30 Years of Rethinking Tourism & Ecotravel | Deborah McLaren
On this episode we are joined by activist and author Deborah McLaren.
Deborah McLaren has worked with Indigenous and rural communities for 25 years, helping to analyze and advocate for tourism issues and rights. These include land, intellectual property, cultural, environmental and development rights. She served as the director of the Rethinking Tourism Project and Indigenous Tourism Rights International. Deborah has written several books, including Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel (Kumarian Press, 1998 and 2002), the first critique of international tourism and its impacts upon Indigenous Peoples, and contributed to many others, including the recent Socializing Tourism: Rethinking Tourism for Social and Ecological Justice (Routledge, 2021).
Currently she’s contributing to works around climate change and Covid-19 and tourism, serving on the advisory panel of the Indigenous Tourism Collaborative of the Americas.
Deborah is also the CEO of Ancient Indian Spices, an artisan food company raising funds to support small farmers around the world. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Saint Paul, Minnesota. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah joins me to discuss her decades long work in fighting against overtourism, for indigenous rights, land acknowledgement, the impacts of COVID-19 and the climate crisis on travel, and her seminal book Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel.
Rethinking Tourism Project - Indigenous Tourism Rights International
Rethinking Travel and Ecotourism Book
Covid-19 Consequences in Rural Tourism Communities
The sociological cycles of tourism development
Ecotourism and how its changed over the last 30 years
Climate change, displacement and tourism real estate
Being guests abroad and at home
What travel can teach
Deborah McLaren - Rethinking Travel and Ecotourism
Chris: Welcome to the End of Tourism Podcast, Deborah.
Deborah: Thank you.
Chris: We always start off the pod with a short introduction as to where we find ourselves today. Would you mind offering our listeners a little bit of what the world looks like for you today, where you are?
Deborah: Right. Well, that's a good question. You know, I think it's continuing to change almost daily, right?
Now I've been involved at tourism for 30 something years, especially with indigenous and community-based tourism and you know, climate change and COVID are two really big factors that are affecting tourism. And it's always been tied in with our planet and people and preservation and sustainability, although I hate that word, but you know, as the climate is changing, you know, we're finding ourselves even more in competition for land and land base and you know, during COVID, it really shut down tourism.
And so some people were devastated. Some people looked inwardly, some people tried to continue with the same old, same old, you know? And so I've been kind of keeping track with that. And I think it's really critical just our whole world is really critical today, these issues and I have kids and now grandkids.
So I think about it a lot, you know, daily. So, yeah.
Chris: So I came across your book (Rethinking Travel and Ecotourism) during research for my own on a very similar subject, right? The unauthorized histories and consequences of tourism.
It was written over two decades ago now. And I'd like to ask you, why was it necessary at that time for you to rethink travel and ecotourism? Why did you feel it was necessary to write such a book?
Deborah: Well, I kind of got involved with this before, even the term "ecotourism" came out. So I was very skeptical of that term, but I grew up in Oklahoma on Route 66 in a small town that was primarily Native American.
And you know, we had a lot of tourism stuff up and down the road, but we also lived in a very serious lead and zinc mining area. So, people were getting poisoned. So from a very early beginning, I was wondering how can we use tourism to help stabilize healthy communities? So, it wasn't, you know, something that you could go to school for anything back then.
So, I ended up going to a school, Goddard College in Vermont, the Institute for Social Ecology, which would let me kind of do my own program because there wasn't anything like this before. And I ended up spending a year in Asia, working with communities that had, for some reason, said no to tourism.
So these are a lot of indigenous communities and, and things. And so I went and lived in these communities and found out what kind of tools they were using and started writing my research paper, which became that book, the "Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel" book. And about that time, this term eco-tourism came up and I just felt so many things are greenwashed, you know, just because you say you're laundering your towels every two days at a hotel, is that really saving the planet?
You know? But at the same time, tourism is like one of the top three industries in almost any country. So it's powerful and it's got lots of money going into it. And, so I felt like, you know, it was time to have a voice and speak out about what I was learning and what I was going through. So that's really how that book came about and how I got involved.
