Tourism, Colonialism and Disease | Christopher Riendeau
On this episode I’m joined by Christopher Riendeau, a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington where he learned first hand what it means to live in a tourist town. Chris’ research focuses on applied ethics in tourism and more specifically around existentialism and bad faith in the search for "authentic" tourism, and the subject/object problems inherent to the industry. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, he published an incredible essay entitled “Tourism, Colonialism and Disease,” which we talk about at length in this episode.
Christopher joins me from his home in Portland, Oregon to dialogue about the revenge of tourism in a post-pandemic world, tourism as neocolonialism, existentialist philosophy and the search for the authentic, the master-servant relationship, labor-washing, and finally a slow, bicycle-driven form of travel. We end Season 1 almost a year later, where it began, approaching the dire consequences of travel and tourism in our times.
Intro / Christopherʼs Time in Wilmington, North Carolina
The Search for Authenticity
Tourism, Colonialism, and Disease Essay
The Revenge of Tourism & COVID-19
Tourism as Neocolonialism
Contradictions on the Left
Travel and Existentialism
The Master-Servant Relationship
A Slow, Bicycle-Driven Travel
Chris Christou: All right. Welcome to the pod, Chris. How are you doing today?
Christopher Riendeau: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me here.
Chris Christou: Yeah, my pleasure. My pleasure. I'd like to ask you where, where you find yourself today and, and what the world looks like for you in your neck of the woods.
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. I'm here in Portland, Oregon, and what it looks like is, is characteristically rainy which is great because we've been suffering from historic droughts up here and you know, lots of forest fires and stuff. So we're kind of blessed to have the rain this spring. Myself currently, I'm just working in a day job. I work in IT (information technologies) and the tourism research is I guess a hobby or a passion, you know, that I pursue in my free time.
And yeah, that's what I'm up to right now.
Chris Christou: Mm, beautiful. Well, thank the gods for the rains. I wanted to ask you in regards to your work with tourism and your, your studies, because you mentioned that you had spent most of your life in Wilmington, North Carolina, in a tourist town, in a tourist destination and if that had anything to do with your desire to take up the studies of tourism in the academia.
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. So I'm originally from Vermont, which is very much sort of a tourist-based economy. And then after college I bounced around a little bit, but then I spent most of my time in Wilmington, North Carolina, and it's a beach town, you know, big tourist industry and sort of one of the inciting events that kind of got me thinking about this is I was just sort of hanging out with some people one night. And there was a young woman there who had like previously been a professional surfer and, you know, I was talking to her about that, because I dabble and I was, you know, interested naturally in what that was like and, and you know, why she got out of it.
And, and she said it was "it was too colonial" and I stopped and I thought about that for a second. And then I, I just literally had no questions because that made perfect sense to me, but I had never thought about it before. Mm. And then, you know, starting to see some of these things in a new light and you know, I started grad school shortly thereafter in a Liberal Studies program, which is, it's a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing, which is great.
And I started thinking about that stuff. And at the same time, I was doing a lot of reading of the existentialists. And so I kind of started thinking about this concept they have of "bad faith," of this search for authenticity that sometimes is done, you know, with others in mind or not truly authentically and sort of this search for authentic tourism and how folks are trying to transcend whatever they see as their sort of boring little sanitized, homogenized life by seeking authenticity elsewhere through travel and tourism. And kind of the unintended consequences of that, where you end up just sort of sanitizing and homogenizing these tourist locales, and sort of objectifying the folks who live there and that's sort of where all this was born out of.
And a lot of that is related to just experiencing, you know, this is Memorial Day weekend, which in the US is sort of the start of the tourist summer season in most places. And usually when I was living in Wilmington, I would not go anywhere or do anything because you had to hide out from the tourists.
So that kind of lived experience is definitely informed my work.
Chris Christou: Mm. Yeah, that reminds me a lot of my time here in Oaxaca, Mexico. And, you know, there's the Day of the Dead and the Guelaguetza celebrations where many locals either leave the city or they just lock themselves in their homes to stay as far away from the spectacle as possible.
And in regards to your studies, what kind of conclusions, if any, did you come to at the end of your graduate program in regards to the search for authenticity and its connection to existentialist philosophy?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. As much as you can draw conclusions into discipline life philosophy, I think like the key component that leads to an authentic sort of experience for you as yourself is, sort of the opportunity to make decisions and interact with people improvisationally, I guess. So, it's like searching for a more organic experience where you show up somewhere and you're not trying to see certain sites or like "I've heard about this and I want to experience it."
