The West Has An Entitlement Problem.
Updated: Oct 20, 2019
Per capita, Australians are the world’s largest spenders on international travel; with 2018 seeing over 10 million Australians travelling overseas.
While it is important to note that any industry can have both negative and positive impacts within a country, I want to highlight the impacts of the tourism industry and its direct links to cultural, economic and environmental impacts within particular developing nations.
Through my own experiences, as well as through many stories from friends, I have come to learn that the West has very limited definitions and perceptions of anything that deviates in the slightest from what we are comfortable with.
We all know a friend who has jetted off to a Bali, Thailand or India and has posted pictures online with captions talking about the ‘paradise’ they are in or the ‘haven’ they have found.
Heck, I am even guilty of posting similar portrayals.
However, in doing so, what we are subconsciously unaware of, is that through such limited and generalised perceptions; we have a tendency to neglect multiple populations of people, as well as lose focus on serious detrimental issues these nations are currently facing.
I used to follow a ‘blogger’ on Instagram, and she recently jetted off to Bali. I had to unfollow her during her trip, because every single post was focused within her five-star resort, eating Western-styled food and doing activities that were foreign to the country that she was visiting. This is not an uncommon occurrence; I see this on so many occasions with so many people.
I understand everyone enjoys things differently, and we are all entitled to do as such. However, what I feel so strongly against in these situations, is the risk of particular influences, similar to those of the values of colonialism, ruining these pre-existing cultures; native to the country one is visiting. I feel so strongly against this woman’s travel choices, as she was not immersing herself in the culture and country that she was a guest in; she was simply shaping her experience to what she wanted…. can’t she just do that at home?! From an international development perspective, this woman was not contributing positively to this nation's growth.
Before I go any further, I want to introduce the concept of ‘Orientalism’, created by Palestinian professor- Edward Said; someone very well known within the International Development field. Edward Said's concept of 'Orientalism' was born in 1978 and drew heavy controversy due to its confrontation on the way in which both the 'East' and the 'West' was being portrayed in academic literature. Edward Said particularly focused on the Western structuring and values towards the 'East' and how often these values have been misrepresented and stereotyped.
Said describes the 'Orient' as the category in which the entire 'East' is confined; such a category is made up of the Middle East and East Asian cultures. We see this similarly with the grouping of the entire African continent also. Through such a broad categorisation, Said suggests that bias perceptions have hindered a true understanding of these differing cultures. Through a lack of understanding, or for a better word, through an ethnocentric lens, these cultures have been portrayed as destinations filled with 'exotic' and 'curious' tales for us to explore.
The West has a tendency to romanticise the East without ever fully understanding and respecting its differences. Through such a broad grouping, Said points out that as a result, the West can often view these cultures as less, and consequently undermine and devalue each culture. Through such a viewpoint, Western values which stem from colonial structures, have always undermined cultures that deviate from similar cultural values; thus bringing forward Said’s most important argument within his concept of Orientalism regarding colonialism. Said suggests that even though colonialism is allegedly over, the inherent values of the system still exist and persist through such thinking and representations; which is the basis of colonial thought and power relations.
I wanted to bring forward the ideas and concepts of Orientalism to highlight the dangerous predisposition a number of people have in minimising a large group of cultures into a few small and limited categories. Through such minimisation and generalisation, comes the ability for a nation to lose its culture. With a majority of these ‘exotic’ holiday destinations being within developing countries, these vulnerable communities often rely heavily on tourism as a major source of economic growth. As a result, when there is dependability, a community often has no choice other than to meet the demands of the tourist. This is where our role of privilege comes into play and being more conscious travellers, and consumers are vital in addressing these issues.
Through a limited perception and romanticised ideology of a particular destination, the West brings unrealistic expectations and demands to these vulnerable communities. Travellers begin to shape these destinations to what they want and what is comfortable for them. As a result, we see the complete disregard and disrespect to the pre-existing and native culture of these nations. Whenever I discuss this, values of white privilege always surface. I understand that this concept always drives people away from discussion, but what else do we describe it as!?
When we bring demands and expectations, as well as contribute to these limited views by eating at western styled restaurants and staying at luxury resorts, we are bringing with us this idea of entitlement; and with that, we see new forms of colonialism and colonisation.
I am guilty of idealising countries myself. I highly romanticised India on my first trip there and viewed it very much through a lens like Hollywood has always portrayed it as. I suffer from severe anxiety and saw it as a place that would ‘heal’ me. How naive I was. Although this nation holds such a significant place in my heart for many reasons, and I will not deny the beauty it holds, my second trip to India was far from romanticised. Through better education and understanding, I no longer had limited views and no longer wanted to idealise a nation that had so many serious development issues. Whether I was aware of it or not, when looking back on my experience, through such a self-constructed lens, I was undermining and ignoring the serious human rights issues within the country. In addition to this, through my limited lens, I came with a lack of understanding; thus, the inherent inability to fully respect and contribute positively to the culture I was experiencing. Before I was fully educated, I was only experiencing want I wanted out of this culture. That is not what travel should be; I had chosen to go to this country, so I should not have expected it to accommodate for me.