And at the same time, I was doing some human rights work with some indigenous people in Ecuador and they asked me, the president of the pan-indigenous movement there he said, "you know about tourism," and we've had experiences with tourism. We've had people coming in and wanting to do ayahuasca, you know, and these are people that are bringing in disease to our communities and we're not vaccinated against them, you know, we have no immunity and people are coming in and stealing and, and then, you know, these big roads are being built into the Amazon and we don't really know what to do about it.
So could you, with our help and with some other people, could you start what we, what we originally called the Rethinking Tourism Project. And that was to gather resources that could be shared among indigenous and rural communities, so that they would have some information about the cycles of tourism and the one thing that we really could see plainly, everybody could see, and what would get people's attention, you know, because at first when tourism appears it's what do we have to sell? You know?
And one thing that was very clear is that there are certain things that you sell, that you can never buy back your resources, your culture, your identity, your land. And so that's kind of where we started off this Rethinking Tourism Project with. And once we had gathered lots of resources and develop them ourselves, the advisory or the board council decided to change the name to Indigenous Tourism Rights International, so that it would be very clear that we were working on rights, because it was land rights and intellectual property rights and cultural rights. So we ended up doing work at the UN and in Canada that Convention of Biological Diversity.
So, it went from sort of a educational and training project to continuing the whole training component and then bringing people to have their own voices at some of these treaties that were being created and hopefully, you know, allowing them to go back to their own communities, speak in their own voices to their communities about what was going on.
We felt that was a better option rather than designing more books and things like that to tell people, okay, Just getting them there and then having them go back home. And that kind of helped the rippling effect of activism around these issues.
Chris: Hmm. Wow. And what do you think was the, I mean, after 20 years, what do you think was the enduring consequences and or reception to both the book and the work that Tourism Rights International engaged in, because I mean, there's certain aspects of the book that I imagine 20 years ago would have been fairly controversial.
Deborah: Right. Well, it was controversial to call out this giant tourism industry and back then there were things like these land rights and people just coming in and invading and taking over culture. And we were trying to do simple things like just the right to say no to tourism, you know, if you wanted to. And that was impossible for a lot of places. Now in Mexico, for example, these biospheres are now protected areas where indigenous people lived and that's why they were so pristine.
But then all of a sudden these communities found themselves in these biospheres, you know, so the land is kind of usurped, kind of taken away from them and the management capabilities and that's going on everywhere, whether it's under the guise of tourism or environmental protection, even that environmental protection is partially tourism, you know?
So. I think a lot of those issues are still there. A lot of communities though, there's been so much discussion internationally among communities that I think more communities are still rethinking and sort of developing their own tools and takes on where their communities should be in this whole industry. In the United States, it's kind of ironic we have the more mainstream government approach to tourism, you know, not to critique it in any way, but let's develop it, let's develop it so we can promote our culture, but it's still not nearly as innovative as, you know, indigenous people other countries and other places.
So they're doing a little bit more, you know, working with the US government, promoting things, promoting prison development, but other places around the world, they're really looking, for example, during COVID, tourism stopped and communities that really relied on tourism, felt a huge blow from it.
Right. And so a few of them still said, "we need money, come on international money so that we can train people on safety protocols. We can continue this sort of mainstream tourism approach." But others said, "Hey, we've seen, you know, these kind of things happen before and we get sick, you know, from these outsiders. So what we need to do is just simply close off our area, our tourism, and just not let anybody come in. It's the best way to protect ourselves. And in the meantime, what do we have here that's traditional that stabilizes us," you know, "how do we support our own indigenous economy and health?"
You know, so that's really forced upon them, but at the same time, it gave them a chance to step back and say, do we really want to continue on this path of tourism? Or do we need to look more inwardly?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I know that here in Oaxaca, during the pandemic that, you know, not all the villages here engaged in tourism or ecotourism or community led tourism, but all of them, all of them closed immediately. And even to their own people, even to their own family members who perhaps might have been working elsewhere in Mexico city or the United States and realizing, you know, still with a much stronger lived memory then Western people or modern people of what a conquest and disease looks like ancestrally. Right. And how that arrives on people's doorsteps and how that has led to people rethinking and questioning the need to rely, essentially, on international money for their livelihoods.
