Importance of tourism
12. The importance of tourism on a global scale
Our changing climate and the recent spreading of the Covid-19 Coronavirus have put more pressure on international travel. More and more people might ask themselves if we should continue to travel for leisure, or even travel at all. What if we take this to the extreme, what if we completely stopped traveling around the world? Would this really be better for the environment? Surely it would lower our direct carbon footprint, but it would destroy community tourism and damage many economies in developing countries. Indirectly there is a big chance that if we stop flying, the negative rebound effect is worse for the environment. Below I’d like to explain how this relates to the importance of tourism.
12.1 The first example: advantage of tourism on the Galapagos
Months ago (November 2019) I had a discussion with a friend of mine. She wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands Nature Reserve in Ecuador. However, she found it a contradiction to have to fly 990 km from the mainland of Ecuador to visit this nature reserve. She didn’t want to contribute to climate change that might cause these unique islands to disappear below sea-level. Of course, this was a very valid argument and as I described earlier tourism currently causes a heavy negative impact on the Galapagos. But what she didn’t know is that other dangers threaten this nature reserve. China is already trying for many years to fish in the rich waters around the Galapagos Islands. Although Ecuador is a beautiful country with many natural resources, the Galapagos Islands still provide their biggest source of income from tourism. It is highly unlikely that the Ecuadorian government will just protect these islands and its wildlife if they wouldn’t generate millions of US$ in income from tourism. A more likely scenario is that they will sell the fishing rights to Chinese fishing companies. Obviously, the fishing will be very bad for the fish, dolphins, sea lions, and other wildlife living around and on the Galapagos Islands. But even trawling the fishing grounds around the Galapagos Islands would contribute negatively to climate change. It would help to (re)connect Carbon (C) to Oxygen (O2) this way reducing the carbon storage capacity from the seabed, or even releasing more CO2 into the air.
I’ve had the discussion about tourism, versus no tourism on the Galapagos Islands many times and a popular argument from people who believe that the islands shouldn’t receive tourists anymore is that there are other ways to protect these islands. A popular suggestion is to make a fund were people can donate money to protect the islands without having to go there. I seriously doubt that a fund like that would generate enough money on a yearly basis to not only protect the Islands, but also replace the income from all those people who will lose their jobs without tourism.
Instead of banning tourism from the Galapagos Islands it would be better to recognize its importance and only limit the number of tourists that are allowed to visit these islands. Combine this with allowing tourists only to pre-book their Galapagos tour before they arrive on the islands and it will make the tourist flow easier to control. It will also decrease the amount of businesses on the islands. Part of the economic losses for the islands from having fewer tourists can be compensated by doubling the entrance fee for foreign tourists from 100 to 200 US$ p.p. Compare to the average prices for Galapagos tours that cost more than 2000 US$, this increase in entrance fee is moderate.
12.2 Conservation in the Ecuadorian Amazon
Another reason why I doubt that a conservation fund for the Galapagos Islands can be realistic is because it has been tried before with the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador. Years ago former president Rafael Correa made it clear what the Ecuadorian priorities are. In 2012 he made a huge proposal to the world. He said that Ecuador is a developing country and therefore needs to use its natural resources. However, he said that Ecuador was willing to leave a big oilfield under the Yasuni Amazon Reserve undisturbed. But in return, the rest of the world would have to come up with half of the estimated value of all that oil. This would be an estimated 3.6 billion US$ in total. Political differences, distrust, and a general lack of interest from the Western world caused this proposal to fail almost before it was announced. A year later the rest of the world had still only paid a fraction of the requested amount, so President Correa officially abandoned the proposal, and drilling for oil is now partly allowed.
The consequences of tourism, either good or bad, are not that black and white. As mentioned earlier, no tourism at all will increase the number of poor people and makes it likely they will find other less environmental friendly ways to earn money. Besides that, tourism isn’t only good for the economy and conservation programs, tourism and especially traveling are also good for our society, maybe even our species.
12.3 Gene exchange as a result of traveling
Evolution does not change any single individual. Instead, it changes the inherited means of growth and development that typify a population (a group of individuals of the same species living in a particular habitat). Parents pass adaptive genetic changes to their offspring, and ultimately these changes become common throughout a population. As a result, the offspring inherit those genetic characteristics that enhance their chances of survival and ability to give birth, which may work well until the environment changes. Over time, genetic change can alter a species’ overall way of life, such as what it eats, how it grows, and where it can live.