And you know, part of that is a product of time, which is something that I'm finding more and more as I look at travel is that these sort of distilled experiences that the tourism industry are selling us are based on the fact that people have a very short amount of time to go and try to try to get what they're looking for.
So a truly authentic experience, you know, to, to experience a culture, to interact with the people could take you months, but we're trying to sell something that will give somebody the idea they had that experience in, you know, a week or a day, you know, or an afternoon tour. So, really trying to like look at travel and especially as it relates to like intercultural relations as something that can't be rushed and something that can't be pre-planned because when you have an idea of, of what you're going to see and experience, and then you purchase it and then you go do it, you're you're just creating an object of those people and those lands. And you're not really able to experience them for what they are, which is changing and dynamic. And a lot of these tourists locations, I think people wanna freeze in time.
They want this to be the Hawaii of 1950 or something, or they want some authentic experience in England that's gonna feel like Victorian, but you know, England's England. It's modern. London's a city. It's got banks. Mm-hmm
Chris Christou: yeah, absolutely. So, I invited you on the pod in part, because, about a year ago, my uncle sent me an amazing essay that you wrote entitled "Tourism, Colonialism, and Disease," which essentially unveils the threads, connecting those three subjects or themes.
Could you tell us a little bit about what called you to write that piece?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. And thank you. I'm glad you liked it. I was sitting at home like many of us were, during the pandemic and, you know, I was reading all these articles and looking at this pattern of folks, fleeing the cities or, and I'm, I'm gonna use the word with scare quotes "expatriate" ....
... "digital nomads," all very scare quotey, you know, going to work down in Mexico. And one of the ones that really struck me is someone sort of traced the spread of the virus out of New York City, which is one of the major epicenters in the early pandemic in the United States, out into all of these smaller towns.
And they were looking at that essentially the wealthier neighborhoods of New York, cleared out. So, you had this like clearly established migration pattern of people with means leaving the epicenter of this disease and going out to these smaller towns and spreading it. And, you know, looking from that and out into these folks who were you know, headed out to small islands in the Caribbean or down into Latin America, you know, centered in the United States, which is where I am.
So, that's where folks were going and, and those places, they didn't have a lot of the stuff, you know, they didn't get vaccines as early. They didn't get some of these antiviral medications. So, they're essentially because they had the means to, were colonizing these places because it was more convenient.
It was better weather. It was cheaper real estate. They could get more space because they were working from home. But in doing so, they were completely neglecting the consequences of the fact that they were overrunning these local hospitals, that they were probably the main vector for the disease to get there.
You know, my bachelor's degree I did in Latin American studies. So, it just all really felt like I was watching like a new conquista, you know? Mm-hmm , especially in regards to the folks going down to Latin America, you know, working remotely, they're taking their Silicon Valley salary and they're going down to Mexico city and just absolutely distorting the real estate markets.
There's a lot there. Economically, you can talk about sort of short term rentals and you can talk about this sort of petite bourgeoisie, who like really, really wants to rent Airbnbs out to these people. Meanwhile, there's sort of like the working folks who just can't afford houses anymore, and it's happening in Mexico city, the same way it's happening in Wilmington, North Carolina, and this sort of pattern of wealth expanding out for the comfort of the wealthy and at the expense of these local folks. So it was brought into the foreground by the fact that it wasn't just economics and real estate, but now it was also the disease element, which during the original conquest of the Americas was massively destructive.
Just millions of indigenous people died for the acquisition of wealth by wealthy Europeans, basically. Yeah.
Chris Christou: I think it's important for us to finish off the first season where we started, which is specifically around this notion of COVID spread and how tourism played and continues to play a part in the spread of disease.
So, I'd like to pull a few quotes from your essay, because, you just hit the nail on the mark throughout. And so, there's a point where you write,
"the dilemmas of how long to visit a place, of where to stay, of whether to use Airbnb or a hotel, of eating at a chain or a local restaurant, and how much to tip the server. These are all irrelevant in a global pandemic. The only question you have to ask is, 'could I be annoyingly carrying a deadly illness to this place' and the answer right now for nearly everyone is 'yes.' "
Okay. Now a year has gone by, since you wrote that.
My question to you is, is that still true?
Christopher Riendeau: I would say that it's less true, maybe, but the specifics are important. I think, you know, a year ago, if you were traveling anywhere, the odds that anyone was vaccinated or you were vaccinated would be extremely low. Whereas now, it's possible that if you're traveling at least within sort of the global north there's a greater level of protection there.
