Starting from 10:26PM on a Friday evening, I’m putting something down to paper that I’ve been inspired to talk about. I’m also slightly procrastinating on lesson planning for my topic of travel for tomorrow, but that 135 minute lesson, the last of mine for this New Year series, has given rise to this post. You see, I’ve had to put together material about my favorite topic, and that blank slate led me to pick ethics in travel. In particular, I’m concentrating on my all-time favorite country of Iceland and their ever-increasing tourism sector. While it is true that money made from their explosion in visitors has bolstered the economy (it forms ~5-6% of their entire GDP, which is twice as much as any other European city), there have been obvious downfalls. Without going into too much detail, it’s led me to take a harder, colder look at the trail I leave as a tourist to other places.
First of all, I’m firmly on the side of visiting the countries and cities which aren’t quite in the limelight. This can be chalked up to having a relatively pristine immersion, and I like that refreshing authenticity. Beforehand, I try comprehensively research the good, local spots so that I can spend a higher-than-average amount of my meager salary patronizing worthy institutions; I don’t want to come across like I’m all high and mighty, but I genuinely believe this fosters healthy and responsible tourism. Some countries, such as Bosnia and Albania, could definitely use the tourist dollars, whereas others can clearly cope if I don’t land on their hallow soil. Certainly, me spending maybe $20 is only a mere footnote in the local tourist board’s annual outlook, but never underestimate the power that TripAdvisor reviews can have. Plus I just feel bad when I seen proprietors looking depressed that nobody is stopping by.
Once I’m in my destination, things can be a bit trickier when I try to improvise. This especially manifests itself when I’m strolling around looking for places to eat. What I mean by this is that there is a fine line between supporting local businesses and supporting local businesses to the point where they neglect the locals for the potentially lucrative tourist money. My greatest fear is that my memories I develop will eventually be swallowed into a black hole of overwhelming tourism. Case in point: Kotor, Montenegro. The town is situated on the gorgeous Bay of Kotor, so it houses a small port for cruise ships. While I was really relieved to notice that this didn’t have much of a discernible impact on the overall kitsch, unlike neighboring Budva, I still had the nagging feeling that places catered slightly more to foreigners than locals. For the locals’ sake, I hope that my presence hasn’t indirectly caused housing prices to go up, property to double or triple in price, and force those longstanding local joints to shutter their doors. That’s what I’m afraid of happening. Is this me being paranoid? Maybe. Being a conscientious person when abroad is something I feel is my duty. After all, our stays only offer us small insight into what goes on the other 51 weeks of the year in these destinations. Don’t be the tourist who contributes to the irrevocable changes thanks to semi-whimsical demands. And especially don’t be the tourist who comes to have fun but leaves the locals cursing behind their back.