Beyond Tourism: Towards an Intercultural Concord
Author: Chris Tou
A short manifesto asking ourselves and each other, as tourists, tour guides, travellers, humans, hosts and guests how we can go beyond tourism, its hidden and damaging consequences, and towards the intercultural.
TIME – PLACE – RELATIONSHIP – COSTS – AWARENESS
TIME – HISTORY
Tourism and the tourist is influenced not just culturally, but historically. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, for over 200 years, tourist industries have grown almost exponentially. The many, however increasingly homogenizing forms of tourism are bound in time. Iconic tourism such as “eurotrips” and “all-inclusive resorts” have deep histories that go well beyond what they are often considered to be. If tourism and tourists are influenced by, and inherit centuries-old ideas of what tourism is and what tourists do, then it is also the responsibility of tourism and tourists to acknowledge such history, what it means today and what is at stake by not understanding it.
As both tourists and tour guides/agents, we are responsible not only to ourselves and clients, but to this history, its consequences, and what those consequences might look like as a result of each step and action we take as locals and foreigners, guests and hosts. We do, hereby, declare our responsibility in feeding a time that is worthy of being inherited, from descendants seven generations from now, and beyond. We also, hereby, declare our responsibility in feeding the time we live in, so that those who might have sought out natural or religious pilgrimages, secured weekend retreats, converted lush lands into tourist attractions or had their ancestral lands plagued by such untethered ambition, that they too might come to know their place as people of consequence in the world. We do, hereby, pledge to remember our travels, both lived and ancestral, to move more slowly and with the land, instead of just over it. We pledge to do so in the name of all those wrecked, wrought, and revered by this thing we call travel.
– Regenerative Content & Style (Basing content & style in the critical lens of the history of tourism, whether or not its directly included as such, i.e. can be subtle/indirect)
– Inclusive Content & Style (Offering content & style that not only respects the ancestors of a place, but embodies local culture whereby younger generations and the as of yet unborn have strengthened traditions to inherit)
PLACE – LOCALISM
Travel has this immense capacity to teach us about the nature of place. The technologically-driven panoramas of train and air travel, the ease and efficiency with which we often experience diverse, extreme, and unforgettable landscapes, and the seemingly inevitable shock of being at the gates of a new culture, language, or set of traditions that are uniquely not ours puts modern tourists in the unique position of being both the torch-bearers of what regenerative and intercultural tourism could be, and those who might inadvertently or otherwise set fire to such a dream. Or we might say, fanning the flames or fuelling the fire that already exists. This is recognizable as the path well-trodden, it is what tourism has done to places when limits are not set. We can bear witness to the consequences of centuries of spectacle and tourism, often without leaving our own countries. It is an industry that has taken no responsibility for paving over, if not masking the genius loci (“spirit of a place”) of the places we call “destinations.” A truth is, the hour is late and so the responsibility we have to place is enormous, given what has preceded us.
As tourists and tour guides/agents, we do hereby declare our willingness to grieve the cratered footprints of an industry which we partake in, even as we attempt to subvert it. We declare our deep longing for the regeneration of what has been lost and forgotten. May it be fully immersed in our work, so that in turn, the native seeds of the places we visit might offer us a glimpse of how we may plant and seed, in our own native ways, the places we return home to. May these seeds be planted by what we learn from the genius of local places.
– Leave No Trace (Zero waste tours/events, with the same principle encouraged with our vendors)
– Showcase Local Products/Services (Oaxacan-based chocolate & chocolate drinks)
– Language (Tours offered in local languages)
RELATIONSHIP – INTERCULTURALITY
Language is the wellspring of culture, yet the current of a people is often made accessible through translation, which typically conceals what is lost in translation. Today, English is the official language of tourism and so the diverse traditions of local peoples is often reduced and filtered into an alien tongue. It is a kind of cheap travel, meaning it costs nothing of the visitor, but sometimes everything of the those.
Tourism has not only brought the English language to all parts of the Earth, but its dominant culture, as a result. Multiculturalism through travel or tourism is often touted as a blessing, yet as it lines us up side-by-side with strangers, foreigners, neighbours, we are not obliged to understand the depths and lineages of our guests or hosts. Multiculturalism is tolerance for the other, while claiming it as acceptance. It instead, inhibits acceptance, whose consequence would be interculturality, which is the counterfeit dream of multiculturalism. How can people or organizations receiving visitors or guests work with the indigenous local world to honour their place in it? How can they, together, root interculturality, so that such a thing might be present for foreign guests?
If we are living in an extinction period not only caused by industrial globalization, then travel has the capacity to offer us vast windows into other ways of living, other ways – perhaps, even better ways of being culturally ‘at home,’ of being uniquely local. We acknowledge that such relationships, may they be afforded to us, recognize all cultures, not just human ones. We do, hereby declare that as travelers and storytellers alike we acknowledge our responsibility to strengthen interbeing and interculturality by resisting the global homogenization and westernization of peoples through tourism. We do, hereby pledge to seed such responsibility by respecting the myriad ways in which cultures, not our own, proceed, and by honouring the agency and autonomy of those whom we come to know.
– Local Vendors (local Oaxacan companies, employees, and products; to what extent does vendors supply chains embrace direct, equitable, and long-term/intergenerational relationships)
– Local Guides (local guides that offer a personal/familial/ancestral perspective on the content; female, elder, minority guides)
– Interculturality (active promotion of local language, history, customs – rules/etiquette about photography, eating)
COSTS – TRANSPARENCY/RESPECT
Modern wanderings and vacations often result from relative privilege – the privilege to travel for leisure. Travel is often expensive, and properly so. Tourism is available to people relative to their economic standing, but privilege must be weighted with responsibility for balance to emerge. Privilege is a great responsibility, not a four-letter word. Tourism demands that money is exchanged, and those with the privilege to exchange more of it also have a greater responsibility to how that money is spent, and to the nature of its exchange. Likewise, those that have the freedom/privilege to choose to travel, have a responsibility to understand the real costs of travel (beyond the hidden airport taxes and getting ripped off in souvenir shops). We do, hereby declare, that money exchange between tourists and tour guides/companies be not only transparent, but fund and feed the above mentioned pillars of travel – time, place, and relationship.
Paper Trails (Evidence of where the money goes, if its re-invested)
Fair Prices (Staggered pricing for locals vs visitors, tourist tax)
Such a manifesto is not created lightly, nor is it offered without urgency. In laying the groundwork for regenerative travel, a vision that spans the broadstroked future but also the patchworked past, the offerings we make here attempt to approach a world on fire that very likely needed these words and inclinations decades ago. That being said, we acknowledge that for the same reasons, much of what is written and proffered, as pertinent and overdue as it may be, might still be decades behind where the genus loci begs for us to be. This is all to say that building awareness, both as persons and as cultures, is the work of a lifetime. In both our travels and our guidance, may such understandings, such awareness always be packed into our luggage with us.
– Research (Local & global contact to communicate and integrate ideas/practices that go beyond the current models, for example indigenous research methods)
– Privacy/Respect (Understanding that not everything is or should be for sale, that aspects of cultures worthy of sharing, might also be more worthy of a kind of privacy that respects the nature of tradition)
– Approach (Our approach to all of the above aspects of life is self-aware and actively embraces honesty, respect, justice, and care)