If you’re anything like me (which is likely, given the audience this post will attract), it may bother you to be referred to as a tourist. Of course I could be alone here, but I often resent that despite the thought and planning I put into getting off the beaten path, I am and always will be viewed as a tourist by some people.
First off, I’d like to clarify that I don’t harbour any ill-will towards tourism. Tourism is and has been for some time, an important part of many economies worldwide, including mine, here on Canada’s west coast.
Tourism has the power to do a lot of good. Take Iceland for example, which, in 2008, underwent a horrendous financial crisis. In the years to come, the Krona dropped, inflation rose and unemployment tripled. Much to the good fortune of Icelanders, this all changed in 2010 with the eruption of one of the countries’ volcanoes. As Eyjafjallajokull fumed and exploded, it spewed so much ash into the air that over twenty European nations mandated a freeze on all air-traffic. A blessing in disguise, this week-long stasis affected around 10 million would-be passengers and plunged Iceland into the global spotlight. Since then, the country’s economy has all but recovered thanks to a massive tourist boom.
In addition to the economic benefits, tourism is also a powerful tool in the fight against xenophobia. I believe most travellers would agree that experiencing someone else’s culture or religion is an effective way to humanise those individuals against whom we are accustomed to discriminate. So why then, if I support tourism, do I not wish to be associated with tourists? The answer is simple:
Most tourists don’t support tourism; they support vacationism.
To quote the motto of The Rover In The Leather Jacket, you should travel to be better, not to be cool. I think that Sara hit the nail on the head with this one and personally, I couldn’t agree more. Travel isn’t something that should be done with the intention of being cool or interesting, but rather something that should be done for the development of your person. This is where we reach our first distinction between a tourist and a traveller.
A traveller is someone who ventures out of their direct routine for the sake of uncovering the unknown and experience something new. This is inherently opposite to the purpose of resort stays and Instagram-minded vacations–a distinction which makes for a palpable difference when the voyaging party returns home. Too many times in high school and university have I had the following conversation:
Hey, how was your reading break?
Great! We went to Mexico for eight days.
Cool, where did you go?
Puerto Vallarta. We had an all-inclusive, so mostly we spent the time relaxing on the beach.
This dialogue usually ends pretty quick, perhaps with a few extra comments about getting tanned, drunk or having gone zip-lining. On the other hand, a similar conversation spoken between two travellers would typically be longer and more informative. This is because the traveller leaves home to learn, returning with knowledge and stories. Opposite to this, the holiday-maker typically leaves to relax, returning home with little more than a tan. The distinction here is similar to (if not the same as) the difference between an adventure and a vacation.
Another important aspect of the traveller is a sense of responsibility which doesn’t exist in the average tourist. I tend to imagine the former as someone who is conscious of the effects that their actions have regarding the country or region they’re visiting. In many cases this comes down to where (and from whom) tourists buy their goods and souvenirs. In many developing nations, one should be particularly wary where products have come from, especially if the item descended from something living. Illegal harvesting, fishing and poaching all pose a great threat to many of the earth’s ecosystems and should not be supported. Much to mother nature’s dismay, however, they often are.
In summary, there are many kinds of tourists and while most pose no problem to the well-being of the planet, many do. Unfortunately, this is where my argument boils down to semantics. Through my personal interpretation of the English language, I am convinced that my mother tongue does not distinguish well enough, travellers from tourists and more importantly, tourism from vacationism. As it stands, a tourist is a catch-all term which encompasses just about anyone who goes abroad. Of course, English is guilty of this all the time with nearly all of its vocabulary. For example, the words “few” and “little” are synonyms, but are not completely interchangeable. In a similar fashion, I argue that English speakers should be more conscious of the subtle differences between travellers, vacationers/holiday-makers and tourists.
Ultimately, the source of my frustration stems from that fact that as a traveller, I do my best to separate myself from the ethical, environmental and economic consequences of vacationism–an effort which is undermined when I am given the same label as those who’s behaviour I am trying to avoid.