Not being like a medical professional, it's hard for me to tell you the exact amount that's safer, but I think that when you look at sort of the global south and vaccination rates and things like hospital capacity, I think the risk is still there in a similar amount. It hasn't trickled down all the way to some of these places that don't have the same wealth to afford vaccines and treatments and don't have the infrastructure.
I'd say it's, it's partially still true. I mean, I think it's important to consider that when you're traveling to consider the vulnerability of the population you're visiting and the actions you're taking.
I mean, again, tests weren't as widely available. We didn't know as much about coronavirus, so I think it's possible to be safer, but yeah, it should be a heavy consideration when you travel.
Chris Christou: Yeah. I mean, I've been keeping an eye on the travel restrictions, at least in the global north coming up as the widespread and large scale summer vacations will be starting soon and it seems that most countries are not requiring any vaccine certifications, any testing beforehand. Now, not all of them, of course, but a good amount which kind of throws a lot of those notions of care and consideration out the window. Now, I wanna ask you about that question that you posed in your essay, once again:
"'could I be unknowingly carrying a deadly illness to this place' and the answer right now for nearly everyone is 'yes.'"
Okay. So that was written about a year ago in the midst of the pandemic. I wanna ask you, do you think this question, it's relevance and the answer that you pose, do you think that was true before the pandemic as well?
Christopher Riendeau: I mean, I guess, there's always a risk of unknown contagion that you're bringing somewhere. But I think, you know, you can only expect so much of people and you can only play it so safe. Like before the pandemic, I think there were probably greater dangers we were bringing through tourism than contagions in this sort of economic sense or cultural sense. I think it's sort of forced into relief, the idea of unintended consequences of travel, but I don't think that, you know, we can always center it around disease.
I think this was kind of a unique scenario. It forced a lot of people to rethink maybe their travel situations, but I have been disheartened as, as you said, that, you know, we finally got all these tools, these vaccines, these tests, and it seems like the idea earlier in the pandemic was we would use those to create measures of safety for travel.
And now it seems like, well, we got those, so we're not gonna require those measures anymore. Sort of like we learn that masks they're very effective, but we're not gonna wear them anymore. You know, vaccines will reduce transmission, but we don't wanna require that tourists have vaccines. So, there's something that's been coming to my mind a lot as I've seen things reopen. And it's this phrase, I think I got it off a guy I knew who was like an ex-Marine and it was" you don't rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training." And we have trained ourselves as a society to just do whatever the customer wants, the tourist wants, these wealthy folks who are seeking recreation want, and putting any obstacles in their way is considered, you know, bad business.
So when the pandemic happened, we were all like, "oh yeah, finally, a moment to, to change things." And then we just fell right back into the same routine. So, yeah, I mean, I got a little off topic there, but I think that, no, it wasn't necessarily true before the pandemic. Except for, in the rare instance, obviously there were cases of Ebola and things like that, so there's always some risk, but I think it's low enough that wasn't true then.
Chris Christou: And so I'm thinking back to, to our first episode with Dr. Ivan Murray, who through the Spanish tourism research organization, Alba Sud, published in anthology of writing about how the global tourism industry basically created the conditions for the COVID 19 virus to emerge and spread. And so now with, again, with, the summer 2022 vacation season approaching, with most countries dropping the screening measures, do you think we're essentially returning to the same conditions, to the same ticking time bomb that would bring about another, potentially, even more devastating pandemic?
Christopher Riendeau: Yes. I mean, I don't know if I even really need to qualify that, but I mean, the way you've been seeing the numbers tick back up for domestic and international travel and mask mandates dropping, vaccine mandates dropping, it just, it seems like everyone wants this to be over and they're trying to force it to be so, and we will have basically learned nothing.
We will have, you know, I, I was heartened to see, I saw, just a little while ago, that the Balearic Islands, where Dr. Murray Mas is, you know, they passed some like new tourist regulations, but they're basically about drink limits, right? So they just like, you can't have unlimited drinks anymore.
And I was like, well, I mean, that's good. I think that's probably gonna be a positive effect for those islands to not have these tourists having unlimited drinks, but, you know, it's not really getting at the major problem that we've seen for the past couple of years. So, yeah, I wish we had seen people look at that and look at that system of unfettered and constant international travel, unregulated, and, and maybe thought that this is the time to change it, but it seems like we're just going back to the status quo that got us to the pandemic in the first place.
Chris Christou: Right. Well, I'd like to the connection between contemporary tourism and I guess what we might otherwise call classical colonialism. What are the connections or parallels that you see between the two and how does disease enter the narrative historically?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. I guess what I would describe as sort of classically colonial colonialism, you'd have maybe like a, sort of like a merchant class or something, right? Like you see this group of folks who have some level of affluence but like not enough to be extremely affluent and wealthy where they are. Right.
