Don't Believe the Hype: How Commercial Tourism is Bleeding Us Dry
Public Enemy's Flavor Flav said it best; "Don't Believe the Hype".
His bumper sticker catch cry should apply to most things in life, and travel writing for mainstream tourism is no exception. The bland, monotone phrasings, the narrow selection of generic cliches, and most obscene of all, the panderous grovelling at the feet of commercial advertisers and other financial backers.
It's this smile when you're lying mentality that's pointing the tourism sector at becoming the number one industry on the planet. That's all very well for the money men, but for the rest of us, it's downright deceitful, fraudulent and dishonest.
Airbrushed sunsets, exotic cocktails and the bluest of photoshopped blue oceans saturate these glossy publications to the point of tack, beckoning the mark to blow his or her meagre vacation pay in whatever insinuated paradise is flavour of the week. They want you bled dry.
Of course, once the mark has arrived at the destination of choice, it's usually a completely different scene to what has been portrayed. Beggars, scammers, aggressive touts, nonchalant hotel staff, along with exorbitant account draining prices, all go hand in hand with these cliquey resort traps, hubs and tourist meccas. For a lot of us, the exciting added bonuses of shady street life and culture are a blessing in an otherwise mostly mundane industry of luxury and pampering. But for most, who can only afford a two week holiday every few years, that sort of pestering is nothing but a brutal disruption to what is intended to be a relaxing, soul uplifting venture.
It's an irresponsible delivery of misinformation and to be justifiably blunt, it's a fucking sham.
So, why does it need to be this way? The short answer is, it doesn't. But the reason these industry scams exist in the first place can be verily easily explained; money.
For example; let's say that Thai Airways is the major advertiser in a particular magazine; the insane overkill of advertising in that magazine will of course be littered with tightly veiled "special" package deals to Thailand, including supposed cheap flights and accommodation at an "exclusive" resort, bus tours, overly perverse elephant rides... on and on it goes.
NEVER will you see articles in these types of magazines, warning of the dangers of what may lay in wake, in and around the cocoon of the advertised resort; pick-pockets, gang violence, political tension, right through to kidnapping and murder. Scams don't exist in their world. It's a freaking utopia.
The cold, hard truth is that most tourists are scammed before they even leave home. Only through years of experience of travelling and travel writing have I learnt to hone my organisational skills to use the industry more than it will inevitably try to use me. It took some time, but it works. The basic rule to an otherwise intricately in-depth philosophy is to book everything yourself. With today's technological capacity to have an entire planet's worth of information at our fingertips, it's easy. Downloadable applications like Skyscanner and Kayak are fantastic for finding cheap flights, but spend some time researching. Don't merely opt for the first reasonably priced flight you see; there can still be hidden costs. For cheap accommodation, there are a plethora of apps that can be used; Booking.com and Hostelworld seem to have the cheapest deals most of the time. The added incentive with these apps (as if there needs to be one) is that the more frequent a client uses them, the higher the client's ranking becomes. The higher the ranking, the cheaper the deal. Win win.
It's the number one rule in business; efficiency. Cut out the middle man and the cost will come down exponentially. It ain't rocket surgery.
Have you ever wondered... how is it that I can find a flight to Sydney for cheaper than my travel agent can? Is he lazy? Does he not know how to do his job? Does he not care? To all three, the answer is probably. But the main reason is that travel agents are glorified McDonald's drive thru cashiers; they've been trained to up sell in order to bolster their performance-based commission. The difference being, your flight has been up sold to you without you even knowing. Sneaky little fuckers, hey?
However, a growing number of tourists are getting their own back; ignorantly. There exists an unconscious culture of participation in the destruction of tourist havens by the very consumers that prop up the respective economies. By riding an elephant, they are essentially condoning disgusting animal cruelty practices. By feeding a native animal food that isn't a part of its natural diet, they are very much shortening that creatures life and disrupting the evolutionary process while doing so. By supporting the resort industry, they are contributing to erosion and the loss of millions of tiny microorganisms which will cause the eventual collapse of the immediate ecology. No good can come from this. Who's going to visit once there's nothing left to see?
Here's the thing; life is the ultimate reality. There's no escape from it; even when travelling. It's not always a pina colada infused blast and there will be really crappy days. But isn't that the fun of it? Do the crappy days not make the great days seem amazing? Unreliable transport, climate extremes, language barriers and parasite infested street food should only serve to enhance your travel experience. It's all encompassing. Even holistic.
But not if you're lied to about it first. Then, it's harder to swallow than the eight-day-old bull's testicle you drunkenly forced down in Bangkok last year.
With more honest information, and much less of a reliance on the almighty dollar, a more transparent industry might just manifest. Open discussion and the opportunity to educate on responsible travel, reducing carbon footprints and respect for environment and self, will certainly render yours, and other's travel experiences a much more rewarding one. The added bonus? You'll save a shitload of money in the process!
Wouldn't it be nice if just one industry out there would stop lying to us. Only you can make that happen.
*If you enjoy the writing of Benjamin Munday, why not subscribe to The Low Road for a free download of his award winning short story, 'The Ashtray'.