Human evolution took place as new genetic variations in early ancestor populations favored new abilities to adapt to environmental change and so altered the human way of life. Interbreeding has likely helped this human evolution process. When modern humans left Africa, integrating with other species allowed us to adapt much quicker to new environments. Research from Rebecca Rogers Ackermann and colleagues suggest that interbreeding between the early humans from Africa and the Neanderthals might have been a key piece in our modern evolution and development. A summary from her research explains that recent genomic research has shown that hybridization between substantially diverged lineages is the rule, not the exception, in human evolution. The importance of hybridization in shaping the genotype and phenotype of Homo sapiens remains debated. We’d like to argue that current evidence for hybridization in human evolution suggests not only that it was important, but that it was an essential creative force in the emergence of our variable, adaptable species. We then extend this argument to a reappraisal of the archaeological record. As a result, we’d like to suggest that the exchange of cultural information between divergent groups may have facilitated the emergence of cultural innovation.
Of all the many human species that have evolved, only ours has survived to the present day. Our complex culture has been a big part of our ability to outcompete the other species. Mixing with other species could have helped us develop that culture. When our ancestors met other species, they may have shared knowledge as well as genes. Learning new habits and tricks from other species could have helped spur on our development. “The things we think of as creativity could be the result of interaction between different groups,” says Ackermann. As a species we have evolved to be good at copying, learning, and innovation, says Simon Underdown of Oxford Brookes University in the UK. These are traits that primed us to become the cultural beings we are today.
12.4 Traveling and viruses
The advantage of traveling is that it can help us to mix different races and genes. This can improve our immune system and maybe even (future) human race. But the danger of traveling is that it can also help in spreading dangerous viruses like Covid-19 (officially called SARS-CoV-2). This virus wasn’t the first and will not be the last virus to spread around the world either. After World War I the soldiers who survived the war carried more than trauma with them. Several of them were infected with a novel virus, later called the Spanish Flu. It has been estimated that this flu infected 33% of the world population and killed in two years around 50 million people, which is more than were killed during World War I.
When the Spanish first came to Latin America it is believed that the diseases they brought in from Europe killed way more indigenous people than the fighting. At that time Europe was a crossroads between many different peoples. Their long history of war and trading with faraway cultures had brought the European population slowly into contact with many different diseases. This resulted in Europeans developing a better resistance, or even immunity to a large variety of these diseases. Native American populations lived separated from the rest of the world. Therefore they’d never build up much of a resistance/ immunity to different diseases. When the Spanish arrived the indigenous immune system had little chance against the many new diseases the Spanish brought onto the continent. Among the diseases the Spanish conquerors brought were smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, malaria, measles, typhus, tuberculosis, but also sexually transmitted diseases, chickenpox, flu, and even the common cold. The results were disastrous for the local population. The people who survived and the ones who mixed with the Spanish (Mestizos) slowly build up more resistance, or even became immune to part of the diseases.
Currently, there are several ongoing studies about why the Covid-19 death rate in Japan and other Asian countries is lower than in most Western countries. Studies from Tatsuhiko Kodama, leader of the cancer metabolism project at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, and his team discovered a relation between Covid-19 and other coronaviruses. According to the results of their studies over the past years, Asian people have been exposed to several variations of milder coronaviruses. These exposures seem to have trained their immune system to better defend itself against new coronaviruses like Covid-19.
Both examples show that when societies live in (relative) isolation each society can build up their own immune system to protect them from the bacteria and viruses they grow up with. However, when these societies do meet at some point this can be fatal to one of them, like when the Spanish arrived in Latin America. When societies grow up together the world population as a whole will become more resilient against different bacteria and viruses from all over the world. Tourists traveling around might even help with interbreeding by falling in love with a local person and have children who inherit the best of both of them. So do we prefer a world without traveling and interaction with other societies, or do we prefer to mix race, genes, and cultures and all become one stronger and more diverse society?
12.5 Social benefits and importance of traveling and tourism
Sharing different ideas and life experiences is beneficial for our cultural and social evolution. And according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, those who travel and study abroad tend to be more open and emotionally stable. Another benefit of the interaction between different races and cultures is that people tend to be less scared or even hostile towards the unknown.