So, in classical Europe, right, you had these royals and stuff and they wanted to make money off of the Americas, but they weren't the ones going over there. They had a nice setup back home. So, the colonial aspect, I think, is that the disparities in economics allow folks to who are sort of middle class and the global north to establish themselves and experience the life of wealthy people by essentially finding poorer countries.
And it's interesting that, you know, I don't think a lot of people consider that a form of exploitation. I think in much the way that the classical colonialists thought that they were sort of "helping" these indigenous people and "saving them" right, helping them find Christianity. I think, we've created a new narrative around that where "oh, tourism is a clean industry that boosts the local economies."
So like, it's really great that all these people, you know, are coming to this small country in the tropics and like spending money and it's helping them. But, just like with old school colonialism, much of that money is just coming back to sort of the same classes of people who are exploiting these developing countries, (countries in the global south) through economic leakage.
So, you know, you go to this country and you stay in a hotel and you like to pretend that you're stimulating the local economy, but the people who work at the hotel are being paid really poorly and sometimes not treated very well. And then the hotel is taking its profits and just passing them off to shareholders who are either, you know, sort of local wealthy folks who we might draw a line to sort of the Creole elite in like Latin America and historic colonialism, or the foreign owners of these hotels, right?
The shareholders in the global north who are essentially able to exploit this labor in countries that have lower wages and fewer labor protections, and then extract the value back. So, you know, it's just the system of it is just nearly identical, it feels like. We've replaced Christianity with some sort of idea of economic good but the economics of it kind of play out the same. It's these people who are, you know, advocating for this stuff, they push a narrative that they're doing good and that it's not exploitative, which is, that's when you read the sort of old colonial stuff too, they're all like, "Yes, we're here. We're gonna save these people. We're gonna, you know, optimize these lands. They're not using them right." Like, and so, you know, that idea of developing something to improve it when there's a culture there who's already using it, you know, in whatever way they see fit and has worked for them for years, centuries, you know?
And you're like, "no, we're gonna come here and improve this, you know, for your benefit. That's very colonial."
Chris Christou: Yeah. Yeah. I have this quote here from your essay where you write that "these places," and in this context, you're referring to destinations, "these destinations are outposts for the colonists who instead of extracting gold or spices, extract, relaxation and novelty, rather than mine or farm, they ski or sunbathe, but the model remains the same."
And later on you write that "modern global economics is oft-lauded by neoliberal economists as the world having been flattened by technology, be that the relative affordability of air travel and consumer goods or the vast repository of free information on the internet." Now, at some point, one of our listeners, asked us how neoliberal economics informs and promotes the tourism industry.
Do you think you could take a shot at answering that for us?
Christopher Riendeau: Sure. Yeah. So, you know, neoliberal economics as the theory is that maybe like a guy like Milton Friedman have been employed in sort of a post-Cold War maybe, or opening of China after Nixon's sort of thing. And I apologize that I have a very American context for everything I say, cuz it's where I've come from.
But you know, all these world economies have opened up to each other and this neoliberal idea was that we have a global free market and that in that there's sort of this illusion of meritocracy and Thomas Friedman with his book, "The World is Flat," kind of was espousing this, I wanna say maybe in the late nineties where he was just like, "would you rather be born like a middle class person in rural Pennsylvania in 1800 or like a poor kid in India today," or something like that.
And he was like, "you'd rather be the poor kid, cuz you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And like, you know, the whole world's economy is yours." But, it's sort of distorted the realities, which is that free trade just is not entirely free.
And the major thing that isn't free is the movement of people. So, I think that we have a free movement of capital and we have a free movement of goods, but we don't have a free movement of people. So, what happens is the capital goes to India and that poor little kid has to make the goods. And then the goods come back to America.
And, you know, people make their profit or whatever, but that kid is still working for the wages based on that economy. And I mean, he tries to come over to America, to maybe get a boost in wages. He can't right. You stop him at the border. There's a lottery. So, the neoliberal idea, you know, when it comes to tourism, is that, "oh, okay, so we can bring our, our dollars to these economies that don't have anything else going on." Right. That's how they see it. They see this as, "unimproved," I think maybe would be the word, right? These unimproved lands. You know, "this is a beautiful beach, but you don't have any hotels on it and all your people are so poor.
So we're gonna come, we're gonna build a hotel and the hotel creates money and they think, oh, you know, that's gonna be great," but essentially it's like neoliberalism presents a rose-colored image of how international commerce can lift all boats.
