Cruise Ships and Tour Buses: The Invasive Species of the Traveling World
Imagine a shopkeeper, doesn’t matter what kind. They deal with people’s everyday needs, and most of their business comes from people walking into their shop off the street. They have their everyday customers and ones they see from time to time
This kind of shop is a good kind of shop. It supplies a service for the people who live nearby, and in return those people support the shop financially. If these people decide they don’t like that shop anymore they will take their business elsewhere. This shop will eventually close, and a new shop (hopefully better adapted for the area) will take it’s place.
These are the “rules” that the vast majority of small businesses operate under, and this is a good thing. A self-correcting and contained system that ultimately leads to a healthier overall ecosystem (in this case the local economy). This is largely how nature operates with any “buyers and sellers” of resources. In nature’s case, the payment is usually a survival/reproductive advantage, whereas with the shopkeeper it’s… pretty much the same thing. We just refer to it as a retirement fund or boat.
Unfortunately for both natural ecosystems and tourist hotspots, our ability to travel easily at a large scale has kinda messed this system up. In the case of a natural habitats, you have invasive species that redirect the allocation of resources to themselves and away from the native species. This is usually accomplished with some sort of advantage they acquired due to where they came from. Whereas, in the case of tourist hotspots it’s… pretty much the same thing. We just refer to it as “the dollar being really strong here”.
Let’s revisit that shop keeper. Before, the “rules” that they were adhering to, were set by the needs of the locals around them. They provided a service to their community, and were assessed by how well they could meet the needs of that community.
When tourism entered the picture, things started to change. There was now a new community. A traveling community. One by the very nature of their name and existence, does not stay in one place. And this community often has some serious advantage over the locals. *cough *cough buying power *cough *cough
With this advantage, i.e. wealth, the traveling community is a much better candidate for the shopkeeper to cater to. And over time, they do. The shopkeeper’s needs are met by this traveling community in exchange for the shopkeeper catering to the traveling community’s needs.
This is often quite good for the shop keeper, especially in the short run. They are making more money now, as the traveling community has much more to offer than the local community. There is also less competition initially, and more than enough foreign money to go around.
Unfortunately, what my Econ teacher taught me in college rings as true here as it did with his examples about German bread and bushels of apples. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone has to pay for this.
For the cities that harbor things that people want to travel and see. The people that live here, and have done so for generations. The ones that actually cultivated and created the things that are worth traveling for. These are the people that get the short end of the stick.
They get priced out of their neighborhoods by hotels and condos that want easy access to the “local attractions”. The youth gets influenced by the influx of money and foreign culture. They stop wanting to take over their parents’ shops, and go to Australia for university instead.
This ultimately leads to the eventual thinning of the “local culture” that was the catalyst for their foreign exposure. The flavor of the area starts to suit the tastes of foreign pallets. The terroir becomes that of a foreign land. A fire that burned too hot, too quick, and put itself out; if you will.
Given this argument, you might conclude I think tourism and travel in general is bad. And, if you take a minute to reconsider the title of this piece, you probably already know where I’m going with this.
No, I don’t think tourism is bad. I actually think it’s done considerably more good than bad. It has a tangible positive effect on the living conditions of millions, if not billions, of people. The mixing of cultures has brought to the downfall of archaic ideas, and the genesis of brilliant new ones. I urge everyone to travel as much as their situation allows them. I think it is the single largest driving force in changing people’s minds for the better.
However… just like with anything in life. The difference between medicine and poison is dosage. There needs to be a proactive balancing to mitigate negative effects, and promote positive ones.
Let’s break down why both tour buses and cruise ships are, quite frankly, the worst way to travel. I will preface this with the fact that I have been on many cruise ships in my youth, and have some experience with tour buses.
Imagine ANY public business you would like to take use of: eating at a restaurant, shopping in a store, visiting a museum, etc. Now is there any circumstance, WHATSOEVER, where 50–1,000 people. People that are not from the area, do not know the customs, how to get around, local payment culture, are in a rush, and possibly dealing with the ailments of traveling with family.
Would the addition of these people make that place any better, in any circumstance? No. That would ruin your time. If it happened frequently enough at a favorite spot, your behavior would shift towards this spot. You would either stop going or go less often. This in turn will lead to other local, pre-tourism customers doing the same. Now this business has to rely on these traveling communities to survive.
If the traveling community decides that City XYZ has lost it’s “charm” and stops returning. The business will either have to revert to their old ways or shut down. If the new customers can support this shop, the shop will inevitably cascade into a former shell of itself. Take a walk down La Rambla in Barcelona or the old city in Chaing Mai, and you’ll get the idea pretty quick.
Now, this is an undoubtably grim picture I’m painting. And this isn’t how it happens everywhere a cruise ships dock or tour busses clog the streets. But, this is very much a reality for the negatives of modern day, large scale, cheap, and easy travel. Negatives that are especially pervasive in the cruise ship and tour bus industry.
Local culture and economies don’t have to relent in this race to the lowest common denominator. There are ways to keep this from happening, but I ultimately don’t see it happening. Nature has a way of doing what’s “easiest” and not what’s “best”.
A sad way to end this no doubt. But… well, no but. 79$ cruise ship deals and Chinese tour bus companies aren’t going anywhere.