We not only see these values through choices within travel but also through limited imagery and production within Western stores such as ‘Ishka’; through such business models, we see a number of culturally inappropriate items being produced and sold. We see the same also when we look at a number of cosmetic products within retail stores. Often perfumes and shampoos are sold with descriptions such as 'Moroccan Spice' as a way to sell 'exotic' and 'enticing' smells. Such imagery and descriptions, again, reinforce these limited values and perceptions and continues the cycle of disrespect.
During my time in Cambodia as a part of my degree, discussions arose around responsible tourism. I have written brief posts in the past about some of my thoughts and experiences which you can access here:
During our time in Siem Reap however, this particular issue became extremely evident and real. Siem Reap is the tourist capital of Cambodia; the temples of Angkor Wat, located just outside of Siem Reap, see over one million tourists per year alone. With this figure, we also see that Siem Reap is also the most impoverished city within the nation. 53.7% of people living within Siem Reap live on 25 cents per day; that correlates to over half of the entire population of Siem Reap living on or below the poverty line.
There is no coincidence that whilst Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination within Cambodia, that it is also the poorest; and irresponsible tourism derives direct correlation to this. This is not uncommon in many other popular tourist destinations that are within developing nations around the world either, as we see the same pattern in so many other vulnerable communities.
Due to the high influx of tourists, businesses often raise their prices to what would be an acceptable sale price in many developed nations and at a price tourists can afford; often resulting in the unaffordability for locals who many only earn 25 cents per day. As a result, of these impacts and demands, families are also forced to keep their children out of school to help financially support their family.
In addition to this, Siem Reap has recently seen a growth in the presence of international businesses; particularly Chinese owned hotels. Whilst Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination within Cambodia, tourism money isn’t even staying within Siem Reap and local businesses. This is where our awareness and educated consumer choices are so important as it is evident that irresponsible tourism effects so many livelihoods.
Through these statistics and experiences, it is hard to deny the ever-growing impact of irresponsible tourism; as the links between poverty and the influx of tourists are incredibly hard to ignore. We see the same for environmental degradation and disrespect within countries such as Sri Lanka. I see more and more articles on the impact of natural resources and the environments of Sri Lanka from the increasing amount of tourism. With increased growth of tourists visiting the country, the growing industry has not been able to facilitate the adequate infrastructure to support the many pristine wetlands, beaches, forests and wildlife of Sri Lanka; which are all vital resources for the country.
It’s the same for Contiki’s and cruises. I know hate is a strong word, but I HATE both of these choices for travel. My question is always….WHY?!
If I could sum up irresponsible travel into two examples, Contiki’s and cruises would fit both. Groups of Contiki’s encapsulate privilege and shit it all over the country they are visiting. To think it is responsible for a group of young individuals, driven by alcohol and then shuffled onto a bus to see every major tourist destination within a country, is nothing more than destructive and disrespectful. We see this also through cruise ship tourism. It baffles me that there isn’t more discussion on this particular form of tourism, not only for its environmental impact but also the significant effects it can have on small, vulnerable communities.
Often the destination of cruise ship itineraries involves small island nations of which a majority are experiencing underdevelopment. Whilst tourism may be a major income for these small communities, the volume to which tourists come and go, is not sustainable or beneficial. Cruise ships bring people in the masses to these small islands, and with masses, comes demands. With demands, comes a loss of culture but also overconsumption, commercialisation and disregard to the people living within these communities.
Tourists leave just as fast as they come to these islands, leaving their environmental footprint behind, as well as other significant development impacts. People cannot fully immerse themselves into a culture in the small amount of time that a cruise itinerary allows; that alone shows you how irresponsible such a form of tourism is. With lack of awareness and understanding, brings along many other detrimental issues and impacts to these vulnerable communities.
Alternative travel group companies that are considered responsible and have ethical practises include companies such as Intrepid. I was fortunate enough to go through the '18-29 Adventures' travel option of Intrepid during my travels to Morocco in 2016, and I could not recommend this company enough. Although Intrepid is an internationally run company, the tour groups are always led by local guides, respective of the culture visited and are highly sustainable and responsible. With a lot of information available and discussed prior to departure and during the experience, travellers are aware of their impact and can make more informative decisions during their trip.
Or, alternatively, if you wish to travel without an organisation, do your research and consider how far your impact will go. What may be a little discomfort for you may support a small family as opposed to a big conglomerate. It pays to do your research. BackpackerBible.org is a brilliant online resource that provides insightful and responsible tips when travelling solo.
Disrespect comes in a lot of ways; it’s through the culturally inappropriate clothes we choose to wear, a lack of cultural awareness and understanding, the uneducated consumer choices we make, as well as through a lack of awareness on the developmental issues being experienced and our contribution to such.
Education is the keyword here. It’s the keyword with any issue I write and discuss on this blog. When we know better, we can do better. If you want a holiday that meets similar experiences to what you are comfortable with at home, then maybe the United States is the best fit for you.
It's important to remember that we are guests in each country we visit. Tourist can often place burdens and serious developmental impacts on the communities hosting. By educating ourselves and learning of our impacts and what our choices will determine for another group of people, we are taking the first steps forward in compensating these communities for our imposition. Having respect and an understanding for local environments, culture and society costs us nothing to obtain but can make a whole world of difference for others that would otherwise be significantly affected.
It’s time we cut the bullshit and address our entitlement.