For Part I of Paradise Challenged, please see here.
“As I see the world, there’s one element that’s even more corrosive than missionaries: tourists. It’s not that I feel above them in any way, but that the very places they patronize are destroyed by their affection.”
— Tahir Shah
According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the number of tourist arrivals globally reached one billion for the first time in 2012, the same year in which China became the largest spender in international tourism globally with $102 billion, surpassing Germany and the United States. Tourism now accounts for 30% of the world’s trade of services. The tourism economy is now also one of the main targets of terrorist activity around the globe, being highly susceptible to events such as those in Paris in November.
Modern tourism originated centuries ago in the Grand Tour around Germany and Italy, a cultural trip originally taken mainly by wealthy, young European men primarily from Western and Northern Europe, serving as both an educational opportunity and rite of passage. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, the concept of taking time away from work – and traveling away from home on the newly developed mass transit rail systems – slowly filtered down to the middle class. Seaside resorts also developed in the 19th century to support such desires and offer seasonal leisure activities included Heiligendamm, Deauville, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Ostend, Taormina, and Atlantic City.
In the 21st century, with a mass tourism infrastructure catering to billions of people, we have unfortunately created a system of pleasure delivery that largely excludes any amount of real cultural investigation. Our cars take us to airports, where flying metal tubes whisk us in a matter of hours to places once unique and remote, so we can stay in environments as comfortable (if not more so) than we have at home. If we are making the effort to move ourselves from place to place, why not also have the self confidence and curiosity to put ourselves in situations where we know nothing, and must learn? Such experiences tell us more about ourselves, and allow us to better understand our places in the world.
In a small way, the unforgiving topography of Italy’s Cinque Terre region and its relative lack of large scale sand beaches should save it from the worse fate of areas such as Spain’s Costa Brava. But success is relative; as the area’s original economic activity continues to deteriorate, the area will inevitably continue to turn towards tourism as its lifeline. And ironically, it is tourism that will extinguish the very reason why those visit in the first place.
Perhaps we can reflect and slowly begin to restore the simple pleasures of exploration and cultural exchange, of conversation with others unknown to us, building our character and reveling in the unexpected.
As Dan Eldon, a journalist and constant traveler who died at the age of 23 in Mogadishu in 1993 observed, “the journey is the destination.”
– Aaron C. Greenman
Aaron C. Greenman has been a photographer for more than 25 years and has lived and worked on four continents. He has previously been profiled on The Leica Camera Blog for his work in the Far East, the Indian Subcontinent, Africa, Israel, Turkey, Russia, and Europe. More of his portfolio images can be viewed on his website, and he has several books available for the iPad. Custom prints of his work are available for purchase on request.