Tag Archives: green travel

Is ‘black’ or ‘dark’ tourism ethical?

Woman carrying firewood – Agra

Some people chase fire trucks, others follow typhoons to get the best photos, while war journalists or photographers, because of their job, are often in the most dangerous parts of the world, but what about tourists?

As soon as trouble breaks out (dengue fever, earthquake, tsunami, or civil unrest) it’s tourists, often with group travel arrangements, who cancel their bookings, while solo travellers, looking for the differences, the culture and the food of another place, who usually continue with their travel plans. Is it ethical to go to places who have had an earthquake or other disaster? What about places with chronic poverty?

Do you indulge in dark tourism? Defined as travelling to places historically associated with death, has been around for ages.  Concentration camps in Europe; the killing fields in Cambodia; the site of the twin towers in New York; and Pompeii in Italy, just to name a few.  I’ve been to many places that could be considered ‘dark’. The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam; the Colosseum in Rome; John Lennon’s garden in New York, the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I’ve also been to the 1692 site of my ancestors’ notoriety, Glen Coe in Scotland.

Of course, more recently I’ve been a constant visitor to my home city, Christchurch New Zealand, where 80% of the inner-city was lost due to quake damage.  (See more that I’ve about Christchurch – as it was two years ago  2016)

Black or dark tourism is nothing new but when it’s recent many people think it is insensitive to go – or for novelists to write about it, comedians to joke about it, or films to be made.   I believe it depends on the traveller’s attitude – are they chasing fire trucks or cyclones?

Think of slum tours in India, do they help the locals or not? It’s all about ethical travel – are you taking from a place, or are you adding something?  Are in locals involved?  Did they set up the tours with community involvement, or is it someone making money out of another person’s misery or are they interested and supportive?

As a travel writer I am often conflicted about taking photos – sadly, poverty and misery often produce fantastic photos.

In Christchurch tourism dried up just as if tap was turned off and the water stopped flowing.  I heard and read many articles and blogs and sadly, advice given by uniformed travel writers, tourist companies or information centres, advising people not to go, there is ‘nothing there’ or ‘you will only be in the way’.  In the beginning I know locals thought some other locals did ‘get in the way’ of clean-up work and considered  them ‘rubber-neckers’ by other locals who felt their privacy, and misery, were being invaded.

However, ethical travel may just another word for green travel which is about leaving money behind in a community so can dark tourism be ethical too?

Perhaps travel agents and guide books sell us too narrow a view of places to visit. Along with our tickets they, (and guide books, blogs or articles) often give us a list of sites we ‘must see’, activities ‘we must do’, or places we ‘must’ stay. It’s not for nothing the popular Lonely Planet books have been nicknamed the ‘travellers’ bible’ as many won’t eat, visit, stay or see anything or anywhere until the guide book is consulted.  Sadly examples of unintended consequences can be the six accommodation places are mentioned are full – while three, not in the book, and maybe better, are empty.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made by travellers and owners – some places over booked others empty. Tell friends you are going to Bali or Timbuktu, Christchurch or Botswana and immediately you will be told that you should have gone there two, five, ten, fifty years ago, ‘before it was discovered’, or in Christchurch, New Zealand’s case, ‘before the earthquakes’.

So, what can we travellers do? Well, I don’t know what you will do, but what I do is travel slowly, travel cheaply, support local businesses and use their home-grown products whenever I can – and this is even more needed after a disaster whether it’s man-made or a so-called act of God.

I asked on Facebook for people’s opinion about disaster, or dark tourism. One person sent me a link to a blog she’d recently listened to and believe its well worth giving you the link too – BBC World Service: The Why Factor.  In it the reporter visited Auschwitz and the site of the Grenfell Towers disastrous fire in London.  I’ve not been to either – and chose while I was in Poland not to visit Auschwitz.  If I was in London I would also not visit the Grenfell Towers – I don’t need to be at either site to know how appalling the events were.  Others of course will disagree with me.

My father was a fireman in Christchurch New Zealand when they had the worst fire disaster in our history – Ballantynes, 1947.  He was so distressed about attending the fire and having to recover bodies, that our family were forbidden to give the store any patronage – I have broken this rule two or maybe three times.