Right. So I wanted to, I wanted to actually ask you about COVID because I found a line in your book and, you know, reading your book was a little like, I don't even know what I would call it, but, it was knowing that it was written 20 years ago it was a little like reading a prophecy to some degree.
Right. And so in, in your book, in Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel, you write, "while most travelers are concerned only about their own health risks, they're responsible for the expansion of disease. Tourism carries diseases and bacterias to new areas." And you use the examples of Americans visiting countries with malaria outbreaks, bringing it back home with them, as well as them bringing home HIV or AIDS from sex destinations.
And so decades ago, it, wasn't perhaps difficult to point to tourism as a cause for the spread of disease worldwide. The tourism industry today is clearly implicated in the spread of the COVID-19 virus. So my question is, do you think, given the circumstances and the consequences of these things, that the world might begin to listen to the warning signs now that the world has been more or less undone by tourism's consequences?
Deborah: You know, that is a really good question. This whole pandemic we found out about because cruise ships, that's how it started, right? That's the real first dire situation that we learned about was this tourism boat and everyone was sick and some people dying and then they shut down, eventually shut down the whole cruise industry and other and airlines and you know, all this stuff.
So, obviously we carry our diseases around the world and share them with everybody through this industry. And, you know, some parts of the industry have taken it more seriously than others. I mean, obviously the airlines had to shut down, but it took them a long time to do that. And there's, you know, there were still opening up and but then you look at how already the industries are promoting "let's get back to what we had before" and people are angry about it. You know, especially very privileged people, where we have people in Africa dying to get vaccinated. In the US, there's cases where people refuse to get vaccinated, one on an airplane to travel wherever they want and they'll punch a air steward in the face and break their teeth out.
And it's just such privileged behavior. And you know, that is always been a problem with tourism, you know, because it's based a lot on the European model of what do they call it? "The great journeys" or whatever young princes would be sent out in the world with their whole caravans and stuff to see the world, but they had everything at their disposal.
And so when people go on vacation or travel now they kind of see themselves, self righteously. Like I deserve this. I should get the best standards. I should be waited on. I don't have any responsibility to any place that I go or who I'm dealing with. And I feel like that's getting worse. That's gotten worse with COVID, right.
So, at a personal level, it's kind of nasty. at the same time, you know, places have been closed off that really needed to be closed off, and are kind of regenerating the, you know, the story about the beach with Leonardo DiCaprio, he made a film in Koh Phi Phi in Thailand and it was a protected area, but because Thailand wasn't really careful about it, after that movie came out, people rushed to that little island and just overwhelmed it and degraded it.
You know, there were thousands of people a day out on this tiny little island, so they had to shut it down. And I really, I just heard recently that they're opening it back up after they've been through this closed down thing and also COVID, you know, had it closed down, but they have very strict guidelines now about how many people can go there a day.
Chris: And I wonder if the guidelines have anything to do with behavior as well, right? Because it's a hard thing to mitigate through law, but you know, this is something that you mentioned it in your book that the sociological cycles of tourism development, right on local places that are turned into destinations. And you write that, in such places "first comes euphoria as a result of tourism success, then apathy as a result of unwanted change, and then finally competition and hostility among locals" and I would imagine towards tourists as well. I'd love it if you could elaborate a little bit for our listeners, how this cycle works and how it affects local people and places.
Deborah: Well, there are certain things that when you sell, you can never buy back. Right? So, one of the first situations where it was just so apparent to me were these kids in Katmandu.
And they were from little villages in the mountains and they were very poor and they would come to Katmandu where there were a lot of overland travelers, you know, in the sixties and seventies and eighties, it still goes on today. But, they saw travelers who obviously didn't have any jobs, but had money and were traveling around the world.
And, you know, were getting high. A lot of these kids were emulating these people and, you know, a lot of street kids dressing up like hippies and getting really stoned and sometimes...
