What is your opinion on tourism and traveling? Is there an ethical way of going about it?

Submitted by leftous in AskRaddle (edited )

I have conflicting thoughts on tourism and world travelers.

On one hand, I love history and reaching out to people from different cultures to learn about them. On the other hand, the harmful impacts of tourism (e.g. ecotourism), the servitude of locals, how they are forced to put on cultural exhibitions for tourists, etc all trouble me.

I was wondering what the community's thoughts were on this. Or perhaps you can share non-harmful ways you have gone about traveling in the past.


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GaldraChevaliere wrote

Respect hospitality. You are a guest in someone else's home, make no demands and stay out of the way of their business. That's about the best way I think someone could go about it.


red_pepper wrote

I worry countries that rely on tourism suffer from the resource curse. This is especially evident in the Caribbean, where 1. tourist enclaves like resort towns and cruise ships have a siloing effect on economic activity and development and 2. most tourist businesses are owned by foreigners or expats who pay little in taxes while taking money from the islands and invest it elsewhere.


[deleted] wrote (edited )


Pop wrote

Let's not forget that the US is an occupied territory itself


indi wrote

I grew up in the Caribbean, and on an island whose primary resource was (and probably still is) tourism. When I was young, the tourist industry was very different than it is today.

Back then there were basically no exclusive resorts. Some of the fancier ones were "exclusive-ish", in that if you just waltzed in off the street and wandered around, the security guards would basically harass you to move on... but if you were actually there for a purpose (and weren't causing trouble or harassing the guests) they would leave you alone. And it wasn't just a matter of the guards being nice; in fact the hotels were quite happy to have locals come in and use their facilities. Bars and clubs (inside the larger hotels) would welcome locals who came in and partied with the guests (because locals' money was just as good as tourists'), I think I swam in the swimming pools of just about every hotel on the island at one point or another and even went to events organized at hotel pools, and when I joined the tennis club at one school I attended, we walked over to a nearby resort to use their courts (naturally guests got first dibs, but I can't ever recall that taking up more than two courts, and they had three).

Mind you, I'm not saying things were perfect. If you weren't going to cause trouble you could walk into virtually any hotel on the island... but you had to look "civilized". In other words, you had to make it a point to look and act the way an American or European would expect... not the way you'd walk around "normally" when you were in primarily local-frequented areas. So yeah, there was definitely an aspect of imperialism involved. And a certain level of racism that kinda goes with it.

And tourists were encouraged to go out... just about anywhere on the island. There were tourist hot spots of course - like the botanical gardens, for example - which would be mostly frequented by tourists. But the majority of the spots tourists would go to visit - like the fish market, downtown with all the produce vendors, the department store which sold souvenir trinkets alongside furniture and everyday clothing, the harbour (right in the middle of downtown) - they were all places where locals would go to do their own business. It was just... normal... to be walking down the street in the city shoulder to shoulder with locals on their way to/from work, and tourists either off a cruise ship or staying at one of the hotels.

And that even extended to celebrities. Because, by law, there were no private beaches. It was simply illegal to block off the beach in any way. (It might still be; it's been a while since I lived there.) So there was nothing stopping locals from lounging on the same beach the people staying at the top-tier resorts were at. I actually bumped into several huge stars - Schwarzenegger around Terminator 2 time, for example - who were just... chillin' on the beach. And there was sort of an unspoken social rule for locals not to harass tourists, so the most you'd do is a wave if you happened to make eye contact. I didn't really appreciate it at the time - not until I moved to North America - but it was actually astonishingly egalitarian.

Once again, let me stress that I'm not saying any of this was perfect. Some beach vendors did harass tourists with high-pressure sales bullshit, so there was a cycle of crackdowns where police would patrol the beaches and give shit to anyone who "looked local" and seemed to be getting to close or too friendly with tourists. And there was always this unspoken undercurrent of imperialist undertone where the locals were the "lowers" and the tourists were the "betters"... and you weren't supposed to mingle too much with those outside of your class. For example, there was a big scandal at one point when a major R&B star started dating a... well, basically a beach bum (I don't know if he actually was a beach bum - I just got that impression from the coverage, and I am well aware of how biased the coverage was); while it was quietly acknowledged that there was a bunch of people who "preyed" on tourists as "vacation boyfriends/girlfriends" (sometimes in exchange for cash/gifts, sometimes to rack up your score, sometimes just for the thrill of it), it was just outrageous that a tourist/local relationship would be taken seriously.

So I'm not saying that things were perfect... but they weren't that bad. Things changed in the years since, though. The island has been mismanaged badly, and the economy is way, way down and crime is way, way up. That's meant most resorts have either folded completely or been bought by overseas franchises and so on. And most of them became much, much more exclusive, and much more hostile to locals using the facilities. Tourists are much less likely to just wander freely around the island, because of the crime, which has further tanked the economy.

