What Nora knows about being an ethical tourist this spring break


Nora Verdier

Nora shares her wisdom in her monthly column “What Nora knows.”

Nora Verdier, Multimedia Manager

Within a matter of days, the Grand Rapids airport will be buzzing with families and friends excitedly escaping the brisk beginnings of spring in Michigan to soak up the sun in a distant tropical location: Jamaica, the Bahamas, Mexico — the list of paradisiacal daydreams goes on.

Most of us traveling this next week will be tourists, and I believe it is our job to be the most mindful tourists we can possibly be. Many of our Spring Break destinations are developing countries who face a multitude of political, social, and economic challenges that we are lucky enough not to experience in the United States. Thus, it is important to take these issues into mind and realize that, as tourists visiting these countries who greatly rely on tourism for their economic well-being, we are very powerful. And with power, comes responsibility.

We must ask ourselves: whose hands is the money we are spending falling into? Who owns the resort we are staying at? How are the locals affected by this resort? How are the locals affected by us? How are our actions affecting this country’s environment? How are we helping this country’s community and how are we harming it?

Once we are able to ask these questions, we can educate ourselves on our personal impact as tourists.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that tourism is undoubtedly beneficial for many countries. Within the Caribbean, a majority rely on the travel and tourism industry as their principal source of economy. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Economic Impact of Travel & Tourism March 2017, the Travel & Tourism industry was roughly 45 percent of The Bahamas’ whole economy GDP in 2017.

The industry also generates a great amount of jobs within these countries; according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2018 Caribbean report, the travel and tourism industry produced 2,434,000 jobs in 2017, accounting for 13.8 percent of total employment.

Nevertheless, it’s necessary to realize that tourism does indeed have its flaws, and it’s our responsibility to acknowledge them and educate ourselves on how we can minimize them as tourists. According to sustainabletourism.net, leakage in tourism is as high as 80 percent in the Caribbean; this means that of every dollar earned in tourism, 80 cents leave the country. Thus, while locals are working at the resort, they often times are not earning the money they deserve. An overwhelming majority of the money is given to wealthy foreign resort owners, while the locals (whose time, energy, and resources are relentlessly exploited) are unfortunately receiving an unfair pay.

Tourism also contributes to the destruction of many countries’ ecosystems, through tourists’ heedless exploitation of natural resources and negligence in throwing away their own trash.

In some cases, the industry has engendered misrepresentations of countries’ own cultures, in which they have been molded into a synthesis of cross-cultural identities infiltrated with artificial, overdone images of perfection.

This is partially a result of tourists staying at the resort during their vacation instead of venturing into the community and immersing themselves within its culture. Tourists are comfortable with the familiar, hence resorts tend to serve Americanized food, speak and write almost everything in English, etc. This invariable appeal to American customs, which consequently permeates through the country’s own authentic culture, ultimately leads to its dissipation.

So, as tourists this Spring Break, I challenge you to acknowledge these facts. Do you see this happening in the country you’re visiting? Are you acting as a responsible, ethical tourist? It will be easy for us to view our trip as an opportunity to stay at the resort, lay by the beach, tan by the pool, and fully revert into vacation-mode. But I encourage you to go into the community and explore. Talk to the locals. Discover hidden gems. Eat local food. Educate yourself on its history.

Don’t simply come back to Michigan with a tan and sun-kissed hair. Come back having a more educated worldview with a greater perspective of the country you visited. Because traveling, even during Spring Break, is not about simply adding cute photos to your Instagram feed and partying with your friends; it’s about the adventures you have, what you learn from the place, and the stories you’re able to bring back and tell.