Deborah: You know? Yeah. And getting sick and tourism was really attracting those kids from those villages. So, that was one of those things where you see the first being excited about it. And of course the shops and things we're encouraging it. And, so, but then you start developing these real problems with it that often are never addressed. So that's one example. Then the people get hostile and upset and there's tension, but that goes on all over the place.
You know, there's places where tourism will come in and buy up a prime area like the beaches, and the fishermen that worked there become service industry workers. So, once somebody, maybe they were a fisherman and they brought home their catch every day and fed their family. And they had access to do that. Now they don't have access to that beach or any part of the beach because there's all these hotels and they're off limits. They're not allowed to go on their own beaches anymore and they're making less money. They're making money now, but their lifestyle is less than they had before.
They can't even afford to buy the same kind of nutrition and food and lifestyle that they had before. So, you know, they live in a squalor service village across the street from these high-rise, beautiful hotels. And you know, that's where you see all the rich people's laundry being hung up because they're over there washing it and you know, they're doing everything, but they still can't get back to their beach, which is their culture, you know, their livelihood.
So, obviously a lot of stuff starts going on there and governments support that because they want the income. And so they help create really undesirable situations for their own people, you know, and the tourists are always put ahead. In Mexico and other places that I've been to Bali, there are tourist police, just tourists police to protect those enclaves that are tourist centers.
In Mexico, you see in Zihuatanejo and places like that, these guys in trucks going around with these giant, guns and rifles just right there on the beach and they'll scuttle away local people and you know, they're there to serve and protect their investment in their tourism industry and protect the tourists
So how do local people feel about that? You know, that has definitely gone past the apathy cycle. So, you know, there's just tons and tons of situations like that, that you can see where people kind of get hooked in at first with the idea of jobs and then get clobbered. So, that's basically what we tried to do with the Rethinking Tourism Project and to get those tools and information out there.
And I think it was spread. And there are people around the world that are using, even that book I wrote was translated into other languages for communities so that they could take a look like, what is this cycle that keeps happening? It's a real definite cycle with tourism development and, what are the alternatives?
What are the tools that we have? What should we be aware of? What's other people doing, you know, that's more successful for their communities and it's a definitely a cycle. It still hasn't stopped...
Chris: ...yeah, maybe just intensified over the years...
Deborah: ...in some places. Definitely.
Chris: There's another quote that I have from your book that made me realize that as much as things change, they stay the same. Right. And so it's a couple sentences I'm going to read for you here.
You write "the travel industry supports biased journalism. Travel journalists benefit greatly by reporting only positive stories with little critical analysis. They would not only lose their reputation, but also a job for taking a critical view of the industry." Okay. So as soon as, as soon as I read this, I was wondering who the travel journalists are of course, people working for magazines and and, and newspapers papers.
Deborah: Absolutely. There's lots of shows now on Netflix and everything
Chris: right, right, exactly. But for someone who, who couldn't legally travel at the time of the publication of your book, the quote reminded me of the politics around Instagram and YouTube travel blogs that are also, I would call, you know, pandemic for the most part.
So do you think it's the same today that people and travelers especially are discouraged to criticize tourism out of fear of backlash?
Deborah: Not nearly as much as they used to be. I mean, it used to be the tourism media was these giant newspapers. They all had their travel writers, New York Times, you know, everybody and magazines, you know, what magazines there are out there promoting these beautiful sunrises and brown faces that are serving you your pina coladas. And, you know, so there was very, very little criticism, but I think over the years there's been a lot more challenges and there's sort of these global nomad groups that have their own websites and discussions and social media people that actually do this.
They, they critique it. So I think it's still not in the mass media where you would see it every day, but I have seen more of it. But it is more among people that might be interested in that.
Chris: You write in your book as well about the personal impacts of tourists on their destinations and on the people that serve them. And you write this incredible reflection or meditation on what it would mean to, to have as little impact as possible.
