Saturday, December 7, 2019

Musings: The Consumerization and Commodification of Tourist Places and the Fog that Clouds Local Tourism

Allow me a bit of a rant here.  An acquaintance came up to me one day and asked me when I plan to go back to my "playground" up north.   I was taken aback but gave a polite answer.  At the back of my mind, I wanted seriously to have a serious talk with the guy but held back.  That was a few months ago and up to now, I've been thinking why I found it so wrong.  I really wanted the guy to know Maligcong (or any of my favorite places) is not my "playground" but rather a part of my advocacy for responsible tourism.

My analysis is this -- the explosion in local tourism owing to better roads, more available transport,  the 'glamorification' of travel in social media has given birth to the consumer tourist.  What I mean to define is this:  a person not really interested in the local culture much less the local economy but most likely only after an Instagram moment, a selfie to get others on the social media envy bandwagon; a slice of romance from that romantic fantasy movie (Tadhana, et al); or a post-card pretty scenery to brag about.

Some people think it's okay to import the noise of the city to the country, that the quiet and tranquility are meant to be filled up by drunken banter and that noisy wireless stereo pumping Western pop junk.  Some guests think it's okay to dump their trash -- in the guesthouse, in the bath, on the mountain trail.   To the other extreme, some guests even dream of trashing the rice terraces and build a theme park up there.   No, it's not fiction, I've actually met people with that kind of twisted mind.

Maybe, it's because being a tourist means being responsible only for yourself.  Nevermind that the place you visited eventually becomes a wasteland (Hey, I've got pictures of the place before it got trashed!).  I recently covered a sortie for an NGO in the Visayas and one of my new acquaintances, a divemaster and manager of a dive resort in Malapascua, bewailed the hordes of tourists there who bring in all their trash and leave them on the island.  They even bring their own food (heck, even the rice cooker at times) and dump the leftovers afterwards.  No help to the local economy at all.

Speaking of trash, a recent report had it that as a nation, Filipinos generate some 60 billion in sachet trash (no wonder really as we've long been the sachet capital of the world; even a cursory look at your nearest sari-sari store would give you a good idea how much this has become prevalent) or some 164 million sachets DAILY.   Visit Corregidor and you can see the river of plastic trash coming all the way from Navotas, Malabon and Tondo being continuously dumped by the waves at the La Dorcha dock.   Or wade through a mangrove area fronting a big town or city and chances are, you'll find Colgate sachets, Palmolive and Pantene plastic, Jack 'N Jill foil lined plastic clogging the flow of water among the roots.  Oh, and we're not even talking about plastic water bottles here.  It has become a default of sorts, an automatic way of consumption that most tourists will not even think about it -- that single-use shampoo/conditioner/soap sachet will end up somewhere.

In almost 16 years of travel blogging, I've seen the tourism landscape evolve.  Even lazy, sedentary city folks can now access far flung places that only mountaineers and hard-core travelers used to visit.   Most of the popular travel sites and blogs would only write about the wonders of places ready for exploitation.   Most will never dare write anything that will offend the big tourist-oriented companies and sponsors.  Most will never write that mass tourism brought trash and other problems to a place that can not cope with the tourist arrivals.   Most will never write about the hidden and more delicate problems that tourism does bring -- for example sexual preying on locals (children and adult alike) somewhere in the northern highlands.  Most will not touch the issue of, say, the planting tradition being supplanted by tourist guiding/tourist-related businesses.  Sad.

Last note, I overheard some smart aleck events people on the outbound line for immigration about two months back talking about how the closure of Boracay is futile and serves no purpose.  It seems some people would rather run the place to death or extinction rather than try to save it.   Tsk tsk.    It really makes you think that when the population of  these like-minded tourists reach a critical mass, our tourist places may have no chance of being preserved for future generations.

Bato-bato sa langit as the local expression goes.  To that acquaintance who calls places as playgrounds, I pray you'd one day open your eyes and see that the places we visit are home to real people with real traditions.  They're not playgrounds for "rich" and "can afford" people to exploit.  That if he has no calling for any sort of advocacy for helping out, the very least he can do is not exploit the place and its people.
 

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