One month ago I was sipping a beer in a little square in El Born, a popular neighbourhood of Barcelona, when two hunky, drunk, and shirtless Caucasian boys walked in front of the bar where I was sitting. Unconcerned of the urban environment that surrounded them, the two tourists proudly walked around the area deliberately showing off their six-packs matched with colourful swimsuits. I wondered if the pair were struggling to distinguish Barcelona from an all-inclusive holiday village in Lloret de Mar – it seemed that for them, the city and the country itself, were like an extension of an STA holiday pack.
While I don’t want my argument to sound critical of the outfits chosen by the two tourists (I do believe that everyone should wear what they wish), the scene I witnessed made me reflect on how easily tourists can turn the locality of their travel into a playground at their total disposal, unconscious – and uncaring – of the social, and cultural network of the hosting country.
This summer, the falsified myths of the prosperity of tourism were debunked by angry locals, both in Barcelona and in Venice, who protested against the mass tourism that’s affecting their cities, and particularly about the rise in land prices, making it close to impossible for locals to afford a house. It seems as though residents are starting to realise that the economic profit from tourism once praised, isn’t worth the local economy, well-being and environmental costs tourism demands. Also, mass tourism itself is getting cheaper, making it harder and harder for local business to turn a profit.
In Europe concerned citizens are starting to speak up about this issue, yet in other parts of the world mass tourism is just starting to take off, with very risky consequences. In an aim to recover from its perils following a long dictatorship, Cuba is now relying on mass tourism to boost its economy; taking advantage of any tourism focused profession. This can be seen in taxi drivers earning $60 CUC a day as opposed to doctors at $40 CUC a month. When a country’s economy is reliant on the tourism industry, locals in turn become dependent on tourists for their prosperity and livelihood. And it’s in this delicate imbalance that I believe a sense of empowerment is entitled to tourists who disregard the countries they visit.
Mass tourism can be considered a form of neo-colonialism; draining the social, natural, cultural, and traditional resources of a country with the illusion of fuelling its economy. So until we find a way to keep tourists and locals equal, in all regards, we could all start – tourists of the world – to conform to the mannerism of the hosting country. As hard as it sounds this might include keeping a t-shirt on while roaming the streets of Barcelona.