And you write "for tourists to have a truly minimal impact, she would have to walk to the destination, use no natural resources and bring her own food that she grew and harvested. She would have to carry along her own low impact accommodations attempt or stay in a place that is locally owned and uses alternative technologies and wasteful.
Of course, you would also leave the destination in no worse and perhaps even better condition than she found it and contribute funds to local environmental protection and community development."
Now, this might've been written in a kind of tongue in cheek way, or it might not have, but today I think most people hearing something like that would either scoff at the idea or think it altogether impossible.
And so do you think that taking that into consideration, taking that into account that this realization actually would make tourism futile if that was how we needed to proceed in the world, honorably?
Deborah: Well, I wrote it really more as just like, think about this. You know, just think about this. This is a bit of a challenge and obviously nobody's going to do that.
And there's been a few people that are really dedicated, but, you know, industries aren't going to do that. But at some level they are kind of changing, like where I grew up in a small town called Quapaw, Oklahoma, the casino got started. It was a very poor area. The casino got started and they started their own gardens.
So, the gardens feed the local people and supply their hotel and restaurants. So I mean, if we can do things like that, on a bigger level than just a personal level, of course, but it was mainly just a challenge to make people think like, this is not what you do. Can you do even part of it? Can you do anything?
Can you just think about the consequences of how we travel? So that's really why I wrote that.
Chris: And I wanted to ask you about ecotourism as well, because, there's a part in the book where you write that ecotourism ...and this is 20 years ago, right? Just to remind our listeners... that "ecotourism actually magnifies the negative impacts upon the earth, because it promotes the development or destruction of wilderness."
Could you elaborate a little bit on that for our listeners, maybe how that's changed over the last 20 years?
Deborah: I don't know. And you know, it's actually been almost 30 years, I think, since I wrote them. So it's been awhile, but sure. I always think it's better to kind of illustrate it with stories. So, in Southern India, for example, there were some indigenous people in Adavasis that lived in a forest, a protected forest, and the government decided to build this big eco-tourism hotel and kick out the local people and bring in bulldozers and chemicals and development, all that stuff in a protected area.
So, there was at least a 10 year battle that grew a lot of momentum, a lot of support around the world. You know, and this was all for ecotourism, which would have devastated people, families, communities, culture, animals, you know, everything that it was supposed to be good for. Right.
Also, one of the first things that started being called ecotourism was in Africa. And again, this is where conservationists came in and said, "oh, we need to conserve this land" where indigenous people have been taking care of it. That's why it was still pristine. And there was still animals on it. But you know, internationally paid consultants and organizations would come in and say, 'well, we need the money and we're going to get the money.
And we're going to go in and make this a conservation area. We're going to teach those people how to run it and not really even run it at first, we're going to run it. They're going to live there and we're going to tell them how many animals they can consume. You know, or, and that goes on everywhere.
You know, first they take their land, then I tell them what they can do with it. And then they call it ecotourism so that all the money that comes into it for tourism goes to these conservation groups, big international conservation groups. They don't go to help anybody there. And so that's been challenged a lot over the years, but even here in the United States, I worked with an Athabaskan community in Alaska who were in the second largest wildlife refuge in the United States and there were men who managed this land for the wildlife refuge.
They were given hardship positions. That means the government would pay them even more money to go up to Alaska in the middle of the wilderness and make decisions for these people that live there. And they had no clue, you know, where they were going, what was going on and they could do things like allow airplane hunters come in to get moose.
And they can say, well, these airplane hunters could get a hundred moose per year, but the village can only have five, like hunt their own, five, and they have to split it. I mean, I'm just giving statistics, you know, just an example. I don't know exact statistics. You know, again, it's where this is kind of a form of ecotourism where people are encouraged to go to these protected lands and take the resources and say it's under conservation efforts or ecotourism.
And it's just bullshit. You know, the whole concept of what they're doing is so top down and it's such an insult to , for the leaders, the elders of these communities that have lived there, some of them a hundred years and help take care of those animals and salmon and lands and cultures. They're totally being belittled, you know, and told what to do and it's making a wreck of things.