For this, I agree with the common observation of psychologists about fear for the unknown. This also explains why we tend to discriminate against the unknown. In their opinion, people are afraid of the “unknown” because most humans cannot define something that they have not experienced yet. Thoughts and actions are based on experience, which is something that we can categorize and define. In other words, with experience, we can predict actions and reactions. If you don’t have parameters to categorize a situation you can’t make predictions. Not knowing what might come next takes us out of our comfort zone and this can be scary to many people. Fear can prevent us from rational thinking, which can cause hostility against the unknown (people). Bad leaders use fear and ignorance to control people, or even start a war!
The first time I heard about Iraq was on the news about Operation Desert Storm. Watching the news made me think of Iraq as an evil nation. Years later I met a few backpackers who’d travelled through Iraq. They told me that it was a very interesting country and the people were very friendly. Now I would like to go there myself one day. Or maybe my interest was aroused by the pretty Iraqi woman I met in Mexico… Traveling not only improves our geographical knowledge but also provides a better understanding of the world and people around us. It feels easier to start a fight with an unknown abstract enemy, instead of fellow human being.
An article from Dr. Monica Frank explains how important it is to be able to communicate well and to look at communication from both ways. If someone responds in an irritating, or upset way towards you it can mean that it’s a bad person. But most likely there is some miscommunication involved. A few years ago they were working on the road that I like to run on in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. It is generally a quiet winding mountain road, but now there was a heavy truck with sand or stones passing each 10 minutes. This could have bothered me, but they were just doing their job. So instead of getting upset each time a driver passed by, I started to greet them. After a few weeks each truck driver would honk at me and some drivers even gave thumbs up, especially when it was raining. We were now all kings of this steep road.
How people respond to things depends on many things, including lack of social skills, wrong assumptions, feeling threatened, self-esteem, education, current mood, social status/ differences, and their culture. Misunderstanding and miscommunication are big causes of conflict or even war. They can often be prevented by personally meeting different people and learn more about different cultures and religions. Being nice to others, proper education and more accessibility to travel and meet new people can help. People who don’t travel tend to surround themselves with similar minded people and follow the news outlets of their preference. This could create an unrealistic social bubble. Traveling can take you out of your comfort zone and out of this bubble. It allows you to meet with people from different cultures, religions, political and social backgrounds. Some of the best discussions I had about saving the world happened while traveling and with people I had only just met.
12.6 Tourism can create a better mutual understanding and avoid conflict
We can come up with many conspiracy theories about the War on Terrorism, but that’s not the point of this book. To prevent violence and war, it can only help if we learn more about the history, culture, religions, and economies of other parts of the world. We need to learn more about the West’s historic and current religious, military, political, and economic relationships with other countries and cultures. We need to learn how some of those conditions, from colonialism through global economic changes and geopolitical rivalries, have contributed to poverty, desperation, hatred, and, at times, religious fanaticism today in other parts of the world. Fueled by negative media, we in the Western world often think that the people from Afghanistan are terrorists, because they supposedly bombed the Twin Towers. But imagine if you were born in 2001 in an Afghanistan city and all of your life you’ve been afraid that someday the US military will drop a bomb on you house. In your eyes, who would be the terrorist?
Journalist John Pilger wrote in his book ‘The new rulers of the world’ how the Western world and especially the USA are highly responsible for modern terrorism. Part of how we got here is the West’s tendency to impose our own cultures, values, and expectations on the regions we occupy or want to control. Like the Spanish, Dutch, British, Portuguese, France, etc. in the past and the USA in the present. We often did so without taking the time to try to understand the people we’re dealing with. Like foreign NGOs in poor countries. People interested in stopping terror and avoiding war cannot afford to repeat that mistake. Currently, Western cultures and religions must find and develop common interests together with the Islamic world. Just like Christianity and Judaism have learned to live in greater harmony after two millennia of tension. Like with any minority or “other,” the more we interact with each other, the more we learn from each other, and the better we will be able to create an understanding. Understanding takes the unknown away and creates less fear. It makes us recognize each other as individuals and as human beings, not unknown enemies, therefore reducing conflict. We can all agree that conflict and war are not good for the environment.
