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Ears have Walls, Walls have Ears


In early versions of Sid Meier's classic strategy game 'Civilisation', the discovery of gunpowder made Walls obsolete. It was far more gradual in reality, but Walls did eventually become obsolete as defensive structures and those that escaped destruction to allow for city expansion during the industrial revolution were later reborn as tourism attractions: famous examples include Hadrian's Wall, the Great Wall of China, numerous medieval castles and walled cities (Beijing's Forbidden City, Carcassone, Valetta, Monemvasia, Rhodes) but also the Berlin Wall and the fortified cold war border known as the Iron Curtain now also increasingly known as the Iron Curtain Trail (bicycle & hiking). Fortified borders and demilitarised zones still exist in places like Korea and Cyprus, and new walls have gone up in Israel and Palestine. While ancient walls were raised to defend against the powerful, modern walls are seemingly built to defend against the powerless. Think of the barbed wire walls in Melilla, Evros, and - ironically - new barbed wire borders in ex- Eastern Bloc European countries - stopping, or rather punishing, war refugees and economic & climate migrants. And now, the proposed, multi-billion dollar wall in the US-Mexico frontier. Happy times for concrete producers and security contractors but others consider that those billions could have been spent on generating decent jobs south of the border and that why, after all, should borders be only open for Capital and not for People. The electoral results in many US states were clearly correlated with joblessness, those 'left-out of globalisation". But it is not immigrants who 'steal' jobs, nor cheap foreign workers, but automatization - technological progress. A just-released McKinsey report estimates that up to 51% of job types can be relatively easily automatized, that is given to robots (Interestingly, French Presidential Hopeful Benoit Hamon has recently argued in favour of taxing robots!). It can be argued that the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors are some of the most labour-intensive and as quality, personalised and affable service is expected these sectors are relatively immune from automatization and thus it is a good idea to encourage job creation in these sectors. But even if they are partly-automatized, shorter working hours and a shorter working week are not by definition a problem (unless you are a misanthrope) and as long as we can all find something meaningful (to society) and fulfilling (to us) to do and be able to enjoy a quality of life. This vision can gradually become less utopian, through technology, by reforming money and moving away from indirect taxes which are unfair and regressive, and by rebasing the economy on solidarity and mutual help. But the long, current transition period will certainly see a lot of unemployment and hopelessness which, evidently, plays in the hands of populists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tourism flows can make Walls, obstacles and all sorts of divisions obsolete. However, considering the rise of the populist ultra-right-wing in Europe, one suspects that mass, packaged Tourism, its excesses and its shallow and sometimes degrading interaction with host communities, has had little impact in terms of instilling some tolerance, let alone an internationalist spirit, to many of the millions of Europeans holidaying abroad. In fact, it may have even reinforced racist stereotypes and hostility even among European nationalities. Those of us who believe in the progressive potential of Sustainable Tourism have to try a lot harder in this respect too - there is no Sustainable Tourism without tolerance, equity, solidarity, genuine intercultural exchanges, decent jobs and decent wages. There is nothing nobler these days than to ignore hysteria and fear and believe in the proven ability of humanity to evolve and progress, to keep pursuing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals all the way to guaranteeing and providing all human rights to all humans. Not all is bleak and as Heraclitus observed, everything is in flux: As Ben Philips notes today, IMF has just trashed Austerity Economics! It now appears that IMF, the same IMF that ruthlessly requests more and more austerity from indebted countries like Greece, may finally understand that public spending does increase well-being and equality after all. How about some massive, international, public spending in favour of sustainable tourism infrastructure and tourism capacity-building in small communities of the Global South then? To generate jobs where they are most needed? 

One hopes that someone who made a fortune from building and buying tourism infrastructure overseas, indeed one whose family and family tree is full of immigrants and offspring of migrants will eventually see the irony of putting his country, a country built by immigrants, "first". What will happen if each and every statesperson puts their "country" - whatever and whoever that means - rather than universal ideals and principles, "first"? One also hopes that a successful businessman deep down respects facts, scientific facts in particular, including Climate Change facts. All that said, it is not that we were living in a humanitarian paradise a few days ago. Immigrants were being exploited and trafficked by organised crime around the world, and immigrants without papers are easily exploited by employers, big and small, including tourism employers, also around the world. What is needed is a global agreement and legal framework, similar to the Paris Agreement for Climate Action, to enable, and I would dare say, facilitate, legal migration to and from all countries. This is both the civilised thing to do and the most realistic, as humans have been migrating (and travelling, and trading) ever since they emerged and there is nothing and no one who will stop a phenomenon as natural as the regular migration of Birds. The US-Mexico Wall, even if it materialises, like any other Wall, will certainly become one more tourist attraction one day. 

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