Recently The Guardian ran an article reporting that India is to crackdown on what are termed “human safaris” where comparatively rich tourists visit the Jarawa tribe people of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
The Jarawa people have long been isolated from the rest of the world and are now being affected by a major road built across their land by the Indian government. A video accompanied the report showing Indian tourists getting the tribes people to dance for food.
Of course we sympathise with the Jarawar and abhor the idea that tourists casually throw them food in order to capture a few second of video footage.
But are we so very different? As a keen photographer I keep an eye on Flickr and, today, I came across this picture which appealed to me. The picture shows a couple of Ugandan children walking down a dirt road carrying baggage on their heads. The girl also carries a large container probably for water. It’s a nice shot. The colours are subtly beautiful and the girl’s expression is interesting.
But take a step back here. How would we feel if tourists wandered around poor areas of America with expensive cameras, capturing images of people struggling with bags and then drove back to their hotels in the evening to eat and drink too much?
I am in no way condemning the photographer of this shot. I have taken similar pictures and have to defend photography as an art form and state that, while the streets of western countries are fantastic subjects for photography the scale is less and less human. The beauty of pictures such as The Long Way Home may be related to their simplicity and humanity.
I guess there have always been disparities in wealth and power between the haves and have nots but these days cheap air travel seems to allow we who live in the rich world to objectify people from the “developing world” without a thought.
The people of Berlin are protesting about the large number of tourists who visit their city and I have every sympathy.
Mass tourism is a scourge on society. The enormous buses clog our streets obscuring the very views that the tourists have come to see and eventually the local culture is displaced by an international tourist culture of burgers, beer and bullshit. Local charm is replaced by shops selling plastic beefeaters and pictures of how things used to be before mass tourism.
We all love to travel and from the tourists point of view mass tourism is a boon enabling us to see the world. Without mass tourism many of us would have no experience of anything outside our immediate vicinity.
But mass tourism destroys the thing it loves. A herd of tourists cannot visit a city without damaging it like some socio-economic version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
When a person reads of the Left Bank in Paris he learns of Picasso, Matisse and Hemingway. He thinks that he too must experience this seminal environment and he buys his ticket. But the locals have seen him coming. They know that the age of art has passed and the age of commerce is upon us. So they open themed cafés, bars and restaurants with names like Bar Les Artistes or Le Lucernaire.
When our gallant traveller arrives he finds that he is not rubbing shoulders with writers or poets but engaged in a drinking competitions with a IT Administrator from Milton Keynes. Our intellectual explorer is now in the minority. The majority of the clientele are not interested in culture but feel they should “take a look while we’re here”. They have been sold culture in the same way that they are sold breakfast cereal and aftershave.
Our cities become caricatures of themselves, Ko Samui becomes Blackpool and an Indian tourists sits and enjoys the ambiance of Paris while eating a Big Mac.
The tourist industry markets travel as a liberating experience but mass tourism is not so much a manifestation of freedom as of greed, globalisation and hyper-commercialisation.
The population of Greater London is estimated at approximately 7.7 Million people. Wikipedia considers that London receives 15 million tourists each year and it is a safe bet that the vast majority of these concentrate their activity in central London. At the moment, the tourist industry sees no limits on how many people it can push down the subway at Oxford Circus. This has been detrimental to the quality of life of Londoners and no doubt Berliners suffer similarly and so are right to object.
Industry and commerce have long involved the appropriation of commonly held land for exploitation by self appointed “owners”. Communism recognises this when it declares that “property is theft”. We generally consider this property to be land used for homes, farms or factories and we assume that this confiscation means exclusion of the public but we neglect the public space in between private property. We neglect the commons.
This common space is owned, used and valued by all of us yet government and commerce now seem hell bent on exploiting it to herd around disinterested tourists in such wretched conditions that their goal, once they emerge from their air-conditioned packaging, is to take a piss, grab a burger and get back on the bus.
The Tragedy Of The Commons may sound like a Thomas Hardy novel but is, in fact, a concept used by economists. To quote Wikipedia: “The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.”
