Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cheap and Convenient

By Candice Carboo-Ofulue

It’s amazing how cheap and convenient tourism is these days. In the not-so-old days, to get a cheap getaway, you'd have to scroll through reams of teletext for hours. Sometimes days. Before you knew it, you'd built a trench around the TV. Now, it’s painfully easily to book a bargain-bucket holiday. The internet is like an electronic monopoly board of airlines, hotels and tour operators. Land on Ryanair: go directly to Germany, do not pass Go, do not collect £200.

This makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I say uncomfortable, because I'm in no position to delve into my normal self-righteous rant, and start preaching about sustainable tourism or carbon offsetting. I believe in these concepts. But I'm not perfect. If I was: rather than flying three times over the past year, I would have sailed on an elbow-powered raft made from sustainable wood. But the thought of sailing across the Atlantic sickens me with fear, which is not how I prefer to start my vacation. It's just more convenient to fly.

What we fail to see beyond the seductive deals, are the costs. Take Mexico's tropical peninsula in the Caribbean Sea, for example. Home to the sprawling, tourist-metropolis of Cancun; its coastline dominated by all-inclusive hotels. That's pretty convenient. Now tourists can enjoy some of Mexico's most beautiful beaches, courtesy of a foreign-owned hotel without all that third world baggage.

Mexico, however, is anything but a convenient country. It's riddled with corruption, drug warfare, police brutality, discrimination and poverty, to mention a few ailments. Admittedly, I don't have children or only two weeks of vacation a year, but what gives us the right to experience a safe Burma, an equal Kenya, or an efficient Mexico? Because we paid for it?

Instead of countries bending and cultures changing to accommodate the demands of tourists. Instead of deforestation caused by our insatiable thirst for traditional wood carvings, to put on top of the bookcase in the corner of our Ikea living rooms. Instead of the Masai performing hunting dances in front of tour groups, for hunts they have never seen and almost certainly will never do. We should be embracing the people of the countries we visit, in the context of their existing culture. Our holidays to distant lands are not just about us......

Apologies. I've just re-read this and it sounds rather like a rant. I'll spare you the bit about money enslaving us and everything stinking of colonialism......

So what do you think of cheap and convenient tourism?

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