Throughout history, travel has been one of the main causes of relationship formation among different cultures and nations. From the 15th to 17th century, travel was provoked by the desire for power, freedom, knowledge and economic prosperity. In today’s world, tourism has become the main motive for travel. As modern day tourism is growing to become the world’s fastest growing industry, it is also becoming the primary basis of relationship formation between cultures and nations. Tourism also affects the social, economic and political aspects of these different cultures and nations.
This essay examines the advantages and disadvantages of tourism and the role it plays in relationships among cultures and nations. One major advantage of modern day tourism is the significant effect it has on a nation’s economy. In most developing countries of the world, tourism is a dominant means of “attracting the coveted foreign exchange” (“Tourism Development”). Tourism creates jobs for the civilians of the “host” country, (approximately 1 employee/ 1000 tourist) (“Tourism Development”), brings in foreign investments and helps generate revenue by way of infrastructure that benefits the host country (“Tourism”).
Considering tourism accounts for an overall 30% of the Gross Domestic Product in the top ten destinations of the Caribbean, it is safe to say that tourism has the ability to prevent, what Western nations assume, an already weak economy from getting worse (“Tourism”). This is especially true in the case of developing nations. An example of this is presented by the Bahamas. “Every year between 60% and 70% of the gross domestic product is generated by the tourist industry. (Iwersen-Sioltsidis, and Iwersen 302) Though this causes the success of economic structure of the Bahamas to be dependent on tourism, the benefits it brings to the country such as increase employment percentages and a higher budget cannot be ignored. Another advantage of tourism in culture is cultural preservation. Tourism provides incentives that motivate nations to handle the up-keep of their historical sites and monuments. This is because the historic sites and monuments are what attracts tourists to these nations, and therefore need to be preserved.
In the same breath, “host” countries also need to insure the preservation of the traditional food, fashion, festivals and physical history of their countries. For the tourists, the value placed on “authentic” cuisine and clothing is immeasurable (“Tourism Development”). Aside from the economy and preservation, tourism also helps to promote understanding of different countries, ethnicities and cultures. As tourism increases, a more direct contact between different cultures begins to occur, that will eventually lead to a total “diffusion of world cultures” (“Tourism” 5).
This prolonged contact between cultures creates the opportunity for friendly dialogue and peaceful relations between different people and nations. As this diffusion begins to affect the mentality, attitude and popular beliefs of tourists while establishing understanding, the overall goal of peace can be obtained. In comparison to the advantages, the disadvantages of tourism are far more obvious. The seasonality of the tourism industry greatly influences the success of a “’host” country, Needless to say that the country is most vulnerable in low season.
With regard to culture, the cultural heritages of “host” countries have been exploited in the process of attracting tourists. Since majority of tourist industry is controlled by upper class of foreign interests, the revenue generated from tourism is respectfully divided (‘Tourism Development”). The upper class and foreign interest take most of the earnings and the remainder hardly ever reaches the core of the population that sacrifice for the sake of tourism (“Tourism Development”). This “core” of the population includes workers of tourist resorts.
These workers receive little to no benefits for their jobs. They have no job security due to the seasonality of tourism, no work safety rules and more often than not, they have no form of healthcare. In Terry McMillan’s 1996 How Stella Got Her Groove Back, a novel about a woman, Stella Payne, searching for happiness and self-fulfillment, we discover that the resort workers had no benefits outside of a room to sleep on and food. The greatest disadvantage of tourism, in my opinion, is the narrative that tourists are sold when the visit their destination countries.
This is due to that cultural deconstruction occurring on most ‘host” countries. The true culture of a nation is lost in the midst of the “performances” that are put on for tourists as a part of a package deal. Similar to the package Stella Payne experienced in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, tourists are presented a one sided view of “host” nations. The tourists never get truly take the time to get to know the reality of their destination country because they believe that what is being shown to them is real.
What tourists fail to realize, as they engage in and begin to expect the false narrative being presented to them is that the true nature of that country is lost. The tourists are sold on “primary products” such as sand, suds, safari, and in the case of Stella Payne, sex and sun (“Tourism Development”). And these primary products begin to paint a permanent picture in the minds of tourists that construct the false narrative tourists bring with them on vacation. In meditation of my personal travels to other nations and even other states in my own country, I realized that I had preconceived notions and opinions about the places I was visiting.
On my first trip to Hawaii during Spring break of 2008, I found myself excited to live in the Hawaii I was accustomed to seeing on television. I anticipated that when I arrived to this wonderful, carefree, perfect weather island and stepped off the plane that I would be greeted by a group of Hawaiian men and women in grass skirts. I expected to hear music and see that group of Hawaiian men and women dancing in two lines on either side of me. In the midst of the celebration of my arrival I would be greeted by a Hula dancer that would place a lei necklace around my neck and plant a kiss on my cheek.
When I arrived to the hotel I expected to be greeted by more Hawaiians in grass skirts and have more lei necklaces places upon my neck. When I went to the beach I expected to meet a younger Hawaiian male with whom I could spark up a spring fling, just as I had seen on television. Now as I reminisce about the trip, I realize that I was aiding to the disadvantages and negative connotation of tourism. I recognize that am a prime example of the tourist described in Jamaica Kincaid’s 1988 A Small Place.
I was the “ugly” tourist that was careless and showed little respect for the reality the civilians of Hawaii lived. I, just like the “ugly” tourist in Kincaid’s book, expected everything in Hawaii to pause and refocus itself on me. I expected everything to be perfect because “[I was] on my holiday; [I was] a tourist” (Kincaid 6). That group of Hawaiian men and women in grass skirts never greeted me when I arrived, the music did not play and the weather was not perfect. In fact it stormed while I was there on my vacation.
Unlike Stella Payne in Terry McMillan’s 1996 How Stella Got Her Groove Back, I never got my shot at an island romance because that young Hawaiian male never appeared. Now I recognize that tourism does have its disadvantages those nations and cultures that must sacrifice to appease tourists like myself that neither see nor care about the reality of the places they vacation in. But because my of the narrative about Hawaii that I had been sold all of my life, I could not help but to be selfish and enjoy as much of the glamourized Hawaii as possible.
Knowing this, I now aim to become more responsible in my travels. Having the knowledge about tourism and its advantages and disadvantages allows tourists and “host” nations to take more control over the situation. I suggest that the “host” nations and tourists make an effort to become more responsible by doing the following: engage in activities that add value to the community and overall experiences, support cultural diversity, make an effort to step outside of the typical narrative, and support tradition and cultural legacies.
Today, travelers have the ability to educate themselves on the different nations and cultures around the globe. By doing this, these travelers become more aware of the world in which they live and overall they become more responsible tourists. By being responsible tourists, travelers are now able to hold themselves accountable for the actions, thoughts and prejudices they bring with them on vacation. In doing this, tourists will no longer be fooled by the packaged narratives and will do their part in fighting against the disadvantages of tourism in culture.