The scenario usually given is where common land is used by multiple individuals to graze their cattle. It is in the interest of each individual to graze as many cows as possible yet this will eventually ruin the grazing land to the detriment of all.
One solution often proposed is that the commons should be privatised and access restricted to those with the ability to pay. The owner would then work in his own self interest to ensure that the asset was maintained in good condition. This could mean that the owner would limit access but this is, by no means, certain.
Intuitively I am against the continued expansion of the private sphere and I find modern shopping malls a poor replacement for a thriving high street.
Another way of addressing TTOTC is intervention by local government. Legislation could be implemented to limit use and protect the asset. In the case of mass tourism this might mean metropolitan rules restricting the number of Bulk Tourist Deliveries (BTDs) in a given period.
However, local government derives a lot of revenue from allowing companies to graze their tourists in city streets and officials often see their role as maximising revenue. According to Wikipedia “The Government Office for London states that tourism revenues constitute 10 per cent of London’s gross value added and contributes to the employment of up to 13 per cent of London’s workforce. According to the London Development Agency, visitors to London spend around £15bn each year.”
Obviously cities will not wish to give up this revenue but at the moment we are sacrificing our environment for short term profit. Reversing this trend and protecting our cities will make them better places to live and ensure that they continue to attract tourists well into the future.
Many years ago, over too many pints, I recall discussing the idea of creating a tour operator which would specialise in giving tourists an authentic night out in London. We would offer a standard service tailored to the Japanese businessman and start with a few pints in a local boozer followed by a trip on a big red double decker bus down to Fitzrovia. More pints would be consumed and a Japanese man would be cajoled into thinking that his beer was off and pushed into taking it back to the bar. The barman would be bribed to take a sip, pause, frown and then apologise profusely before telling the Japanese businessman that he had a “very discerning pallet sir”. More beer would be consumed and the Japanese businessman encouraged to approach a specific young woman who would be bribed to slap him soundly around the face.
The frivolities would continue in an Indian Restaurant where large portions of Vindaloo would be consumed and the waiter paid to talk some bollocks about how this was the hottest curry ever consumed. Eventually the tourists would be emptied into taxis and left to find their own way home when hopefully a minority would vomit in the back of the cab and end the night sleeping in a railway station.
The company was to be called Here We Go Tours and we considered that visiting Australians would make the best tour guides.
The 20th century was the age of standardisation, the production line and economies of scale. The 21st century looks set to change all that. From Internet shopping to 3D printing, globalisation and technology are enabling consumers to customise their purchases to suit their tastes. House swaps and couch surfing are two examples of how independent travellers are using The Internet to bypass the mass tourism industry.
Why not go further, why not reject the standardised tours set by self appointed experts and design your own itinerary? In the past this may have been difficult but in the 21st century the tools are readily available. The Internet allows us to research an area, Google Street View lets us wander the streets before we get there and our GPS equipped smartphones allow us to navigate once we get there.
Why not create an itinerary and share it with your friends on Facebook?
The concept of tourists destroying what they visit is not new and was deftly described in a 1975 Science Fiction story by Garry Kilworth named “Let’s Go to Golgotha”. To quote Wikipedia: “In the future period where the story takes place, time travel has been invented and made commercially available. Among other historical events, tourists can book a time-travelling “Crucifixion Tour.” Before setting out, the tourists are strictly warned that they must not do anything to disrupt history. Specifically, when the crowd is asked whether Jesus or Barabbas should be spared, they must all join the call “Give us Barabbas!”. (A priest absolves them from any guilt for so doing). However, when the moment comes, the protagonist suddenly realizes that the crowd condemning Jesus to the cross is composed entirely of tourists from the future, and that no actual Jewish Jerusalemites of 33 AD are present at all.”
On Sunday I flew to Finland. Helsinki? No I went of my own accord. It was never a good joke in it’s original form and obviously my rendition is no better.
At long last Terminal Three at Heathrow seems to have been tarted up and there was room to swing a cat. Sadly, there were no swinging cats there, just we motley collection of tourists and jaded business travellers.
