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The Distortion of Hospitality - From Philoxenia to Philochrematia and back

The Distortion of Hospitality - From Philoxenia to Philochrematia and back

In Ancient Greece,  strangers / visitors  (the “xenoi”) were considered sacred (possibly gods undercover) and Philoxenia or ‘loving care towards strangers’ was a duty. This took the form of free hospitality and even gifts to the departing stranger, creating friendship bonds that would bind offsprings as well. Of course there were similar customs in many other regions and civilizations, until the industrial era. Beyond ethics, there were practical reasons for this too, as strangers (tradesmen, explorers, philosophers etc) were rare sources of information, knowledge and wisdom, not to mention that there were very few hotels!

The above sounds surreal  considering  what today goes by the name of  ‘tourism industry’, characterized by the luring of clients, who will never engage in any meaningful dialogue with their hosts, to small boxes where they will be offered fake care and attention in exchange for money (‘chrema’). We have moved from Philoxenia to Philochrematia (loving care of money)

We also have what can be called the ‘Pasha syndrome’: the belief that  a ‘hard-working’ global northerner is entitled (or was entitled until the recent crisis) to an annual or bi-annual installment of 2 weeks of pampering in the global south, experiencing the life of a Pasha and the ‘treatment of Cleopatra’ at the ‘upper’ end  of the industry, and seedy experiences at the low end. All this shaky edifice / pyramid scheme may one day come tumbling down, after one more crisis, and going down with it will be small states and regions dependent on a tourism monoculture.

One way out: we need to start removing money out of the equation. (Couchsurfing is one interesting example.) Rather than paying hotel employees - the equivalent of modern slaves – to serve them, guests should share in the duties. Imagine a model (utopian?) eco-camping / temporary eco-village where there would be no employees, and no accommodation rates, and you get the picture. Practical problems?  Many. First of all, how are guests selected to ensure that they share the philosophy (and the menial tasks)? What happens if they do not? And worse:  Who will face up to the authorities, ever suspicious that laws are not respected, taxes are not paid? Such an eco-camping would be treated as a threat. ‘Unfair competition’ howls will go up from neighboring private facilities that have ‘invested so much money’. It would be of course a far deeper threat to the status quo – and their new holy trinity (property,  money, production) as it would show, that grassroots ecosocialism, indeed in Tourism, a ‘strategic’ sector for so many countries, is no utopia. Surely, unemployment will temporarily rise, as all the glorified servants will have to get a new, meaningful occupation. This will hopefully generate one more impetus for a new type of society, at least in some regions / municipalities (remember Marinaleda?), serving the real needs and aspirations of all people. In many cases, such experiments would be nipped in the bud, through arson, fake accusations, slander and arrests, however if 1 case succeeds, then it could be unstoppable.

Self-organisation/worker management is also feasible in Tourism & Leisure: a recent example is Barthelonika, a self-organised restaurant in Thessaloniki, Greece; faced by imminent closure the workers took on the running of the restaurant in June 2010 and currently work 'without bosses, managers and hierarchical relationships'. They have even applied a 30% reduction on all dishes.

The Hospitality industry, by becoming a huge global industry, has moved far away from the meaningful, genuine, small-scale, peer-to-peer hospitality of ancient times. Couch-surfing, and to an extent, host-owned and run short-term-rentals, and community or cooperatively-owned/worker-run guesthouses, are attempts to revive the ancient spirit. We are eager to support all progressive hospitality experiments on Ecoclub!

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