Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Eat the tourists

"Hospitality" work is drudgery. It is the repetitive tedium of changing beds. It is the self-debasement of waiting tables. It is the phony salesmanship of booking rooms. It is the gross corruption involved in selling tours and souvenirs and condos and timeshares. It is the daily terror of being forced to maintain a shallow smile or else. It undermines one's enjoyment of a local culture seen twisted into a cheap commodity. It rots one's regard for basic human interaction.  It is bad for the soul.

Tourism is the largest employer on earth and it is one of the most massive drivers of inequality. The wages are low. The job security is nonexistent. The work is dehumanizing, and the collateral damage is devastating.
The anger isn’t limited to Europe. In Cambodia, citizens were evicted from their fishing villages so that foreign-built resorts could rise on the pristine beaches. With record crowds and mounds of litter, the once romantic Ipanema beach in Rio de Janiero now features drunk tourists infuriating the locals. Cities across North America, from New Orleans to Vancouver, have issued regulations on Airbnb rentals after citizen complaints that their neighbourhoods were being overwhelmed by unruly tourists and rising rents.

It is no longer possible to dismiss criticism of exploding tourism as elite snobbery, of high-end cultural tourism versus T-shirt-clad visitors squeezed on a tour bus. Or a question of who has the right to travel and who doesn’t.

The dimensions of the industry have grown so vast so quickly that it has become a serious issue of globalisation, as pertinent to the communities at risk as shuttered factories have been to the American and British rust belts.
That's a pretty good essay from Elizabeth Becker. I'm not so happy with her use of New Orleans's Airbnb regulations as an example of governmental pushback, though. In reality our local ordinance is more about enabling rather than limiting the short term rental plague. On the other hand, this is an important point. 
Only governments can handle runaway tourism. Few major industries fall so squarely into their hands – local, regional and national. Governments decide who is eligible for visas: how many cruise ships, airlines and trains can bring in visitors, how many hotels receive building permits, how many beaches are open to development, how many museums and concert halls are open, even how many farmers receive subsidies to raise food for the restaurants and cafes that tourists frequent.

After years spent tracking the explosion of tourism, I came to the obvious conclusion that without serious and difficult government co-ordination, mayhem can follow. The current biggest disrupters are short-term rental companies, such as Airbnb, and cruise ships.

Most governments still measure tourism success simply by the number of visitors. The more, the better. For the moment, officials have been reluctant to regulate tourism to the benefit, first of all, of their own citizens.
We're in the midst of a major municipal election here in one of the most tourism dependent and therefore tourism threatened cities in America.  The deleterious effect of this exploitative industry should be a front and center campaign issue.   Is it, though?  Will it ever be?

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