Chris: Greenwashing, at the very least. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm wondering, Deborah, if you were to put out a revise the edition of your book today, what would you add to it that wasn't present in the first and second edition?
Deborah: Yeah. Well, I did write a forward to a book on socializing tourism. It was published earlier this year. I link to it if you want.
And I was very honored that they asked me to write this forward, because it was a way to sort of like take a step back and go, okay, what now? What is missing? And what do we really need to be concerned about? And again, it comes down to these pandemics and climate change. We don't have any country that has a plan for mass, movement and transition because there are already climate refugees, they call them, right, right.
Where are they gonna go? You know the Maldives is a perfect example, where they're just going to be underwater and their whole economy is based on tourism and they're standing there on the beaches yelling "help, help help right now." And then there's no plan. You know, the biggest plans right now are let's bring in some more sand, you know?
So I think this is going to be a huge issue because again, some of the best lands that are still out there, pristine, beautiful views and everything are indigenous lands, and those are going to be fought over big time. And people are going to be displaced. People that have the money can come in and get it.
Yeah. I think part of it will be under tourism, part of it will be under like emergency situations, but a lot of it is going to be tourism real estate, you know, which is happening right now, too. Like trying to get into these places and buy it up now. Right.
So, that is a big issue, you know, just the whole land issue because we're going to lose a lot of land and because of climate change and we're going to get sick and some places are going to be, you just can't use them, you know, you can't live there even if the land is still there. So, I think that's a big challenge, you know, and it's much more than tourism, but tourism is a big factor in it.
You know, we pollute our skies. You know, we contribute lots and lots of fossil fuels and things to global climate change through the tourism industry and that land where people want to survive and live and vacation is going to become more and more scarce and more and more expensive.
Chris: Undoubtedly. And it's already happening, even in places that aren't considered necessarily tourist destinations certain big cities, you know, the same patterns of exile of local community and culture is happening in the same way that they are in tourist destinations, the same problems with Airbnb and landlords happening in Barcelona as they would be in the coasts of Mexico as they are in, you know, maybe places like middle-sized cities in north America, perhaps that don't host tourism.
And so the patterns are perhaps bigger than tourism, but incorporate it in ways that a lot of people live, but also can't see, because tourists generally only spend a few days or a week at a time in another place and don't understand the consequence beyond that time. Right.
Deborah: Absolutely. Yeah. And then just look at these wildfires in California, right. There's a huge worry about the wine industry and food farming related to that and that California has a big tourism industry it's being severely affected by wildfires.
And what are wildfires caused by, you know, changes in climate. So, what we do is what we get.
Chris: I want to ask you a question that you proposed the beginning of your book, and I'm really, really grateful that you wrote this question down some 30 years ago, because like I said in all of the research that I've done for my book over the last four or five years, this is the only place I saw it written.
Okay. After reading maybe a hundred different books or research papers, right. And you ask, "should we work to change tourism or should we stop traveling?" Now, given the growth and the immense consequences of tourism in the last 20 to 30 years and given what's happened as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, how would you answer that question today and has the answer perhaps changed for you since you, since you wrote your book?
Deborah: Well, you know, even the pandemic hasn't stopped us from traveling and people will want to get back to that. But I think it has in a lot of areas, Australia, all these other places, it's really made us more aware of the risks that we take to ourselves when we're traveling, might've made people a little bit more aware of the risks that they're bringing with them to places.
But it's also creating different policies and different efforts to change, for example, land recognition. There are projects in Australia and other places where they are working with the tourism industry to not just say, "let's go out to this Outback," you know, "but the primary thing we want to acknowledge with our tourism here is this is aboriginal land. This is who lives here. Everything that we do when we're on this land should respect and support them in some way. There are efforts like that going on, which you would never have seen that 20 years ago. Right. You know, so there's the land acknowledgement. I just moved back to Tulsa and my next door neighbor is Muskogee tribe, oral historian and she was telling us... I told her I wanted to do some kind of land acknowledgement and house blessing here. So we had her come over to our house and she explained about her family and the Muskogee tribe and Muskogee tribe reservation is now recognized and so Tulsa is in the Muskogee reservation.