I think u/Jessica hit the nail exactly on the head in their comment. There is good tourism and bad tourism, pretty much as u/Jessica described. And I observed mostly good tourism... not perfectly good tourism, but fairly good nonetheless... and it was wonderful. Going to parties as a kid, I'd rub shoulders with a revolving door of visitors from all over the world, and we'd trade stories and cultures and have fun together. And it was really a great equalizer, because whatever social stratification visitors may have had in their home countries, they were all just "guests" on the island - whether they were a celebrity or a salaryman back home, none of that really mattered on the island. And I presume the visitors had a good time, too, because I remember one of the boasts of the island's tourism industry was one of the highest (if not the highest) repeat-customer statistics in the world.

I can't give the final word on whether tourism can be ethical or not. I just wanted to give the perspective of someone who grew up as a local in a tourist destination. Tourism really made the island a better place; even ignoring the economic benefits, without it we would have been insular (no pun intended) with no real way for the locals (who were mostly too poor to travel) to experience other cultures. (That may be a moot point now, with the Internet and modern communication technology.) We also wouldn't have had as much motivation to recognize, and thus celebrate and preserve, our unique culture. I can't tell you whether tourism on a whole is ethical or not. But I do want to encourage you from thinking of the tourist destinations, and the locals there, as more than just victims. Yes, there is some level of victimization by imperialism from richer countries. But I think when tourism was done well, it did far more good for the island than ill.


red_pepper wrote

Thanks for your perspective! I don't disagree that there are good and bad types of tourism. I think, however, that the mismanagement that happened over the years is the resource curse. By relying on a single industry for income, the government has less incentive to invest in its people. Tourism can act as an important source of income in the short and medium term, but in the long term it seems to always have bad results.

I'm not an expert, though. Maybe there's a way to keep that from happening. I don't know. And certainly there are benefits to tourism, such as making people more worldly and opening up new opportunities. I just worry is all.


indi wrote

I think this is a case of "everything looks like a nail". The resource curse doesn't really apply in this situation... not without a whole lot of shoving square pegs into round holes and then squinting at the results.

In fact, tourism was an incredible benefit to the island, for at least half a century (and probably longer). Where things went wrong really had nothing to do with the tourism industry. If it were possible to continue as it had in the past, the island would be much better off than it is now.

What went wrong is a combination of political incompetence and corruption, and the disastrous effects of the financial collapse. I guess they figured relying too much on tourism alone was a bad idea, so for many years there was a concerted effort to become the money centre of the Caribbean... and most of Central and South America too. On an island small enough to walk across and back in a day (no exaggeration, I did it as a child, and it only took part of an afternoon) there were so many banks and other financial companies I don't think anyone was able to count them. The island is now a "tax haven". There are several buildings now where when you walk inside, there is a single desk with a secretary to answer the phone, and walls just covered with the plaques of hundreds... maybe even thousands... of foreign companies that, in theory, have their offices in that building. Some of them are big names, too, that you'd probably recognize.

While this wasn't great - just as anywhere else, that kind of industry only makes the rich richer, and does fuck all to help anyone else - things only turned bad when the financial collapse hit. It's not an exaggeration to say that pretty much destroyed the whole island's economy. That lead to two things: a sharp rise in crime, which naturally forced most hotels to turtle up, and generally caused a need to segregate tourists from the (crime-riddled) locals; and lots of locals losing their livelihoods, which led to many of them turning to foreign investors for cash, and thus selling off local properties. That's what turned the tourist industry sour.

So no, I don't agree that tourism was the cause of the island's woes. On the contrary, I think tourism could have saved it. It was other factors that turned the situation bad, and that hurt tourism and turned it from the "good" form to the "bad" form. Tourism was not the disease, it was the vital organ harmed by the disease. If it were possible to fix all the crime and for locals to buy back all the hotels and bars and stuff so tourism could bounce back to the way it was before, that would probably be wonderful for the island.


Tequila_Wolf wrote

I disdain tourism - in particular the tourism of wealthy people in coloniser countries visiting poor countries. There are so many layers of ignorant garbage that they bring with them I'm not even going to begin to lay them out.

I haven't done any tourism since I became political. I've visited friends in other countries and have done a lot of work to be sensitive to those spaces that they participate in. I don't think I'll do any more tourism in future - if I travel it will be to spend time with people I care about (while immersed in their community on their terms) or maybe to participate in work-related events.

Meeting wonderful people through an anarchist project for example, then visiting them at some stage in their home country, all the while being sensitive to the political concerns and culture of the place, seems among the better ways to travel.

