International tourism: A masquerade of service

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Amanda Nelson

Junior Amanda Nelson enjoyed her spring break in Riviera Maya Mexico last year.

Molly Rawat, Feature Editor

As many people come home from spring break with fresh tans, unique souvenirs and crazy memories, it is important to consider the ethicality of tourism. To visitors, a week-long trip may feel like more fun than harm, but to those native to the destination location, it can mean so much more. 

This concern becomes especially important when citizens of developed countries travel to developing ones. Several lower income countries’ economies rely on tourism, and that dependency is dangerous. 

Craig Parker, a PV teacher who has traveled to Puerto Rico, commented on the dangers of the lack of diversity in a country’s economy. “It can be a liability. As we have seen with COVID, a lot of tourism has shut down,” he said. “As a result, places that depend on tourist dollars can really be adversely affected by that.”

Traveling to locations that rely heavily on tourism is not inherently bad, but the conversation around tourism is a necessary one to have. Terminating travel to lower income countries may not be the answer, but there are benefits to understanding the negative effects of tourism and its historically dependent economic roots.

Countries with a history of colonization and imperialization– such as several in Asia, Latin America and Africa– are often categorized as third world countries due to their current societal and economic conditions. Developed countries, such as the U.S.A., Canada and many European countries refuse to take responsibility for the lasting effect they have had on these struggling nations. 

After stripping these countries of their resources, culture and more for years, they have the audacity to call their tourism a beneficial service. Unfortunately, in a world where societies and individuals must compete for the ability to live, lower income countries have been forced to put a price on their culture to sell it for survival. 

From this historical and current colonization arose Orientalism: intellectual Edward Said’s theory of how the West has depicted the East with its own imagined constructions, often in an inaccurate – and therefore harmful – manner. 

Often, nations desperate to bring in revenue due to the capitalistic pressures of the global economy have had to use these constructions to their advantage. People of the West would never like to live in the East but will make a short visit of it through a lens of exoticism and mysticism. 

An example of this is men from Western nations getting a girlfriend experience in South Asian countries. Thailand, a South Asian country, has a beautiful environment and culture to offer curious travelers, making it a popular tourist destination. An activity visitors participate in, besides appreciating the country for what it is, includes renting female sex workers because of the preconceived stereotypes Westerners have of Asian women. Their services are  legal and cheaper than they would be in a Western country. 

Individuals using this fascination the West has with the East to sell sex, or for lower income countries to rank a natural landmark harms the societies, especially their working class individuals. 

Senior Malinali Sanchez-Carmona explained some direct negative effects tourism can have on a nation’s environment in addition to the ethical problems. “With countries that rely on geographical tourism, having too much use of the land can eventually overwhelm and harm the environment itself, depleting its beauty that attracts all of the tourists to begin with,” she said.

Completely stopping visiting countries is not the answer, but understanding the harmful effects, trying to make one’s travel more sustainable and ethical and striving to help lower income countries build healthier economies through large-scale politics and individual responsibility can and will help in the long run.