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Tourism, Nationalism, Internationalism

Photo by Roberto Catarinicchia on Unsplash

Does tourism contribute to the rise of nationalism or quite the opposite? Over the years I have spoken with many tourism practitioners, academics and decision-makers and in the vast majority of cases have detected a strain of unadulterated nationalism in their views, even when these tend to be otherwise progressive and green. It could be that the daily preoccupation of these people with local culture, tradition, monuments and history contributes to the development of notions of national identity and particularity in their mind. It can hardly be disputed that National Tourism Ministries and National Tourism Boards, which exist in nearly every country (with the notable exception of the United States) have similarities with the propaganda offices of authoritarian regimes as they are always painting a rosy picture of the country/destination, inviting travel journalists and bloggers for hire, paying lobbyists and so on.

On the other hand, community-based forms of tourism tend to highlight differences (in dress, language, customs) between each village and region within countries and encourage the discovery or rediscovery of ethnic or other minorities, something which is a red flag to nationalists, authoritarianism peddlers and assorted control-freaks. Of course, there is a cottage industry there, namely in the discovery of new minorities, possibly funded through the geopolitical games of big and small powers around the world, but also self-funded through otherwise well-meaning charitable organisations and the insatiable appetite of tourism for colourful new destinations. But what about travellers, does travel open their minds? I think it all depends on the minds in question, and in the type of travel, they engage in. The bigots seem to travel just to reinforce their racist stereotypes of other nations, and in most cases, they succeed as they only see and remember what reinforces their misanthropic views. At the other end of the spectrum, dedicated volunteers and voluntourists, just want to help save the world, the local communities, nature, so whatever they see, or experience is unlikely to change their, perhaps overoptimistic, worldview. The vast majority is somewhere in-between. Tourism involves mass, temporary, flows of people across borders, so it is an inherent component of globalisation, but globalisation, for the time being at least, gives rise to both nationalism and internationalism. National Monuments and Institutions are frequently among the most popular tourism sites in cities New Tourism trends such as Airbnb and more genuine forms of the sharing economy involve interpersonal and economic transactions at the grassroots, people to people level, but then again this is no guarantee that the guests and hosts from different cultures and nationalities acquire a more positive view of each other. (It would be timely for someone to do academic research on the topic!

For eager researchers, there are more complicated cases, as in the Greek islands which are at the same time both major tourist destinations and major hosts of refugees and migrants but the local community is generally hospitable and open-minded). So on average, it could be argued that tourism is rather neutral and as such does not differ significantly from other industries and sectors.

What do you think?

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