But, you know, it's just sort of ignoring the fact that many people don't own anything. They don't own any boats. They don't get lifted. You know, profits have to come from somewhere, comes from human labor and you can create bigger profits by paying people less. And you can pay people less in other countries.
And so the neoliberal experiment, I think, has failed because of economic leakage because of exploitation because of just every sort of inherent problem to capitalism. But I think it really succeeded in creating a mythos of being a benefit to everybody. That like the problem with economic development in the global south was that they weren't connected enough and now everybody's super connected and you know what, we got a lot of the same problems.
But a lot of folks have gotten really, really rich.
Chris Christou: Well, thank you. And I think as, as well, some of it comes from, as we were talking about before we started the interview, the greenwashing of economies and specifically the greenwashing of development, right.
Tourism being seen as sustainable development, but at the end of the day, being promoted or utilized or organized through neoliberal economics, which essentially becomes a failure in creating a kind of objectified subject, if I can say that an objectified subject in the places and among the cultures and among the peoples that tourists visit in other lands.
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think neoliberalism in that it sort of technocratic, has a tendency to ignore nuance and culture and community and seize everything as kind of an object. Right. And so you're erasing the value of things that don't inherently have like an economic value in the context of global commerce.
And not being able to see that is, is super harmful, right? Like you're saying, " oh, it's sustainable development, you know?" but wasn't it sustainable before? Like if this place has been the same for a hundred years, they sustain that and then you come and you're like, ah, we're gonna build a hotel sustainably.
Yeah. There's so many deep flaws with like the neoliberal ideology. It's hard to like, just choose one. Hmm.
Yeah, well, food for thought. Yeah. I wanted to ask you as well about the contradictions that exist currently within the political left in regards to how they view or how tourism and colonialism are viewed as one in the same, but at the end of the day, are not acted upon in the same way. So, in your essay, you write that
"tourist towns and nations are often built up as escapes for the affluent of the global north. And the objectification of people is often in service of a foreign enterprise. It becomes even clearer that tourists are colonial invaders when they continue to travel, knowing they might bring with them an insidious plague. Last summer, 'so that would've been the summer of 2020,' we saw statues of Christopher Columbus torn down all over the country and yet this summer people are eager to follow in his footsteps on their way to the largely uninoculated Caribbean."
Okay. So this relative contradiction seems to be persisting. You have political movements that seek to pay homage to decolonizing the symbols of conquest while subtly continuing it in different forms. For example, vacation time, whether it's paid or not is considered often a right, a labor right, for example, fought for and won and held as a kind of sacred cow of leftist movements. Now, in Europe, for example, the summer vacation is considered untouchable and a pillar of the culture for people on all sides of the political spectrum there. What do you think these contradictions can teach us about building movements that are perhaps truly decolonial?
Yeah. That's a really good question, because I think there is a disconnect, especially with folks, you know, in the US who are aligned sort of on the left word, political spectrum. And yeah, they, they believe in labor rights and their anti-colonial and their anti-racist and all this stuff. And they then sort of choose to support this industry that is very colonial.
I think that folks, I think an extent of it is that especially now we've come up with 20 plus years of neoliberal economics, and a lot of that has been on the left too.
So, I think a lot of folks who are now coming to see sort of these labor movements and these anti-racism movements, I think they're having trouble sometimes incorporating the full of global economics into that because they have these cosmopolitan values that they want to be well-traveled and they want to be intercultural.
And, you know, if you start saying like, well, "you shouldn't visit these places," then that starts to feel a little like provincial. And I think there's an aesthetic and there's, social capital to travel that is very popular among affluent folks, despite having sort of leftist ideals. Another thing I see sometimes now is like, there's been a lot going on in the United States with women's rights and there's been a lot of stuff going on with gun control and I see people, that's just lately, we've had a lot of other problems too, but you know, the past couple months, and I see these folks like, "oh yeah, I gotta get out of the US..."
and then like, where are they going? You know? And they're going to Vietnam or Thailand or Mexico or some of these places. And I'm like, well, have you looked at the governments there? Like , you know, you wanna, you know, it's like this idea of escape is kind of like, they're just like completely divorced from the reality.
Which is, you know what I think a lot of people look for in travel and tourism is like an escape and like leaving that. But I sort of make the argument that we should be doing the opposite. In existentialism, there's this concept of radical freedom that you can do whatever you want.
Right. Like you're just impossibly free, which is daunting, but you are also constrained by your circumstances. And one of the arguments I make in my thesis is that in travel, we should actually strive to be incredibly authentic, incredibly ethical, because we are less constrained by our circumstances. You know, I, I gave up on Amazon years ago.