There's just too much to say here about shitty tourists who in various ways reproduce colonial garbage. Here the voluntourist industrial complex is huge and as obnoxious as fucked up. And plain old tourists coming to a place, consuming it, and leaving is just gross.

Asking the question of who gets to be a tourist also helps to show what tourism is.


Infinity wrote

My partner and I went to Italy many years ago. Because I'm an artist, I wanted to go to Venice. Now that I think about it I believe that he had his heart set on visiting Venice as well. I think someone told him that it was such a unique city, which it is...but When we got there we realized that It was like Disneyland or Las Vegas out there, and we ended up getting into a fight over something ridiculous. I don't remember what it was about, and rarely do we ever fight. The place we stayed at was the cheapest spot, but it was not cheap. I ended up getting bitten all over by fleas in the bed. So we couldn't wait to get out of there. The best part of that trip was when we had to sleep outside because we went to an obscure little village in Tuscany, and got there after 4 PM or on a weekend when everything was closed. We had to sleep outside, and then we ran out of food, and we found a wild fig tree and went forriaging for wild greens and figs. That was so much fun. It was many years ago, and we were actually "traveling" tourists then. We went on that trip to Italy with intention to see Italy, and we somewhat planned the sights we wanted to see. I can't imagine us going on a trip like that today. We went all over Europe traveling with our bags of fruit and picknicked everywhere. Both of us became more aware and better people through that experience.

Traveling is really good for your soul. It's a better education than school. Every time you go somewhere new, you learn how to be a better person because you see more of the world, and you learn how you want to be a better person and develop self-awareness.

Out of all my experiences, I think "traveling" is the only one that has made me feel "richer." It's right up there with LOVE as life experiences worth living for.

What do you all think about teaching English? Is that somehow unethical to you guys?

Also, can you define the kinds of travel that we feel are unethical and what is unethical about it? Is it different than the same kinds of things that are unethical regardless of where you are and things that you wouldn't participate it no matter where you're at? That is equally lame regardless of what geographical point you experience it in?


[deleted] wrote


boringskip wrote

and honestly, thanks to capitalism's devaluing of their currency (and therefore labor), even paying twice as much isn't much to a first-world person.


Infinity wrote

In Spain, many people make a living off of robbing tourists in the tourist areas, as well as selling drugs at higher cost.

All in a day's work.

Or should I say, what came first the chicken or the egg?

What is the other expression? Looking at the finger that's pointing to the moon? Did I just Ricky Ricardo that one?


ziq wrote (edited )

In my experience, tourists (especially Brits) always expect everything in the country they visit to be the same way it is back home. And when it isn't, they get abusive. They especially hate that there aren't cops everywhere ticketing us for our 'uncivilized' behavior. Fuck em.


Blackbeard wrote

I love to travel and see the world, though I have little experience overseas. I'm from the U.S. and try to travel extensively in this country, but have also traveled throughout the Caribbean, and spent a month in Cancun. I just try to bring my values with me and act accordingly. My family would take cruises to the Caribbean, and we would always get a taxi to take us away from the port town, where we could spend our money with locals, and get a better picture of the real culture, rather than the amplified, commodified verson presented for the tourists. When we lived in Cancun, we found a little hostel out of the tourist area and spent our time on the beaches the locals went to, and ate at the places locals went. We heard very little English in the month we were there.

Of course, there are myriad issues involved in the actual traveling, where you take corporate transportation to get there, but you do the best you can- stay with friends, make friends you can stay with, take public transportation, avoid the tourist areas, be adventurous while remaining respectful. As anarchists, nearly anything we do within the capitalist culture we are forced to participate in carries morally questionable or objectionable repercussions. most times we just have to make the best possible choice in the circumstance, and do our best to put ourselves in a favorable position where we can rely mostly on ourselves, our comrades, or the good will of people in the community.


Infinity wrote

"As anarchists, nearly anything we do within the capitalist culture we are forced to participate in carries morally questionable or objectionable repercussions."

I also find this to be true.


MrPotatoeHead wrote

I know a lot of people that enjoy traveling. My wife and I don't . We like to stay home. I've been around and was never excited about other cultures, or pretty much anything. The universe is vast, and diverse. Even so, I'll stay put where I am.


Jessica wrote

I dislike it because it's usually inauthentic, but sometimes it's not. I myself am a tourist on a Working Holiday Visa, though I spend most of my time studying the language, and shitposting on the internet. I should get off raddle after this.

Good tourism is:

1.Visiting historical places like Yellowstone park or the Hiroshima dome.

2.Interacting with locals while respecting them as people (treat them as you would people in your home city)

3.Learning about the local language, history, culture, and social issues.

