Saturday, February 1, 2014

Conscious Traveling

I learned quite a lot from my vacations over winter break. In the case of the Dominican Republic, I saw a lot of things that I've read about or learned in previous history and urban planning classes put into practice.
I think it's incredibly important to travel if you can afford to, for a multitude of reasons. It's somewhat more important, though, to consider what your money is going to when you do travel. I think I mentioned this in my post on Ender's Game (and if I didn't-- just pretend, shh), but when you put your money towards something-- a company, a book, a hotel, a film studio, or really anything else-- you are choosing to support it and whatever goes into it, whether or not you're conscious of or even okay with that. For this reason, where you stay during your travels can matter quite a bit.

Hotels in general seem to have a reputation for underpaying and overworking their staff. This is something to keep in mind and investigate regardless of where you go. Sometimes it can't be helped-- but it's just something to be aware of. However, it's especially important to be mindful of where you choose to stay in developing countries. Many countries have an economy based primarily on tourism-- this isn't necessarily a bad thing as it definitely does create jobs, except that:
a) many hotels are foreign-owned and therefore primarily benefit the foreign owners,
b) native residents of the country trying to find a job often have no choice but to work in tourism, which brings me back to the whole hotels have a reputation for underpaying/overworking their staff thing,
c) hotels drive property values up, and if native residents are working in the tourism industry for little pay, they often can't those higher property values,
d) tourism has a tendency to promote an appropriation/distortion of that country's culture for profit, and
e) large tourist industries tend to beget mass negative environmental consequences.

A perfect example of this-- despite that it's a part of the United States-- is Hawaii. The article I've linked just sort of scratches the surface, but googling "impact of tourism on Hawaii" (or probably any other country google suggests) will likely fill you in.

So if you're uncomfortable with unwittingly supporting such an economic chain of events, I offer some suggestions:
·         Research hotels! They're not always honest about their treatment of their staff and their impacts on the environment, but it's still good to look into.
·         Hostels. As far as I know, they tend to be locally-owned and have a lower environmental impact, researching individuals hostels' policies is also necessary.
·         Learn about where you're going. I mean, I just think that's fun to do in general, but I'm also a history nerd. But knowing the history of the place you're staying it helps to provide context for what impacts you might unwittingly have.
·         Eco-hotels actually aren't as okay as they sound. Research is necessary here as well, but ecotourism, though it sounds like an environmentally-friendly alternative to regular tourism, often involves facilities that the natural environment can't support.
·         Steer clear of culture-related tourist traps. That's part of the profiting-from-distorted-foreign-cultures thing. And, though I would hope it would go without saying,
·         NO SLUM TOURS. The wikipedia page sums up the problem with this, if it wasn't evident.

It is, of course, your prerogative to visit wherever and do whatever you want, but I think the problem is that a lot of people just don't know what kind of impact their choices (and, namely, money) make on other countries. I certainly didn't know until I took a class that addressed the subject. But now that I am aware, I feel like it's my responsibility to at least be mindful of what exactly I choose to give my money/support to.

Stay classy,


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