Paradise Challenged (Part II) Aaron C. Greenman's view on Cinque Terre

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.

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  • Couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed here. My photography expeditions (tourism to my friends) are viewed as odd since I immerse myself in the culture of the location and avoid popular destinations where the presence of tourists infects the scene.

  • I’m confused. These are snap shots, not anything representative of the premise of the article on Cinque Terre. Rocks on a roof with a view of the sea, a basket of plums, olive nets? How am I getting the idea that Cinque Terre is being changed by tourism through the images short of the train photo, which is a snap shot?

  • Working as a photographer that documents cities around the world for a living, tourism becomes more and more of an annoyance. The more touristic, the less authentic. Unfortunately, if a place is special, eventually tourism will take over. I’m not sure if we can do anything about that.

  • Yes, I agree with above comments. There are special places, intimate and small. But tourism is a threat for the intimacy of these places.
    And these places will need tourism to survive…not sure what we could do about…

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