockets with the bread from the buffet, the Japanese don’t care as long as the get the picture, the Swiss get agitated if the train comes one minute too late, the Russians don’t know the meaning of courtesy, the Americans are way too loud and the Chinese respect no rules and so on and so on.
As I’m writing this we are graduating from being tourist to just ordinary people in transit :) We’ve been tourists, surrounded by tourists for a few months now and we’ve thought about and talked about tourists a lot.
What we have noticed is that tourists are very special people in deed. For one, tourists dress in a way that is immediately noticeable. Somehow they are always a bit out of tune – too heavily dressed in trekking shoes and fleece sweaters, too lightly dressed in flip-flops and shorts, too much new gear, too much Columbia and North Face or too much local stuff that no local would ever wear – what ever that may be. Tourists definitely don’t dress in the same manner as they would at home that is for sure.
Tourists are not the best mannered people either. Often they are pressed with time or money or both and act accordingly. They want everything – right now – this minute – either free or for as little money as possible. They are on a tight schedule and want to get their money’s worth, including pictures and all and can get a bit agitated is things are not going their way.
According to our observations, the bigger the tourist group – the more exaggerated this (mis-)behavior becomes. I thought that when people come in groups they would be more concerned about their behavior so that the others in their group would not condemn them but it seems that in big groups one’s misbehavior is another one’s license to misbehave. Who hasn’t been in a group where you really want that perfect photo of that local person doing that local stuff but you feel it is inappropriate just to go for it. But when someone in the group takes the first picture everyone thinks that it is OK to fire away.
Throughout our trip I’ve thought a lot about the impact tourists make on the local communities and the environment and quite often the picture isn’t pretty. Communities and ecosystems have been spoiled and even ruined due to the arrival of too many tourists and same goes for invaluable cultural sites that have been tramped down by tourists hungry for that perfect photo.
So are tourists evil? Just so that I can live with my self for being a tourist for the past few months I’m forced to think of some good things about tourists and the tourist industry. So what is positive about tourists …humm ….?
I think there are two great things about tourists and tourism. First, it is the money tourists bring with them and spend along the way. Tourists spend huge amount of money and they are most willing to spend their money where prices are low and most often that is in low income areas so tourists often make the most impact where there is the most need. One can therefore argue that to some extent tourism is one sort of income or wealth distribution.
Secondly, I think that tourism or rather travel provides a great platform where different people can meet and get to know each other, share experiences and learn about each other. This should bring us all closer together and lower the walls between different cultures. It is just like the small town rivalry where I grew up, we hated (ok, more disliked) people from Akureyri and despised all that they stood for – there was simply no other option. But all (most) the people from Akureyri that I’ve gotten to know have been very nice people indeed – so getting to know them has eliminated my “hatred” :)
I’m sure there are more positive sides of tourism like spreading knowledge, stimulating the economy, extending the collective gene pool, decreasing racism, showing that all the animals in the forest need to be friends and so on but I’ll let do with those two above.
During our trip we (the tourists) tried as much as we could to stay away from other tourists during our travels. Maybe not because tourists are evil but because we weren’t travelling to see them with all their quirks – we were travelling to see the natives and local people and their quirks.
What do you think? Are tourists evil? Have they changed your community? Do you have a compelling story about tourists? …or better yet, a funny story of tourists? Bring it on!