I am being too cynical. In fact Heathrow is better since the renovation though I still protest every public space in England being transformed into an over priced shopping mall. The “luxury brands” swarm like bloated maggots around departure lounges though why any marketing wallah should think that having the name of Harrods suspended over a shop selling tatt to the masses would do their brand image any good I don’t know.
I’ve heard stories of luxury brands, such as Louis Bloody Vuitton, destroying their merchandise rather than let unsold items appear on the market at knock down prices and I had imagined that this was driven by a determination to artificially maintain exclusivity. But these days the luxury brands appear to be targeting both the toffs and the chavs and I suspect that in a few years time they will have completely destroyed their brand name. In fact I heard that Burberry have hit this exact problem and are now trying to claw there way back to exclusivity. If they’re not careful it will be Robinson’s Barley Water all over again.
I used to drink RB and had bought it fairly regularly over the years. However, a while back I noticed that they had not only changed the bottle to some misshapen plastic abomination but had also brought in a lot of other concoctions which they are flogging under their brand name. I mistakenly picked up a bottle of some rubbish which proved to be undrinkable. I continued to by the stuff for a while but the plastic bottle somehow makes the stuff irksome and it spends it’s days at the back of the shelf with all the supposed goodness gradually settling out until I notice just how foul looking it has become and throw it out.
I stayed at the Sokoto Presidentti in Helsinki which was satisfactory. The bathrooms have an almost medial appearance with their over engineered shower apparatus but the Spanish restaurant delivers a very good pepper steak and crème brulee.
In the evening I stood outside the hotel, my view of the Natural History Museum obscured by an unending procession of tour buses disgorging Japanese tourists. I’d read somewhere that Berliners are up in arms at the number of tourists who clutter up their beautiful city and I sympathise.
Despite the concentration of tour buses at the hotel, Helsinki seems not to suffer the scourge of mass tourism. Wandering the streets in the evening I found them almost deserted. Even at Helsinki Cathedral there were just a few local people sitting on the steps enjoying the evening.
Hypocritically I travel quite frequently and my impression of the UK is that it appears fundamentally different from continental Europe. Northern Europe has a certain uniformity engendered by common street signs for “Centrum”, yellow trams and tall warehouses. Possibly multiple forcible attempts at unifications by megalomaniac dictators resulting in massive loss of life also have something to do with it – Northern Europe has a more communal feel to it.
One evening I visited the Sokos Helsinki restaurant overlooking the railway station for a delicious steak sandwich. From the balcony it is possible to look out over Helsinki station and the trams, one of which appeared to be a travelling bar – What an excellent idea!
Many people in Helsinki ride bicycles but seem not as obsessed with having the right gear as the cyclists in England. The young men seem to be heavy metal enthusiasts and wear jeans, studs and beards. One motorcyclist sported two enormous cow horns on his crash helmet. All a bit Viking which is odd as I am told that their language is unrelated to Scandinavian languages and instead shares it’s history with Hungarian.
About 11pm, when it was still broad daylight, I discovered a video and sweet shop. Numerous videos and numerous types of sweet all in tall jars including the a suspicious brand named Tyrkish Peba. Which I love but which, I suspect, was originally invented as some kind of chemical warfare agent as it is composed partly of Ammonium chloride.
Returning to the hotel I found it overrun by youths who continued to race around the corridors until the early hours creating a sort of carpeted, indoor version of the Bronx.
On the flight home I got talking to a girl who was publishing a book to be named “No Fear” on the changing face of business leadership brought about by globalisation and technology. An interesting discussion though difficult, given the incessant announcement over the tannoy. In an effort to cover themselves and sell us more stuff, corporations bombard us with advertisements and inane safety warnings. We get this on aircraft, on the London Underground and in those imbecilic, and legally questionable, online “agreements”. Corporations will claim that they need to communicate with their customers but this is a very one sided form of communication. I don’t care about the ground speed, the height or their selection of duty free items. I especially don’t care to hear it in multiple languages one after the other at full volume from a loudspeaker positioned 12 inches from my left ear. I sometimes feel like taking a megaphone onto an aircraft and retaliating. I recall a friend who tried this in the back of a taxi once and got thrown out at Trafalgar Square….but that’s another story.
