Tourism & Mayowa Aina from Louder for the People in the Back

I can’t believe it’s already March. We’re already at just about a quarter of the way through the year. Up north here in Seattle the snow appears to finally be gone for a while and the endless dark evenings seem to be giving into more hours of daylight. What does this mean? It means the seasons are changing.

The transition out of winter into spring up here always means a lot of things, warmer weather, short sleeves, going to the beach – and as a student in my last year of college perhaps one of the most sacred times of the year. Spring break!

Spring break is awesome. Finally two whole weeks where you can get out of the place that has been causing you so much stress. It’s time to let loose and have fun. Get out and have an adventure somewhere. Be a tourist!

So last time we met, we were discussing Malls and the future of retail. One of the key points in that episodewas the rise of disposable income in the post-WWII economy.

Aside from buying goods and services locally, one phenomenon that really took off during this time was the phenomenon of tourism. The WTO – World Tourism Organization (not to be confused with the World Trade Organization with a similar acronym) defines tourism as a trip that goes “beyond common perception. People traveling to and staying in places outside of their usual environment for leisure purposes.”

So here’s a staggering statistic about tourism as of 2012, international tourist arrivals surpassed the milestone of 1 billion tourists globally for the first time ever. Think about that for a second. 1 billion people going somewhere novel in one year.

So what’s all the hype about? Why do people travel? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to sit at home, turn on the TV and watch a documentary on Bangladesh? Why would anyone ever want to go anywhere?

Well sure, sitting on the couch would be cheaper, less tiring and you wouldn’t even have to worry about changing your socks. I would argue however that the person who opts to stay home is missing a critical element of the trip. It’s not simply the beaches or the hikes, although those are very nice. What those who stay home are missing is the human element of travel. This is a point, solidified in a 2011 TED talk by the author and TV personality Rick Steves.

For those of you who don’t know Rick Steves, I highly encourage you check him out. He has a great public radio show on travel and got his start right here at the University of Washington where this very podcast is produced. So what does this guy have to say about travel? Because he put it so succinctly, I will quote him on this. “It’s people that really make your experience vital. That’s the mark of a good trip. It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking encounters, they can be just silly encounters.”

He goes on to tell a story of an encounter he once had in Italy. While walking down the street he noticed a small boy staring at him. The boy’s dad, realizing the situation approached Rick and apologized. “I’m sorry, my son stares at Americans.” Confused, Rick asked him to elaborate. It turns out that after eating a hamburger one day, the kid asked his dad, “Why do Americans have such soft bread?” Jokingly the dad responds, “Son, that’s because Americans have no teeth.” As a result, the kid stood hypnotized at the sight of an American man with apparently no teeth. Rick showed the kid his teeth and clarified the misunderstanding. It’s situations like these in which travel, diversity and people to people contact can have profound implications.

Despite the teeth situation having a really silly element to it, it makes a really good point. Later on his his speech he gives the audience a quote that I find to be incredibly wise. He says in reference to a trip he took to Iran, “It’s a nation’s inclination to dehumanize its enemies before we go kill them. It occurred to me, when I was in Iran, I was afraid to go there. When I got there, I was so glad I had the courage to go there. I learned that fear, something there’s a lot of in our society is for people who don’t get out very much.”

Fear is for people who don’t get out very much. Think about that for a second. Following in the vein of the traditional phrase, “fear stems from the unknown” it becomes very apparent that by opening yourself to people, places and cultures you never would have experienced, you soon begin to develop a new sense of empathy. There’s so much in the world you know? Why not hop on a bus and take a trip to the next city over? You’ll never know what you’ll find.

So before we reach for your bags and head out the door, we need to stop ourselves and ask, “can you do travel wrong?” We’ve all got images in our head of the over exaggerated (or not) American couple on vacation, talking loudly, sunburnt and entitled, sipping margarita after margarita while the local workers slave away to cater to their whims. What’s wrong here?

The issue is not simply that they shouldn’t be having fun, or that the workers shouldn’t be serving them. They absolutely should and just like you and me need to work for a living. The real issue is the commodification of interactions that should be authentic and unique. As written by Anna Pollock in a 2013 article from The Guardian, “This commodification is further aggravated by the application of industrial cost cutting strategies of homogenization, standardization and automation that further strip out any remaining vestiges of difference, let alone mystique. Tourists ‘do’ places and rarely get the chance to stand in awe and wonder.”

Perhaps the most essential thing to keep in mind when visiting a new location is to begin to see these places as they are – both organic and sacred. Just like every person, every place has a unique story and for that very reason, it is essential we never downplay that element.

So what’s the future of tourism? Well as we just discussed, I hope the promotion of sustainable and responsible tourism continues to expand for years to come as it’s clear that people on both sides of the coin have so much to gain. One final piece I’d like to talk about is a headline that came out earlier this week that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. Space X, the space technology manufacturing company is planning on sending two tourists around the moon next year in 2018.

Just as we pointed out earlier this season in the episode on Mars colonization, people have not stopped looking up toward the stars. Elon Musk the CEO of SpaceX has announced a weeklong trip around the moon for two tourists that have put down a considerable amount of money for the opportunity.

The trip itself will be carried out by the company’s brand new Falcon Heavy rocket launching a Dragon 2 spacecraft up and around the moon. They’ll arrive to the novel tourist destination after about two to three days. The trip will be automated, but the tourists will be trained in what to do in the case of an emergency situation. It’s clear that at the end of this trip not only the employees of Space X, but the whole world will have something incredible to celebrate. To all of you listening out there, we are on the cusp of a new era of tourism and travel.

March 4, 2017

Season Season 2