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The Guilt of Participating in Tourism as Someone Working in the Industry

Morgan Navas | October 06, 2023

Does learning more about tourism ruin your outlook?

Many people in tourism-related jobs entered the industry because something about it caught their attention. Whether it be a fascination with the magic of hotels, creating memorable experiences, participating in unique recreation activities, or learning about new cultures and histories, most of us are here because we liked travel and tourism in some capacity. But has the line of work changed these feelings?

I think being behind the desk can make one lose sight of the impact they might have. When something that used to seem magical or inspiring becomes an everyday, mundane task, it seems easy to get caught up in the negativity of it. Especially as someone who studies sustainable tourism, I find myself constantly noticing all the negative aspects of the tourism opportunities as I participate in them, with little power to change the systems I am participating in. And the kicker, I understand why businesses make these decisions even if they may have negative consequences, short and long term. So what are these things that catch my eye?

PARKING is one of the things that drives me crazy in tourist towns, despite how conflicted I am about it. One part of me understands the economic benefit of making everywhere paid parking. Many places make a large portion of their tourism profit from parking, but it can be soooo frustrating for someone who is trying to park there (both tourists and residents). Another draw is the availability of parking and distance from the attraction. Every time I end up on a long walk from my parking spot, I think about how this is a tactic commonly used to bring in more tourism dollars to local businesses by forcing more foot traffic past these places (Once again, frustrating but I get it).

SOUVENEIRS also give me such mixed feelings. Seeing gift shops on every corner and at every step of tourist attractions always makes me debate whether to participate. On one hand, it is important to realize that these businesses are the livelihoods of so many people and they play a large part in the economy of an area’s tourism economy. However, many of these shops are supplying mass-produced goods that inevitably tend to end up in a landfill. In the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t a sustainable system. However, expecting everyone to only participate in purchasing authentic locally made items is not realistic for the systems in place. There are constraints such as availability and budget- especially after paying those hefting parking fees. At the same time, I will admit I like to collect pins and patches from the destinations I visit, so I am also actively supporting the system with every purchase.

ATTRACTIONS are another conflicting category. It is easy to get caught up in wanting to visit all the iconic tourism attractions in a destination wanting to check it off the bucket list or getting the picture to share. However, mass tourism continues to damage tourism destinations as too many people are consuming too quickly, placing strain on the local communities. Businesses in these places rely on visitors but are being harmed by them at the same time. However, marketing places off the beaten path can also be harmful as it spreads out the area being damaged. It is a double-edged sword just waiting to harm no matter the chosen path.

As I participate in these activities, I also find it interesting to see if any history or interpretation is being actively distributed to keep tourists educated. Some places are so successful in this aspect which makes this tourism student’s heart happy! This is something that I never paid much attention to in the past, I never understood the importance of learning about the history of a place, in my mind it was simply a pretty place to see. So, if you’re anything like I was, I highly encourage you to consider paying attention to the history of the places you are visiting because it helps you understand the significance of it, and many people say the more people value a place, the more likely they are to help prevent harming it. One example of this I see often is educating visitors on the importance of the alpine ecosystem, and why it is critical that tourists don’t stray from carefully formed hiking paths.

ACCOMMODATION provides yet another tricky conflict. Hotels are notoriously not very sustainable, as they are large consumers of water, electricity, and single-use items. It comes with the industry, though companies are starting to make changes to these components, it can be difficult to keep guests happy with these changes. Something as simple as not providing plastic water bottles at the front desk can tank a guest’s impression of the hotel. But are other options any better? Home-sharing options often upset local communities as they takeover neighborhoods, making them unaffordable for the residents that live there and forcing them out. Furthermore, as property management systems are commonly not local, these profits (like hotels) end up outside of the community, no longer contributing to their economy. Consequences can be named for every segment of the industry, from staying with friends and family to camping to RV travel. No single segment is perfect by any means.

SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

I know, I know. I just named a whole lot of dreary things about the tourism industry. But as I continue to learn more and participate in the system, I am forced to ask myself where the line is. Do I avoid feeling guilty by not participating? Which full circle prevents me from supporting the very field I am studying and working in… But if I do participate, how do I create a boundary of what damage I find justifiable? I struggle with this each time I start to plan a trip, but I am continuing to remind myself that speaking up and making others aware of these issues can help create solutions and more sustainable travelers. Additionally, I think it is important to take these things with grace and remember that even when not done perfectly, it can be impactful. So go out there and travel, but take a second to think about how your experience can impact the people and place around you, positively or negatively.

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