I went up to London today. Bloody train from Hove was packed and I couldn’t get a seat. Then they attached some more carriages at Haywoods Heath and I got a seat next to a bloke who insisted on hanging on like he thought we were about to go into free-fall. At Victoria station getting through the ticket barriers was like a bloody football match and then there was an enormous queue to get into the underground. I gave up and got a bus which got as far as Sloane Square and then stopped along with all the other traffic. We waited for about half an hour moving a couple of inches every now and then and I got out and walked.
I haven’t been to the Science Museum in a while and they’ve tarted it up. By this I mean that they have built a restaurant by the entrance, a restaurant at the back and a snack shop and a gift shop on the 1st floor. God forbid anyone should look at the bloody exhibits. In addition they have a lot of this interactive tosh with screens and whatnot. All geared to get the kids and the intellectually lazy into the museum and God it has worked. Pearls before swine. The politically correct appear to have taken over the first floor with exhibits about gender and race. One moronic piece consisted of a pencil drawing animation of a naked man’s torso and then naked woman’s torso. Drawn in simple line drawings. As they rotate faster, according to the bit of text, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate male from female and, again according to the blurb, by extrapolation this proves that men and women are not very different. What absolute bollocks!
OK, that’s got the rant out of the way.
The old cars and lorries were good. I remembered the fantastic Jet 1 from when I was a boy. This is a gas turbine powered old Rover – It’s still there! What a car! There were some interesting exhibits in the trendy section related to psychology. One that you put your hand into a hole which was stroked by a brush while an artificial hand in front of you was also stroked by a brush and just for second I thought that the hand behind the glass was my hand. Which, apparently, was the point.
The space section still has some great stuff. The real Apollo 10 capsule and a lot of rocket engines. All exhibited in a gallery painted black and lit with spot lights. Personally I’d prefer that they just painted the walls white and lit the entire room well so you could have a good look at the exhibits rather than have some bloody designer trying to give you their impressions of the subject……there I go again, ranting.
The aircraft section was good, of course, and they had some excellent very old computers from Babbages mechanical difference engine to a Cray 1. One ancient old valve machine consisted of wardrobe sized cabinets with handles like old car door handles. They built computers with attention to detail in those days. Strangely they had embedded a clock on the front and it amuses me that this old machine probably did not have the capacity to run a clock program yet today we have digital clocks in everywhere.
They also had a lot of consumer goods from the 1940s to 70s including old hand tools like drills, radios, hair dryers, telephones. All very strange to look back at when you’re as old as me. I also had a look around the section for ships with numerous models of old square riggers. Thankfully old ships don’t seem to be very fashionable and the babble of kids died away allowing one time and space to wonder around and appreciate what marvels these machines were.
After leaving the Science Museum I’d more or less had enough but I thought I’d take a quick look in the main half of the Natural History Museum which is around the corner housed in a beautiful gothic building. However, the queue to get in was enormous and one has to ask: Where the hell do all these people come from? When I lived in London it was possible to jump on a bus or a train at weekends and you had the whole city to explore. Now London seems flooded by tourists following each other around in great crowds gawping at the great wonders that exist here like a cow gazes at a tractor.
One of the worst trends of the late 20th and early 21st century is tourism. It floods the wonders of the world with people who really don”t care and just want to buy a book of pictures and drink a bloody latte. I wish they’d all go home.
I visited The Tate on Sunday. Well, I always think of it as The Tate though they call it Tate Britain now. The great things about Tate Modern is that it keep the tourists out of The Tate. Or perhaps it was quiet because the Notting Hill Carnival was taking place. They had a couple of good paintings by Bridget Riley and quiet a bit of Gilbert and George. I remember seeing Gilbert and George in the street when I lived in Hackney. Not a sign of Bridget Riley though.
After The Tate I had a quick walk along the river and noticed some buildings that most people would probably think of as the epitome of 60s awfulness. However, in their settings they looked quite good.