To walk in a straight line uninterrupted and absorbed in your own thoughts is to walk among the dense tangle of an invading forest. To the left is the splash of colors of tuk tuks with a swarm of sun burnt drivers, holding bits of overused map papers, heading towards you. To the right stands the mound of clothes, bags, bracelets, and trinkets of Thailand ready to swallow you whole. Moving forward seems impossible now and to dash into a vendor’s lair would only prolong the inevitable. So you continue forward preparing to greet the smiling faces of the drivers with a warm but stern “No, thank you.”
These men are not smiling because they are eager to drive tourists around their beloved city. No, these men have learned that this activity can bring home good money. The friendlier they are, the greater the possibility for customers. Any tourist who has been to places such as Bangkok can attest to the aggressiveness exhibited by those associated with the tourist industry. What most tourists fail to recognize is that their presence, their actions, their choices in travels have all influenced the nature of the welcome they have received.
The resounding problem with the increase in globetrotters and more open lines of travel is that the average tourist expects too much. Instead of traveling to a place based on what it already has to offer, many tourists expect their destination to house certain luxuries, activities, or amenities. What occurs is a simple economic supply and demand model. As the demand for luxury hotels, WiFi service, convenient and cheap transportation, and recognized brand name stores and restaurants increases, the people who are attempting to make a living off any type of odd jobs will soon find themselves trying to feed these requests. As a result, the tourist sector blossoms and provides new sources of income for families which lead to large amount of individuals selling the same goods and services, competing for part of the profit. Diversity begins to dwindle.
On the other end of this change are the eager travelers, waiting to see the next big city. So they find an authentic, fresh city: A place still untouched by the modernized world, some remnant of bygone history and culture. Before long, a mad rush of tourists, journalists, travel writers, photographers, retirees, students, and others come pouring into these new found treasures. The well-traveled ones appreciate the cultural beauty, the less-traveled ones enjoy their trips but always find areas for improvement, and the local people change everything about their way of life to support this rapid surge of visitors.
But what happens when the tourists begin to pack up and look for their next passport stamp? What happens when the city has lost its appeal and no longer is seen for the splendor of a long-lost adventure? The locals cannot simple pack their bags and go too. Instead, they are faced with the collapse of their income and the issue of reintegration into a society that they may not even recognize anymore.
The most detrimental blow these locals have to grapple with is the loss of their culture because when the tourists came expecting certain elements of familiar comforts, the locals attempted to meet their demands. Now McDonalds, Starbucks, and 7-Elevens have moved into the places of local shops and restaurants. Shaky infrastructure has been built to transport tourists to popular Must-See destinations but not necessarily to the areas common for residential and workplace communities. What began as a beautiful testament to a human culture has been degraded into a watered down regional generalization.
So how can this be prevented? Should travel be limited and the notion of isolation be brought to the table?
The solution lies in the traveler to carry both honesty and integrity into their journeys. The traveler must careful understand his or her goals and wishes for a vacation. Instead of picking a destination and then expecting it to meet desired interests, seek out a destination that innately houses these gifts in its foundation. If you seek spa and relaxation, travel to spots that have these in its natural makeup. If you seek foods and infrastructure you are familiar with, travel to locales that have these already established. If the decision has been made to go to a fresh place, be accepting and open-minded to what it has to offer. The greatest mistake global citizens could make is to strip away the cultures of history, leaving a world overly-explored and tainted for future generations.