It's no longer Tulsa, you know, there's Muskogee people around there. It's really identified like that. And there are historic places all over that people are still using in this city, which is really wonderful to find out and acknowledge. So I just feel like, you know, land acknowledgement, some native people and indigenous people are already saying, are kind of critical of it because, you know, "oh, yay you're acknowledging our land."
What's really behind that, you know, those kinds of things are happening, which haven't happened in hundreds of years, to me are great and really needed because as we start getting more and more competitive for our land, even more competitive, it's really good to have these kind of protections in place and these acknowledgements. So I think now it's hard to say, I don't think people are ever going to stop traveling. Do you?
Chris: Maybe not, but you know, it could be a bit of both.
Deborah: Right. So there's some good things happening. We've been working on this for a long time, and I like to give credit to the movement that's gone on within indigenous tourism movement and all these smaller things that you never hear about that collectively I think people are doing really good things much more so than 20 or 30 years ago.
Chris: I really appreciate that, you know, that notion that we are, whether as tourists or not, we are for the most part, you know, most people today, are guests, or at least uninvited guests, either at president or ancestrally in the, in the homes and territories and lands of other people.
Right. That might be a kind of key towards how we are, how we come to arrive and proceed as foreigners in foreign places. Right. Understanding that, well, that understanding is really not so different from how we might proceed at home, you know, for most, let's say Anglo North American people.
Little by little, perhaps a sense or skill of community and home that acknowledges our place as guests, as opposed to landlords perhaps that could trigger a different way of being elsewhere a different way of being a foreigner in foreign places.
Deborah: Right? Well, over the years I have been approached by so many people, whether they're media organizations or just individual travelers and they ask, well, how do I travel?
You know, how can I do better? You know, that's popular concept these days. Right. Be better. To me, it's be yourself, just like you said, you know, in our own community, how would we feel in our own community? So if, for example, you are a teacher. When you travel, can you connect with teachers where you go and you automatically have a community, you audit automatically have opportunities to learn more and volunteer and you know, just enlighten yourself.
Enjoy. You don't have to do, go do hard work, you know, for six months, but yeah, as you travel in, in other communities, like you do live your life in your own community, I think it does make a big difference, you know? Cause you're connecting with your community, whether you're, you know, in some form. So I feel really that's the most genuine form of travel.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, again, in your book, it's something that you wrote decades ago, suggesting to tourists to organize reality tours of their own communities to examine the local issues, environmental, social, economic, et cetera, and you know, really you were writing about decolonial work decades before anyone else or decades, at least before it became mainstream. Right. And so, you know, It's really incredible. I had an interview that came out to about a month ago with two professors from Hawaii. And they wrote a book called Detours right, which is all about the decolonial work that local people are doing both on the Hawaiian islands, both in the face of tourism and sometimes in involving tourism in that decolonial work.
So I think that's really important you know, not to capitulate towards the tourist industry, but to see how it can be properly and adequately undermined in a way that serves the worlds that we want to live in. Right.
Deborah: You know, that the Hawaiians I've always looked to is models of tourism activism, you know, because, you know, their tourism industry was taken over by the Mormons and the whole Polynesian center there that almost all tourists go to is just contrived. Not even Hawaiian culture, it's this broader Polynesian stuff. And so that was representative of indigenous Hawaiians for a long, long time and what really promoted tourism there. But then there have been activists that had just, you know, for a couple of decades, "absolutely no, this is our land, you know, we're gonna fight for it. We're gonna make changes and we're gonna stop it in some places. And we're going to put guidelines and controls and limits and things on it."
So I just think, they've been a real good model of indigenous tourism activism for the rest of the world.
Chris: Yeah. And then I wanted to ask you Deborah, what have your travels, your own personal travels in your life taught you about tourism and its consequences in the world?
Deborah: Well, you know, it's a constant learning experience and I think the way I travel is probably very different than if I'd never been involved in all of this. But, you know, from an early age, I was just very curious, like, how can you utilize this?
