My travels, recent or otherwise, have shaped the way I want to see the travel industry expand. There are many articles and even novels I could write on my emotions attached to travel. I hold the belief that travel is one of the best forms of personal education as well as ways for nations and economies to build stronger relationships.
What strikes me most about the work out there on the internet surrounding travel is its focus on the travelers. Yes, knowing where to shop, eat, and stay all have important impacts on the local environment and how money impacts that direct local economy, but what about the people on the other side of the transaction? Those who are tailoring their markups, products, and advertising to a constantly shifting client base? Who is there to speak for them beside their own voices? Where do locals fit into almost omnipresent tourism markets?
In 2010 I worked for an opera company in Italy and in 2013 I traveled to Thailand and Myanmar. These two excursions greatly affected how I would see, and how I see myself in, the travel industry. I, for the most part, am a loner traveler. I do what little research I can, talk to people, buy a ticket, and go. That’s about it. However, I am not the norm. A great majority of travel is done through booked tours and professional services. These companies are working now to include responsible, sustainable, or ethical travel plans. The terminology is shifty but the definition remains the same; Travelers want to know how their presence is affecting locals.
New Orleans was not always a tourists’ heaven. Long before plastic beads had to be bulldozed from the French Quarter streets, the Mississippi brought in industrial money, not 9 million visitors. It took a certain grit and determination (still found in those who live and work here) to make your footing and not get lost in the devious underbelly. The New Orleans of today is currently in an opinionated crisis between native New Orleanians and transplants, homeowners and renters, artists and entrepreneurs, and traditional culture versus mainstream tourism.
My point is that many travelers today are not looking to go sightsee local cultures as if in a zoo, but to live, make decisions, and participate, for however briefly, in a destination. The goal for many travelers today is to get the closest they can to a home cooked meal. Agritourimos in Italy, ranches in the American West, and street food in Mandalay are the closest proximity they will probably have to being treated like a local.
Locals have pride in their hometowns. They want to share the best of what is available while not having their lives interrupted by ignorant individuals only wishing to forget about their lives at home.
Why is responsible tourism only marketed and produced for the luxury inclined? Few millennials are growing up to be wealthy enough to embark on $10,000 vacations sponsored by business partnerships and deals.
Down in the French Quarter things are less than likely to be luxurious. At one point only the richest people could afford to be in there, but mainly, the wealthy got out as soon as they could afford to. New Orleans has always been a hardworking, fight for every penny type of place. When industry ships turned from wind-powered to steam and then coal and now oil New Orleanians have always been about welcoming outsiders into their fold.
Now, I see the opposite happening. It’s as if we have been overrun by people we don’t think fit here. The “adult playground” is fine and dandy for those coming from Texas, New York, or Michigan, but only for a moment. THey come in drunkenly and leave with moral guilt. Not just because of what New Orleans has to offer, but because of how they treat this city.
Locals are notorious for the ability to hold jobs and contribute to a vibrant lifestyle. And most people from other places want to know why/how they do it and if it just means they are functioning alcoholics.
A solution may not be realized yet. It’s hard to show off a location to people who don’t stay for too long. Misimpressions turn into wild stereotypes that, yes maybe true, but are only because they dipped into the lives of people they don’t know for a brief moment and saw that part of the story.
Travel is a story line. It’s time for everyone--travelers, locals, businesses, and government--to contribute the best part of themselves to the narrative.