I can't support them, their labor practices and stuff, but like, you know, on a day to day basis, there's probably someone who Amazon is like the only way they can get something. I live in a major city. I'm an able-bodied person. You know, I, I have a pretty steady income, so like, I don't need to chase the cheapest price.
I can go look at a store, but if you're like a disabled person in a rural community, Amazon could be saving your life with things that you can get from there. So I'm not gonna tell you, in those circumstances, like you should boycot Amazon because of their labor practices. But no one needs to take a vacation.
A vacation is an astounding luxury that historically basically no one has had. So at the point that you're gonna take a vacation, you should be choosing to do that in like the most ethical manner possible. And I think there's just a disconnect where people are chasing the cheapest price, chasing what they think will be the best experience.
And it leads them to these exploitative practices, when in reality, like this is the place in your life, you have the most freedom, because it's entirely optional. But going back to what you're talking about with vacation days we're rolling back to the conclusions I've drawn about, you know, traveling for longer and from a climate change perspective, traveling slower because planes are the worst way to travel for the environment, but they're the fastest.
So, I mean, they're convenient. But more vacation days would give people greater flexibility to take better transit, trains, you know, less polluting forms of transit than flying and stay in places longer, which would allow them to, you know, have a more meaningful interaction with a community.
So I think that, you know, there's a lot to unpack there, but I think just to some extent, I think people just don't think about tourism in the context of these political movements that they are participating in domestically.
Chris Christou: Right, right. I mean, I think about this term "vacation days" and you know, it just, you just gave me this notion, this idea that, what if instead of vacation days they were called like "home days," right or neighborhood days, right. That there wasn't this implicit push to leave and escape, right. Because the word vacation, literally means, etymologically anyways, " to be free of obligation," right. "To vacate," essentially. And what if people had more spare time to meet their neighbors right.
And to discover and create intimate enduring moments of connection with the quote, "natural world" in the places that they live in, as opposed to being pushed out just by this notion that, oh, well, if you have time off then yeah, yeah. You know, "get out of dodge" kind of thing.
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. I mean, "holidays," right? Holy days, like historically, like no one had the means to travel, right. I mean, maybe you had a, like how far could a horse go if you even could afford a horse. So, those days off were community days and usually celebrations, festivals, parades, feast, that kind of thing.
So, you know, that idea is very innate to human history. It's really only been in the past couple centuries that we've had access to these faster forms of travel, that the idea and sort of a growing middle class and technology and stuff that allowed us to be like, "Ooh, I'm gonna get outta town."
Like that used to be basically just the extremely wealthy folks would get out of the cities in the summer and that kind of stuff. But historically, nobody traveled mm-hmm .
Chris Christou: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you, Chris. So I wanna come back to your essay if I can just for a moment. There's a part of the end where you write that "the places you visit do not exist for you."
What did you mean by this?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah, so again borrowing from existentialism and oh gosh, I hope no philosophy professors are listening to this. I'm probably gonna mess up who did what, but it started out, there was Heidegger and then Sartre kind of took this in Being and Nothingness of this idea of the thing-in-itself and the thing-for-others.
So, there's just the thing in itself, right? Which is the locals, their existence. And that is not for us. It's not about us. And that exists, you know, us as sort of a potential tourist. And we have to remember that like all these places existed without tourism. All these lands, all these people.
But when we sort of decide on what it is for us as a tourist, we're creating, you know, this thing for others that's not the thing in itself. And the idea of bad faith is kind of that presentation of being something for others that's not intrinsically what you wanna be or what you want to do.
And, you know, that's hard to put on an entire place or an entire population, but it's sort of the process that works out here, that there is an entity of a locale, of a community and then it becomes objectified by these tourists and in that process because the tourists wields so much economic power and influence in that process, it's like a whole community begins living in bad faith.
A whole community begins existing for others instead of existing for themselves being the thing in itself. That's that's sort of what I'm implying there.
Chris Christou: Yeah. Wow. And I guess I would, as a little follow up to that, I would ask you, do you think the same context applies to home. If you say "the places you visit do not exist for you." If I said "the place you live in does not exist for you," do you think the same notions would apply?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah, I guess it's sort of nested. It's, there's like layers of it, because I think that to some extent, if you live and work in a city and are part of a community that, that city in some ways does exist for you. Right. That's what it was built for.
But other people don't exist for you, right? Like on an individual level, other people are things in themselves. So there's a, there's an interesting sort of visual metaphor Simone de Beauvoir used where she's talking about like every action you have has these reverberations, like tossing a pebble in a pond.