I couldn't really communicate that at the time, but that's kind of what I was doing and thinking. And so I think I've always been looking at things like land rights and healthy communities. Everybody's different, but over the years I've learned that you can utilize it for a lot of different things.
You can utilize it to even witness voting, you know, or a movement against dams in the Himalayas, or you know, there's a lot of ways that you can use it. And the corporate industry has used it a lot to make money for themselves, you know? And I think one of the things I've learned, and I think a lot of people have learned is that we can use it for ourselves to make a change, you know, but we have to really understand the cycles, what's going on and examples of, you know, where change is going on.
But I love traveling and being in communities. Yeah. I like meeting other people and hanging out and making friends, lifetime friends and yeah it's just a beautiful world that we have the so amazing, beautiful and all the people in it. And I think honoring that, I feel like I'm an earthling, you know, I feel like I came from mother earth and I'm gonna go back.
And everything on here is sacred. So, and we're all connected. And if we could see that and utilize that concept while we travel, it just really changes where you're at, what you're doing, how you see the food served on your plate, you know, everything, every aspect of it. So, I guess it's been teaching me over the years and it just continues to teach me all the time.
And I'm so excited about people like you that are younger than me that are totally thinking outside of the box on all kinds of issues. I mean, you've been handed a pile of shit basically, you know, from us like climate change. And so it gives me a lot of hope. My daughter's your age and so it just gives me a lot of hope, the way that you guys are thinking about things and doing things and challenging things and just not doing it the same old, same old that everybody's thought development, you know this top-down stuff.
And I just love that. I love seeing that. And I like hanging out with younger people that are doing that too.
Chris: Yeah. Well, I think a lot of people in my generation come to an understanding that it's either despair or action. Right. So when we get faced with the question of, well, what other option is there?
You know those are our marching orders. Right. So, would you care to offer up any final words to our listeners today regarding the ways that we might rethink tourism and eco travel and in this time and as well any events or resources that you'd like them to learn about any of your work or anything like that?
Deborah: Well always looking at alternative media, definitely listen to the End of Tourism Podcast. This is really a great opportunity just to hear different viewpoints and discussions, and I really appreciate what you're doing. Any way that we can make people a little bit more aware of the power that they have when they travel just about their choices is really important.
So anytime there's an opportunity to have this kind of discussion, if it hits a few people and really makes a difference, it's a very positive outcome. So, I appreciate you're asking me to be on your podcast. It's really great.
Chris: Yeah, it's my pleasure. It's my honor. And you know, I think for perhaps younger people like myself, or even people in their twenties or even younger steal off to a to vacate or for vacations for a short time and people who live, especially in tourist destinations, we see the consequences of those vacations, the unquestioned or unconsidered consequences that, that its really important for those people to know in moments where hostility often comes to replace hospitality that it's not new and there's people like yourself who have been working to undo these consequences for decades.
Right. And that there's a sense of solidarity, right? That in coming to these questions in a good way, and in an open way that we are also entered into a lineage of people like yourself who've put the time in and the energy into to work for a better world.
And so on behalf of our listeners, I'm very honored to be able to speak with you today and to have had this conversation. Is there anywhere where our listeners might be able to find you if you have a social media, I mean, I know you don't have a website or you do, but it's not about tourism necessarily.
Deborah: Right. I have a spice business that helps raise money for a small farmers. If you want to buy some of the spices, it's just ancientindianspices.com, and that's another way to help out. We're trying to close the circles so that we buy our spices from small farmers here in the US and then support, you know, give support to farmers in Mexico and India.
So that's one way. People can always call me or email me or whatever they want to do. Oh, we're also in the Socialization of Tourism book that was just published earlier this year.
It's a lot of really alternative academics from around the world that have contributed different chapters. I wrote the forward to it. And talk about pandemics and climate change and what indigenous people are speaking of together right now around tourism issues. I hope I can continue to do that, but I'm just living my life. So I appreciate a chance to chat about it.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. It's been, it's been beautiful and a real honor for me as well. So thank you very much, Deborah.