This month, I watched the documentary, The Last Tourist, on Hulu. The film offers a look into the global tourism industry, especially in developing countries, and the positive and negative effects it can have on a host community. One of the statistics presented in the film states that “80% of the world’s countries count tourism in their top 5 foreign exchange revenues,” so this is a very relevant and important issue across the globe. With travel becoming more and more accessible and the internet helping us find ways to get almost anywhere in the world, unprecedented numbers of tourists are flocking to once “hidden gems” that have not grown to accommodate the large influx of people, and therefore, have become exploited. What are some of the ways tourism negatively impacts a host community, and how can we change our mindset about travel to benefit both the traveler and the local communities?
The Last Tourist points out the unconscious consumerism that often comes with travel – the overindulgence in food, showering, and other consumption patterns that lead to the waste or exploitation of resources. Social media also plays a role in this as enrichment of travel is seen as secondary to getting a photo op to show you have been somewhere desirable or done something noteworthy. These behaviors often lead to the destruction of the very things that draw us to a travel destination.
In addition, the travel industry is commonly set up with curated experiences that keep tourists from encountering the real conditions of the host communities. All-inclusive resorts have a plethora of on-site restaurants, retail shops, services, and activities to keep vacationers busy without the need to venture off the resort grounds. Cruise ships offer the amenities of a floating city to entertain its patrons. Further, many of these resorts and cruise ships have arrangements with select local stores and restaurants where they receive a kickback for sending customers. Often, these businesses are labeled as “safe” while tourists are told other local businesses cannot be trusted. When hotels are foreign-owned or they import their own food and materials, that means money is leaving the host country, and local communities and businesses are being deprived of integration into the tourism value chain. This perpetuates poverty and, despite a bustling tourism industry, locals aren’t benefiting from it at all.
So how do we create sustainable tourism that ensures the well-being of both travelers and host communities? In addition to the responsibility of the local governments to create a dialogue with host communities about their wants and needs, the film reminds us, as tourists, that “your money is your vote.” What we spend our money on shows what we will stand for. We need to be informed about the places we visit and understand what kind of jobs are created through tourism there. We need to be educated about where our money is going and whether that perpetuates negative conditions (i.e. animal abuse, orphanages, poverty, etc. – this is covered in-depth in the documentary). Ask questions! Inquire about a company’s environmental policies, community development plans, and perhaps, most importantly, ask yourself, “Would this be okay in MY local community?”
Source: The Last Tourist (2021), a film written by Jesse Mann and Tyson Sadler, and produced by Tyson Sadler.