So you can consider those actions, but everybody else is also tossing pebbles in this pond. And so there's this level of all these things interacting with each other, that you can never predict. But sort of her ethos, in Ethics of Ambiguity is that, you're constrained by circumstances.
You know, you're never gonna have all the right information. But perhaps the best sort of way to act is just the way that increases freedom for those around you. Like, the best action to take is the one that allows the people around you to live more authentically and frees them up and doesn't constrain them under more circumstances.
And that's where I think tourism massively fails is that the, the way we've created modern, modern tourism is essentially just building boxes around locals, constraining, local economies, constraining local people. And in, you know, it's advertised by the neoliberals is increasing their freedom, by stimulating the economy, but in reality, we're sort of constraining them into these stereotypes or into these roles as servants and things. And, we're not allowing them to act more freely.
Chris Christou: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And you speak of in your essay, this notion of the master-servant dynamic that exists in tourism.
And I think most people listening have a clear understanding of what that is, the tourist and the host or the host community or the host people or the host destination. Now my question is, do you think it's possible to either kill off or transcend the master servant relationship and produce a horizontal one instead of perhaps a vertical one?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. I mean, that's challenging because that's kind of baked into capitalism and sort of this, the service industry, right? I mean it's in the word. We've come up with a lot of new titles for people in these roles, "customer service associate," or what have you. but at the end of the day, I mean like it's, that person is serving somebody else.
And I don't think that that's undignified. I think that's something that like, that is a job, right? Like people are gonna go to restaurants and your job might be to cook or serve them food, or people are gonna need to stay in hotels sometimes when they travel and your job is to, you know, clean up the room and change the sheets and stuff.
And I think that working from sort of a labor rights perspective is that we should treat those people like we treat, when you go to a doctor or a lawyer and this person is a professional, this is their job. They deserve my respect. They deserve a good wage. And, you know, in that way we could maybe use something like labor law and regulations to level the playing field because when people aren't afraid to get fired for just offending some tourist, a little bit or some client a little bit, you know, they have more strength to stand up for themselves. They have more economic power to maybe choose another job. They're not dependent on this job for their healthcare. All those things will level that master servant dynamic.
In an ideal, world it'd be one more of collaboration. Like, "Hey, welcome to the restaurant. You like food? I like food. That's great. Let's talk about, oh, you want some food?" And it's not just like, you know, "snap, snap, get me, gimme my beverages." That's maybe that's a rosy picture that I'd like. On an episode of your podcast, someone was talking about, I think it was in Buenos Aires, a cooperative, worker cooperative hotel, mm-hmm, and I'd really be interested to see what's happening down there and what those interactions look like on sort of a micro scale, and to see if it, looks on the surface, like it's a more level relationship,
Chris Christou: right?
Yeah. I mean, I think at the end of the day with a lot of these questions around, you know, reform versus abolition, I continuously come back to this, this notion, well, do these different models, continue to perpetuate the larger extractive tourist model.
Right. Does that change the tourist behavior in some way? Does it undermine the industry at large? Right. I think that's, that's a really hard question to answer when we have so few examples of how it could be otherwise, right?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. I mean, another concern is just like we saw sort of with greenwashing and ecotourism is like, capitalism has an incredible ability to adapt and co-op things for profit.
So, is there gonna be sort of a laborwashing of like, you know, oh, we're marketing this place as like, in the US, you know, we have like, this idea of a tipped minimum wage where like, in some states, a waiter is making like $2.50 an hour, but then they make up for it with tips. Right. And some restaurants are doing a thing where now they're like, they put it on their menu and everything.
And they're just like, , our prices are higher, but we pay like our servers a salary and they get benefits and stuff. And, you know, I think that's good but also I see how that could be exploited from a marketing standpoint, the same way the idea of ecotourism was.
Chris Christou: Yeah, for someone who worked in the quote "hospitality industry" or industrial hospitality, I like to call it for more than more than a decade. I still come back to this notion or this idea that if I had a choice instead of working in a restaurant and serving people in that manner, that there would be some kind of reciprocal relationship in which, you know, the food that I serve or the way I cook it is honored in some deeper manner by the other person, as opposed to just, you know, paying for it, which isn't, you know, and in itself a bad thing, but that kind of relationship could actually deepen and produce a broader sense of community among people, a broader sense of maybe where their food comes from and, and how it arrives and, and how it's cooked in those traditions and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah, I mean, and that's, that's tricky too, because I think you see folks trying to design that and maybe failing to do it well, and then you get these kind of embedded cultural experiences like voluntourism and things, or like staying with a host family and stuff that like, some of them are pro are designed very well, some of those experiences, but most of them, you just end up objectifying people and sort of creating this illusion of like a simpler life of a, you know, this like, oh, "these folks live so simply. My life is so hectic and let's get back to the land" and like in many ways you're sort of objectifying and kind of insulting those people and the complexity and nuance of their life when you're just so, you know, I agree with you.
