Tourism’s ability to enrich, teach, and connect humans is intermingled with the responsibility to protect our environment, local cultures, and microeconomics.
The downside is that tourism is a ticking time bomb for culture.
Only $5 out of $100 spent in tourism stays in a destination.
Municipal infrastructures are crumbling due to pressure on their resources.
They are crumbling due to the evacuation - and at times, deportation - of the very citizens who helped draw visitors in the first place. Yet, tourism cannot be outsourced.
I realized this on a trip.
As I climb up the temple steps to watch the sunrise that I am grateful.
I scramble to the top of the temple as the sun begins to eclipse the mountain tops. I gasp at how beautiful this countryside is. Bagan, Myanmar is on fire. The gold and red and orange and purple light hit the trees and herders’ paths welcoming them to the day. The temples turn a fiery clay red or into a blinding golden beam. I am in my element. I sense the history of the area, the newness of it all to me, and my independence as a traveler.
I walk back down to the horse cart to go home. My foot makes the first "crunch" off the temple steps as a girl and two young boys envelope me. I shuffle away from them as they push postcards and trinkets toward my torso.
“You buy. You buy. You buy?” they keep saying. I push them away as I do most peddlers. I see them as an inconvenience in my experience of the sunrise.
As I reflect on that scene I realize how wrong I am to see a division. These are locals who are forced into finding their own economic advantage with the influx of visitors.
The "peddlers" try to make extra money as I do back home. The "peddlers" go to the place they know will be beneficial, as I do back home. Even if the scene looks different due to colors, geography, food, or transportation, the underlying theme of Life is still present.
The more we are different, the more we are the same. Empathy for them is empathy for ourselves.
Tourism is not “I”, but “we”.
Tourism cannot and should not stop.
Yet, there is a different way to think about tourism as a business.
That the basis of one of the world’s largest industries is human.
So, why does one that industry NOT protect its most valuable resource?
Quantifying tourism’s impact is hard, yet without the direct voice of the people who live in destinations and provide the very reasons why people visit there will be no progress.
As of now, a lack of understanding the cultural, environmental, and social impacts on locals’ lives leave them defenseless and open to exploitation.
This issue and question is not new, yet, nations have struggled for decades to make sense of the information.
There is a need to analyze, regulate, and monitor tourism traffic. That starts with research into what the real issues are. Who better to ask than the people who work in and support the industry globally?
Their first hand accounts can provide insight into accommodating growth.
Please join me as we work to document and increase the volume on the voices of locals around the world.