12.7 The Fauzi Azar Inn
The Fauzi Azar Inn hostel is a great example of creating understanding and mutual respect between different cultures. This hostel is located in a 200-year-old Arab mansion and provides a good example of a tourist business that brought both peace and prosperity into an Israeli town. In 2005 Suraida Shomar Nasser and Maoz Inon opened the Fauzi Azar Inn in the old city of Nazareth. It was an opening that came with a swirl of rumor, gossip, and accusations. This swirl wasn’t because the citizens of Nazareth didn’t like tourism to enter their city. No, the local people just didn’t trust the management. Nazareth is Israel’s largest Arab city, with Muslims making up 70% of its population, while the hostel was run by Suraida an Israeli Arab woman, and Maoz, an Israeli Jewish man. Not only this partnership was against the odds, but the Fauzi Azar Inn also opened in an area that had been abandoned by even part of its own residents. The winding cobbled alleyways were home to graffitied doors, shuttered shops, and even drug dealers. “We definitely had some hard times,” Maoz says. “But now we see the whole old city has changed and there are so many shops and cafes and other hostels that have opened up because we have been here”. “It is because of Maoz that we are always so busy now,” says Jarjoura Kanaza, who runs the Elbabour spice store with his brother. “He came to our old city and he brought it back to life”. This part of the city used to be desolate, not even local people would come here. But just one good example of, and publicity around this successful business, draw the attention of tourists looking for alternative destinations. Now there are 20 hostels and many independent businesses. This history of the Fauzi Azar Inn hostel inspired Prof Gelbman to conduct a study about how tourism could heal conflict.
12.8 Traveling and trading have made the world safer
Through history, the main reason for conflict and war is not being content with what you have and willing to gain more. Past conflicts were often fought to gain more land, gold, and other valuables. Recent conflicts have been about fossil fuels and future conflicts might be about freshwater. Disagreements about other people’s believes and religions are also an important cause of conflict. They often originate from misunderstanding and ignorance. Civil War is a different type of conflict which is often the result of bad leadership on a suppressed population. It is more likely to happen in a population formed around different cultures that haven’t been able to integrate and in poor populations with large economic differences. Tourism doesn’t only improve mutual understanding it also helps to spread income, potentially taking both main reasons for conflict away.
Looking at violence and war between other nations and cultures several studies show that statistically we currently live in the safest period of human history. The studies contribute the reasons behind our current relative decline in violence around the world to various aspects. These aspects include the founding of democracies and central governments with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. The nations that were formed this way became more organized and stable, which was good for trading.
While trading between nations became more and more important, governments discovered that exchanges in a global economy are more beneficial than going to war. Without exchanges in a market economy, all interactions between humans are zero-sum: you can steal something from me, but your gain is offset by my loss so humanity as a whole is no better off; the size of the economy stays the same. However, when goods are exchanged, both parties come out better ahead. Exchanging goods and skills also allows for specialization so different individuals and countries can make the goods for which they are best suited. Moreover, as trade continues, countries become dependent on one another because they no longer make all the goods they need. Over the past several hundred years, we have slowly built an international marketplace where all players are heavily dependent on one another. As discussed by Pinker, countries that depend more on each other for trade are less likely to have a violent conflict. The final result of this exchange is more plentiful goods at cheaper prices for all parties and improved international relations.
Meeting and understanding the people you want to trade with, is essential for creating a good working relationship. Traveling and tourism are important as they provide a great tool for international trade. They help with spreading money more equally over an economy and provide a better cultural understanding, which improves our communication skills.
An important global development that has improved global understanding and indirectly made the world safer is the improvement of communication networks. Mass media, including radio and television, and recently social media, made it easier for people to learn about other cultures and religions, even without having to travel. Although mass media at first helped to create a better understanding of the world around us, it is important to mention that it can also create a false perspective. Especially the past few years (social) media has become a huge business always looking for an audience. They therefore tend to provide information that attracts more audience. Besides, many news networks focus on a specific audience. They select more news that’s popular with their audience and some even write it in a way that appeals to their audience. This might be good for business, but it creates group formation and potentially splits society into different groups of people who only stay informed with the news of their preference. For this it is important that we don’t only look at our world through a screen, but also continue to interact with and learn from, the wide world around us; in other words: traveling!
12.9 Some of my own travel experiences
For a final example about the importance of tourism I look at myself. One of the most important things I learned while traveling is that common sense is different. This might not seem like much, but it goes a long way. For example, while doing volunteer work at animal refuge Merazonia in Ecuador I used to get upset with the local construction workers. I found it frustrating to work with them, because they didn’t communicate, or made any proper plans before starting their construction work. I thought them to be incompetent and preferred to work alone.