4.Doing something to improve it, such as telling people about your own country (I'd say talking with an unusual person is mind-expanding) or region. Not all Americans or Germans or French are alike, so tell them about your particular region of the country. I'd be careful about activism because there may be some hot-button issues which you may stumble upon, and it seems inauthentic for a rich white person to complain about certain things.

Bad tourism is:

  1. Patronizing touristy venues, like hotels, resorts, cruise ships, gift shops, and TripAdvisor-rated restaurants. Or branded restaurants like McDonalds (unless they serve wine or something equally ridiculous)
  2. Leaving garbage anywhere, or not thinking about where waste goes.
  3. Not respecting people. This is such an obvious point but there are many many people who imagine that the tourist location is a far-away magic land where the rules of everyday life do not apply. It's an easy mental trap to get into. For instance Japan has set up a hotline for Japanese tourists who suffer from "Paris Syndrome," where they fall into depression because Paris isn't the magic land that they thought it was.

Infinity wrote (edited )

I have a bit of experience traveling. I lived in communities, as well as in the nature, and in squats. I've done help x, and lived in a cave. I did these things for various reasons. I value authentic and unique life experiences.

Can you please explain what ecotourism is? As well as servitude of locals?

In Europe there is a culture of people who busk and travel as well as making and selling artisan products in the winter, and selling them in the summer to tourists. A lot of people live like this until they are old.

Do you live in America? America seems to have an entirely different view about travel than most of the world. Even many Americans who have traveled are still sheltered and fearful to venture far away from the hostels. During my travels outside the hostels I met people from many different countries and only two Americans who chose to live outside of the bubble.

Then again, I definitely would not have had the same experiences had I traveled with money, vs without money. The adventure really began after I was robbed. :-)

A lot of people live without money in the world. Not having a home and money is kind of like traveling in a lot of ways. It depends on where you are in the world what kind of experiences you can have living outside. Living in the nature is cool as long as there are resources and you feel protected.

Where do you want to travel to, and what sorts of experiences are you looking to have? People have many different intentions when they "travel," and there are many different ways and experiences to be had.

Also, what is it to "travel?"

I've lived and worked in a few different countries. I consider this travel because it's not my home country, and I feel like an ambassador whenever I step out.

I have lived and worked outside of my home town, and I consider this traveling, also.

I rarely have been a tourist.


leftous OP wrote (edited )

Can you please explain what ecotourism is? As well as servitude of locals?

Ecotourism is supposed to be the non-harmful and sustainable way people travel to untouched places. Unfortunately this turns out to be self-deception, e.g. this article that u/red_pepper posted the other day. It's hard to limit and measure ecological impact when it comes to travelling to certain places.

As well as servitude of locals?

Growing up, I visited a couple poor countries, and we would basically get served by the locals to the point we were treated like royalty. Ive just always found this disturbing, and being a tourist enables that.

Do you live in America?

No, but that doesnt surprise me about Americans.

Where do you want to travel to, and what sorts of experiences are you looking to have? People have many different intentions when they "travel," and there are many different ways and experiences to be had.

Part of the sudden motivation for me to travel was a sort of pilgrimage after a recent death. So I did want to go connect with and learn from the people and cultures that they experienced as a refugee. So I guess you could say it is partially spiritual. But I also generally want a better understanding of the world, and to enjoy nature and cultures without being harmful or insensitive.

Hope that helps seeing where I'm coming from.


ziq wrote

we would basically get served by the locals to the point we were treated like royalty.

As someone who waited on tourists from the ages of 10 - 17, this is very true. If we were at all rude to the tourists, we got punished.


bromeo wrote

i have had bad dreams about airplanes, and riding the bus can even feel like a violation!


drh1138 wrote

I went to Maui for my sister's wedding a few years ago. It was "okay", and I don't regret getting to go and see another part of the world, but it was clearly a dolled-up part of Hawai'i put on for tourists.

There really is no "ethical" way to consume a product (in this case, a service) under capitalistic conditions.

As you can help it, though, be courteous and considerate to hospitality staff, don't make fusses over shit that doesn't matter (life's too short to get angry over little things), and show some humanity. Talk to them, ask them how their day is going. Commiserate with them.


imnoturfriend wrote

I travel, and don't understand your post. Some locations rely on tourism. On a broad scale, think Las Vegas. It's only an example. I travel to Mexico sometimes. I know right now because of cartel violence, there is no tourism. Is tourism more harmful than cartel violence? (please don't answer that, it's sarcasm) I don't travel harmfully, if that's the appropriate term. I'm learning Spanish, and I treat people respectfully. I've planned a trip to somewhere the US consulate has issued a warning for. I'm not afraid, because I've ben there before and have personal relations with locals I've met. Interesting ideas.