As I sit here in my comfortable house with my comfortable life, I can’t help but reflect on the shocking images streaming in from Japan. The incredible loss of life and destruction is on a level simply incomprehensible to most of us. I also can’t help but to reflect on a presentation I heard the other day from the esteemed travel expert, Peter Greenberg.
Part of his speech at the DC Travel Show was devoted to encouraging people not to be afraid. Afraid of State Department warnings and dramatized accounts from overzealous cable news anchors. (not Ander Cooper, he’s perfect) Afraid of uncomfortable travel moments and venturing into the unknown. In general, being afraid of going off the well trodden travel path.
Specifically, he discussed Egypt and its economic engine, tourism. Peter said that now is the absolute best time to visit the land of the pharaohs, not just to chase a bargain, but to help the Egyptians emerge out of decades of despotism.
Travel and tourism are the largest industries in the world, accounting for an unbelievable 10% of the global GDP. Many cities and even entire countries depend on tourism as their main source of revenue. Egypt is one of these countries.
He’s right, of course, but I don’t believe I had ever thought about travel in exactly this way prior to his speech. People travel for a variety of reasons, from relaxation to wanting to explore the world around them. But I have to wonder whether or not there is an actual moral responsibility in travel.
Should we, as travelers, base at least part of our travel planning on which countries may need our help. As I write this, I cringe; what an unbelievably egotistical thing to say. But it’s true. Someone’s decision to visit Egypt will put money in the pockets of airport employees, cab drivers, hotel workers, waiters, janitors, tour guides – the list goes on almost infinitely until a vast web of interdependence is woven.
Yes, I am certain that there is a certain economic morality involved in travel, or at least there should be. But it extends past this to a social responsibility as well. I’ll try not to sound too Pollyannaish, but the interpersonal connections made when we travel benefit the people we meet as well as ourselves. If someone plans a trip to Egypt right now, to leave right away, they will soon learn about the fortitude and integrity of the Egyptian people. But you know what? The Egyptians will learn that they do have friends in this world and that we haven’t abandoned them. That now, following a successful revolution and when their economy is in serious danger of collapse, there are people willing to reject the TV images and venture out to help them.
Obviously Peter’s speech made an impact, but not just on me. While I was writing this piece, I received an email from my partner that said something to the effect: “I’ve changed my mind about not wanting to visit Japan next year. I think we owe it to them to take our vacation there and show them we care.”
Not that I don’t think the world of my partner, I do, but I was floored. I was so impressed that he too had truly listened to the message of travel as a responsibility and even more impressed that he was willing to do this. So, next year, we will travel to Japan and help fulfill our role as responsible travelers and show them that we care and will be there hand in hand to help them recover from this most cruel of weeks.
8 thoughts on “Travel as a Responsibility”
What a powerful post and I couldn’t agree more. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to more developing countries, rather than Europe? I want to shed light on places that people are afraid of visiting. I want to show that there is nothing to be afraid of. I LOVE that your partner wants to visit Japan next year!!!
Good thoughts, Matt. I’ve said recently elsewhere on the web that when something like this happens, it makes me more inclined to go to a place–once things have settled down a bit and/or the infrastructure is back in place–rather than less. I know the majority of people don’t think that way at all when planning their vacations, but it’s nice if at least some do. When a destination’s sole or primary economy is based on tourism, it’s needed more than ever to help them get back on their feet. It’s certainly a lot more meaningful than just writing a check to a disaster relief effort (although that is important and needed too, especially if you can’t travel for some reason).
Thanks guys, it’s a post that means a lot to me, but was off the cuff as I sorted things out for myself. Traveling really is a win-win for everyone involved.
I don’t base my travel decisions on global need — if I did, oh, just imagine the places I’d end up. I act on that stuff through other channels.
But check it out. I recently got a FB comment from a friend who said she would not visit the US because of our “Travelers are Criminals” TSA polices. (My interpretation, not her exact words.) Is her not visiting the US a morality issue?
People go round and round on, say, Burma, Some folks think you should not spend your tourist dollars in countries with oppressive regimes. Others say you should go there to show the “regular” people you care. I know people who won’t go to Cuba (still) or Venezuela because of Chavez or… Japan is easy. Syria? A little harder. Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Israel?
Sure, there’s a morality implied in these choices. But how do you slice it?
No, morality or a sense of responsibility shouldn’t be the sole factor in making a decision, but what role should it play? I think it should factor in more than it does currently, for me at least- I can’t speak for the rest of the world. And I can’t believe you lumped Israel in with Pakistan and Syria. :) I was in Israel and Palestine Authority last year and they’re lovely.
Some folks are really offended by Israeli politics and won’t visit there, just like my friend says she won’t visit the US. Your mileage may vary, of course.
love this matt! and i don’t think it’s egotistical at all. if we can help countries by giving them our travelers dollars- being sure that our travel choices actually DO put money in the pockets of locals not transnational companies- why not? i’ve been thinking about the enormous gift i have of unlimited free flight benefits starting next year and how my gift may benefit others and am thinking about factoring this in to my choices. thanks for getting this conversation going- great post!
Thanks, I really appreciate your comments.
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