It took months to learn that their way of working was the result of a different background. They had always been paid by the hour and were never taught to work more efficiently. On top of that, especially with lower-paid workers in South America, it is common that people are not encouraged to think and plan for themselves. So these local construction workers were mainly taught to follow orders and try to avoid any responsibility. Since they were professionals and my friends didn’t know anything about construction, they were now asked to do something that was new for them. Combine this situation with the habit of many Latin American (mainly) men that they don’t like to admit it when they don’t know something, plus my own Dutch directness and you can understand why it was difficult for us to work together. Once I understood why they worked the way they did, I learned how to deal with it. We started to work together. I taught them how to plan better and be more efficient and in return I learned new practical things from them about building in and with nature.
After I learned how to look at a situation from a local point of view the communication and interaction while traveling and working in tourism also became easier. I didn’t have to agree with their opinion, but once I understood and showed more respect for their opinion, most of them showed more respect for mine as well. This way I’ve learned how to communicate in a better way to get things done without upsetting anyone when there is no need for this.
Overall the interactions from traveling have made me wiser, more tolerant, more patient, and even more confident. A good example of this extra confidence occurred in 2009 when I traveled for the second time into Mexico City. When I arrived for the first time in Mexico City in 2003 I had never been to Mexico and didn’t speak any Spanish. I didn’t like its historical center very much. It intimidated me, especially in the evenings. Six years later I spoke Spanish and had been traveling several times through various parts of Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries. Coming back into Mexico City I was surprised to discover the prettiness of its historical center. I even felt confident enough to go out on the streets in the evening and take pictures of the colonial buildings in their spotlights. And then, the day after my tour group arrived in Mexico City, its mayor decided to activate special security protocols against the H1N1 flu or ‘Mexican Flu’. But that’s a whole different story and luckily those restrictions ended up not having much effect on our travel itinerary.
Being in South America during the Covid-19 Corona pandemic I’ve noticed local people blaming foreign tourists for bringing the virus into their countries even though research shows that the first known Cocid-19 victims in at least Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentine, and even Mexico were all nationals returning home. It is easy for people to blame a negative event on something they don’t see the benefits of. Some of the critics in South America come from envy from local people who are not able to travel. They see foreigners as rich people who have more than they have and now on top help with spreading a deadly virus that threatens their families. Part of this feeling is to blame on a lack of understanding. When local people in South America meet foreigners, those are usually in a happy mood spending money on nice things. What they don’t see is that many of these foreigners had to spend 11 months of hard-working and sometimes even stress to be able to afford their holiday. If you combine this with the occasional provoking behavior of mostly younger tourists who don’t respect the local culture or even regulations, then you might understand where some of the local envy comes from. Of course, I don’t justify their envy.
The past 17 years it often made me upset to be treated as if I didn’t have to work for my money. Over the last years, I’ve become softer in my response and try to explain to the local people how I’ve earned my money and how life in the Netherlands is much more expensive than for example in Peru. This approach has gained more mutual understanding and respect. As for Covid-19 discrimination, unfortunately, this seems to happen all over the world. Since the virus itself is invisible it has made local people more afraid of people they don’t know, especially those who come from areas with more Covid-19 victims. It will be a future challenge for tourism and local people to deal with this fear. The most important tools to restore trust will be good communication, respect, and positive examples. The first people to travel again will have to show the others how safe it is before others will follow.
On June 10, 2020, the United Nations World Travel Organization wrote:
“Tourism can be a platform for overcoming the crisis after the pandemic. By bringing people together, tourism can promote solidarity and trust – crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation that is so urgently needed at this time.”
The Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra recently announced his ‘Kick-Start-Peru’ program “The main goal is to kick-start the Peruvian economy after the Covid-19 pandemic by creating up to 1 million new jobs” It is the Peruvian version of what Franklin Roosevelt called the “New Deal”. This was when the United States put the poor and hungry back to work during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Peruvian plan includes the cleanup and re-opening of the Great Inca Road from Cusco to the border with Ecuador. This would create 15,000 new low skilled jobs for people in need and when finished it will be an amazing tourist attraction that can bring in more foreign currency.