The Christchurch earthquakes 20101/11 have produced things that also could be considered dark tourism.  The Memorial Gardens at the site of the highest number of deaths, a memorial wall on the banks of the River Avon, and a museum exhibition – which for me triggered the smells of dust that hung in the air – and up my nose – for ages.

Tram outside Arts Centre

The owner of Beadz Unlimited (one of the many shops damaged inside the Christchurch Art Centre – and now in the historic New Regent Street) posted on my Facebook page  where I was asking about dark tourism said ‘actually we desperately needed people to come and put money into the community because we were all hunkered down just trying to survive.  It was a necessary evil.’  She did not clarify what was ‘evil ‘.

In the UK there is an Institute for dark tourism research and they have studied many facets of this topic if you want to delve into it! Wikipedia says “Scholars in this interdisciplinary field have examined many aspects. Lennon and Foley expanded their original idea [1] in their first book, deploring that “tact and taste do not prevail over economic considerations” and that the “blame for transgressions cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the proprietors, but also upon those of the tourists, for without their demand there would be no need to supply”.

New Zealand heritage has website and touring map  for some war sites in the Waikato region and its hoping to eventually have one for all NZ land wars and other fighting – perhaps some will consider this ‘black tourism’ too

What are your thoughts. Do you believe you are an ethical traveller – and why? And, do you indulge in dark tourism?  What black tourism spots have you been to –  after all it seems we all do that at some level.

I’d really love to start a conversation about all this in the topics – so before you board your next flight, or bus or train, will you please join in and add your opinion ?

 

What is ecotourism?

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of people with passports than most countries, and countries which are poorer are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.row of travel books

I’m a travelophile. Like Asians need rice, Italians pasta, British curry, Kiwi’s fish and chips: I need to travel. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not have to go the flavour of the month.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not!
My view from Doubtless bay Villas

 

This means I often arrive in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.

This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has least impact while providing greatest benefits.

Independent travellers are the ones most likely be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours have often paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.P1124662 travel tips web

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sites and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave  – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – usually bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarwawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hotested me)
The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hosted me)

We think of New Zealand as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground or dirty air. So, are we conservation minded or is it just our low population that produces less rubbish? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has. Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This is not a New Zealand only problem.

It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that beside me, waiting for their turn, to record the moment, is another busload of chattering travellers.

eat local
eat local

The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

TheTravelBook-2-pic for web

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

However, help maybe at hand. An organisation called Green Globe 21 is on the rise in New Zealand. Some 200 companies have embraced its ten different indicators for sustainable environmental codes. What is even better is that many local authorities have signed up too. (www.greenglobe21.com)

What can I do? Shop at locally owned places wherever I am; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g. Kiwi Host, Green Globe) are a good start.

Combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIf you’re interested in this topic see my small book about travelling in Borneo which looks at some of these issues too.

Malaysian Borneo: how eco aware can the kiwi travel writer be?

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIt seems there’s no universally accepted definition of ecotourism, and there are considerable overlaps in the meanings. It’s perhaps the most over-used and misused word in the tourism industry – often deliberately misused for marketing purposes.

Hapeta says in it, “I’m a self-taught writer, not a journalist, or an ecologist. This is not a scientific paper with lots of facts and figures, merely the musings about green issues by a traveller who wants to walk as lightly as possible on Earth”

She uses her trips to Malaysian Borneo as a way of exploring the issues. She also says she is “Time-rich, I’m a slow traveller, so stay longer in more places than most, trying to absorb the culture and flavours, to sit and watch people. It also means that although I don’t always sign up for an expensive eco-tour, I do try to practise the principles of ecotourism.”

This small book starts with her surrounded by noisy, diesel-fumed boats, nudging each other, racing their engines, drivers manoeuvring so their passengers get the best view. It made her wonder “can a travel writer, or any traveller, really be green – or is this just an oxymoronic dream, given the air miles needed to get to destinations?”
In this essay-cum-travel memoir she considers how green she was, or wasn’t, while exploring this ‘seething hotspot of biodiversity’ of an island. (Quote: Planet Earth. BBC TV).
She obviously agrees with Malaysia’s tourism tagline. ‘Malaysia – truly Asia’ and this booklet is a good introduction to the island of Borneo and green travel issues around the world.

Note: “A Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo” is available in all e-book formats at Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon, plus any other such places that you prefer to buy your eBooks from.

This book has been entered in the annual Malaysian Tourism Awards (2014/15)