A plane ticket isn’t an all-access pass to your destination

Every year, tourists flood to popular attractions such as the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hagia Sophia, La Sagrada Familia. Each of these sites contain a rich history with deep roots in the hearts of locals.

With the rise of cultural tourism, more and more people seek out such destinations; however, as much as this phenomenon benefits local economies and tourist mindsets, it also raises issues regarding cultural disrespect and appropriation.

Every culture has traditions and customs vital to its identity and belief system. When tourists degrade these practices, they not only disrespect the culture in which they are guests, but they also devalue another way of life.

In the Australian Outback, the Uluru — also called Ayers Rock — is a spiritually sacred place to the indigenous Australians of the area, the Anangu people. The Anangu believe the Earth and all of its features were created by ancestral beings, and they value Uluru — a massive sandstone formation — as a physical representation of their wondrous feats.

But visitors to Ayers Rock are not always attracted to it for the same reasons. A popular tourist destination, the rock was a climbing hotspot for 16% of its visitors, according to BBC News. In October 2019, local officials banned climbers in an attempt to uphold the Ayers Rock as a spiritual place for the indigenous people. In response, hundreds of people rushed the rock to make a final climb, rather than realize the scale of disrespect that prompted official intervention in the first place.

Yet another example of this blatant disrespect is the unfortunate rise of “naked tourism” — tourists who take nude or partially nude photos at historic or cultural sites.

According to CNN, the Angkor Wat — a temple in Cambodia — and Machu Picchu — an old Incan citadel in Peru — have been backdrops for “naked tourism.” In both places, the tourists in question were detained.

It is a privilege to be able to visit these sites, which are often open to the public for the purpose of cross-cultural sharing and appreciation. In order to respectfully and productively partake in cultural tourism, people must first educate themselves about the customs and beliefs of the area, then do their best to follow them, or at the very least respect them, when visiting.

However harmful this disrespect may be, cultural tourism itself does have its merits. When done correctly, it helps boost local economies, protects natural resources and creates a sense of pride in one’s culture and a community, according to the South Dakota State Historical Society. 

In the United States, National Heritage Areas generate $12.9 billion each year, according to the National Park Service. In Virginia alone, heritage tourism garners an estimated $430 million in tourist expenditures, according to the Virginia Commonwealth University. 

In addition to economic gains, cultural tourism encourages learning, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

Although the lack of respect is an unfortunate feature of tourism, the boost in local economies and quality of life, as well as a greater understanding and tolerance of other ways of life, is a worthy outcome. To maximize the value of cultural tourism, we must garner esteem and understanding ofthe cultures that make it possible.

Previous post The clowns in Congress are the same ones we invited in
Next post Personal Perspective: Caroline Hunt