Until recently, the gigantic tourism industry has been doing well, very well. In the year 2001, 688 million people were traveling all over the world. As the popularity of the tourism industry is growing rapidly, the image of travel and tourism begins to evolve. With a simple click of the button, you can easily pick your next destination be it India, Italy, Cambodia, or any other spot on the earth. Without leaving the comfort of your home, one can plan the next trip, including all the aspects like accommodation type, plane tickets, and so on. There is no need to make long-distance calls to New Delhi, Rome, or Paris. No two-hour busy lines on the United Airlines reservation lines. Traveling is as easy as ordering pizza, and it can actually start with a couple of clicks on your smartphone!
At the same time, as countries begin to evolve and cater to the tourism industry, authenticity is lost. It is important to define the term ‘tourist’ and ‘traveler’ at this point. The essence of traveling is to experience something completely different from what you see at home. Today, tourism is molded into what is familiar to us. It is no longer the culture of a society, rather one of tourism.
When you decide to travel with a tour group, the agency produces a particular view of the country that is prepared for the consumption of the tourist. They make sure the foreigners see only the most attractive and interesting areas that can comply with the demands of the most experienced travelers.
As for tourism, it has become too much of a service. It is usually geared towards what the tourist would find familiar or comfortable. It takes you away from the true mission of a journey. Tour groups and itineraries are structured to guarantee the best efficiency throughout your travel. However, when you decide to travel in large groups, the necessity to walk from bus to bus, hotel to hotel provides a very narrow experience of the place that you’re currently exploring. I searched online to find travel agencies and tour group advertisements in order to organize my trip to India. On a National Geographic site called iExplore, I found a made-to-order exclusive package with great gold or silver deals. The package houses the group at a Hyatt hotel located in New Delhi. The site boasts that across the ocean, tourists can enjoy the comforts of HBO and mini-fridges. American channels replace native television, while Coca-Cola and Sprite replace Chai tea.
The importation of American hotels isn’t the only culture that has snuck in. My mother has traveled to Bombay and Calcutta, and she commented on the presence of McDonald’s and KFC in the city centers. These chains are known and loved by many. What is more, these places offer what we call ‘a taste of home.’ At the same time, countries tend to lose their culture as an effect. An entirely new culture is developed out of the popularity of the tourism industry. Staying at Hyatt’s and eating at KFC only removes them from the original culture. The popularity of the new factories and chain restaurants requires construction and massive consumption of natural resources. In simple places, such as Calcutta and Bombay, my mother noticed the mass construction of new roads from town to town. The roads will cause serious erosion problems in the future. The bustle and boom of the tourism industry blindly lead the locals to the bright lights of the market economy and instant profit.
If done in a respectful and conservative manner, traveling can create a network of positive relations to nature, culture, and people and therefore is an important foundation stone for peace. Traveling can draw the attention of people and governments to values of culture and nature, to necessities for conservation and education programs about other lands, their geographical characteristics, and their people. We travel to learn and experience something that is completely different than home. When a trip is organized to include the comforts of home, it hinders oneself from truly experiencing the place. When my mother traveled in India by herself, she felt a sense of discovery. For her, traveling was a chance to step out of her comfort box. As a young woman, eating spicy curries, dodging speeding bicycles, watching Indians bathe in the filthy Ganges River was scary and new. But she commented that such experiences force us to do something other than what we know. It forces us to change and grow. I also experienced this sense of freedom from an online backpacker website called Travel Times-India. The site recommended that rather than consuming the place and spitting out production of how we see it, to preserve it as it is. When don’t have familiar places, or get lost, we are given the opportunity to eat in a street stall or take the local bus. This raw and organic experience cannot be found in a book or brochure. It isn’t our place to impose our morals and culture, to make it production of our society. It is important to remember that we are only visitors in the host country and should, therefore, behave appropriately. Travel is not an opportunity to consume, but rather appreciate and respect.
Human curiosity is insatiable. I firmly believe that the need and want to seek out new places, experience unique environments, and encounter foreign societies are essential to our survival. The earth today, however, is different from what it used to be. Today, the world is no longer a place where getting from one region to another is a long, harsh, and enduring journey. In today’s world, one can travel from one side of the earth to the other in a matter of hours. This ease of mobility, along with the rapidly improving communication technologies and the globalization of the world’s economies, has truly made our world interconnected. Although most will agree that tourism is a mind-broadening experience, few acknowledge that it can also wreak havoc on the natural environment and its inhabitants. Tourism can ruin landscapes, destroy communities, pollute air and water, trivialize cultures, bring about uniformity, and generally contribute to the continuing degradation of life on our planet. But I truly believe that while these conflicts do happen, the point is not to attempt to put a halt to the industry but to better manage it. The more people who know about and respect unique places and cultures, the less likely destructive habits will continue. The less we consume, the less we produce, the more we can gain from other cultures.