I think it would be nice to have something a little bit, I don't know, more communitarian than just the exchange of money, but some of these, all these ideas, every time you have a good idea, capitalism's gonna find a way to like repackage it and sell it. And it's still just like 90% as exploitative.
Chris Christou: Yeah. Thank you, Chris. I have two final questions for you. These are a little more geared towards yourself and, and I guess some your personal reflections as someone who seems to me, based on what I've read and what I've heard from you, who loves to travel. What have you learned or changed about your life or outlook on the matter on these matters since the beginning of the pandemic?
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah, it's been rough inside my own mind, I guess, you know, there's a lot to grapple with. The last time I traveled internationally was like 2018 and I actually, you know, apologies to the fine folks down in the Yucatan, but I went down, for a week late October and I went to the Day of the Dead down in Merid in the Yucatan.
And you know, I was thinking a lot about travel then. I was writing a lot about travel then. And then, you know, pandemic happened and had a lot of time to sit at home and a lot of time to look at the global emissions and how they dropped when we stopped flying. And I've really been considering, as things start to open up a little bit and like, okay, in the next couple of years, maybe it'll feel okay to travel, you know, at least sort of like a big trip internationally somewhere and like, what am I gonna do? For me, I think it's really about what's about duration and frequency. So, I think going forward, you know, I'm gonna take fewer trips, especially fewer long trips, and try to make them longer.
I can't advocate for abolition because I do think travel has a lot of really great benefits and I enjoy it. But, you can't have people just flying to Hawaii every year, right? Like that is unsustainable for the environment. It's unsustainable for the local Hawaiians, you know?
And so many places are like this that it's like, okay, maybe, maybe these trips are like every five years and maybe you stay for like two months, which is, with most people's jobs, not really possible. But, I'm looking at trying to make maybe that more of a reality. And then, you know, as I noted in the essay to do slower, more local travel.
I'm a huge, I'm a huge advocate of cycling. I think a bicycle is one of like, it runs at like the perfect speed for tourism, because I mean, you can go 30, 40, 50 miles a day, but you're going, you know, between 10 and 15 miles per hour, like you can see everything, you can stop super easily. I know you don't need to find a place to pull over.
You just stop. It's a bicycle and you know, you can lock it up. You can talk to people, you know, you can slow down as you're riding by and be like, "Hey, what's that?" And, you know, interact with the community. It's not loud. It doesn't pollute. So, you know, looking at doing, doing more things on, on a bike as well. But, yeah, it's been tough to kind of grapple with how much I love travel and I love other cultures and I love other languages and also the realities of the impact of that, which is, I think why a lot of people don't grapple with it. Right. You know, they, they compartmentalize some things that they're thinking about locally and domestically and kind of just forget about it when they decide to plan their vacations. Hmm.
Chris Christou: Yeah, absolutely. And you kind of, you kind of commented on that in my last question as well, it was more or less the same question, but for our listeners, for our readers.
Christopher Riendeau: Yeah. Yeah. I mean just if anything, the sort of focus in my work is just travel is a great opportunity to practice more ethical behavior where you're not as constrained by your day to day circumstances.
You know, I can tell you, you should ride your bike to work, but like in reality it's hard to change houses. It's hard to change jobs. So like you might just have to drive an hour to work every day. And it's hard to judge people for that in the world we live in where so many folks are just trying to, to make it work the best they can.
But when you're traveling it's a complete luxury. It's a complete choice. And so that's a really great place to experiment with super ethical behavior.
Chris Christou: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Chris for joining us today. Is there anywhere that our listeners can find out about your work or anything you might have online?
Christopher Riendeau: You know, not really. I have another essay on APA about Disney world of all things. But you know, self-promotion something I struggle with. I've got a, a manuscript from my thesis that I keep saying I'm workshopping into a book, but you know, we'll see how that goes.
Chris Christou: Yeah, well, it's, it's been incredible here speaking with you, Chris, and I'll make sure that our listeners have your essays on hand through the end of tourism website. And, once again, thank you for your time today.
Christopher Riendeau: Thank you. Yeah, this has been a really great conversation.
Thanks for doing the podcast. I look forward to seeing what's coming out in season two. Mm-hmm . Amen.