Rethinking Tourism - tourism as empowerment
How can we use tourism to empower local communities and improve visitor experience?
On a recent trip to Marrakesh I experienced a new sense of disillusionment (read more here:
http://pretavoyager.blogspot.com/2010/03/disilusionment.html). Every corner I turned - and trust me, there were a lot in the medina souks - I felt like I was being taken for a ride. 9 times out of 10 when I asked for directions (it's particularly easy to get lost in the souks, and having a map will do you little help), the local was more than happen to take me where I wanted to go, BUT then they wanted something for it. 2Euros please. Don't they realize that's more than a single metro ride in Paris?? And if someone were to ask you directions in Paris, you would never in a million years think to change them for your service. In shops I thought I was having meaningful experiences until I realized it was all a hoax and luckily I'd done my research, and knew the prices they were quoting were absurd. One taxi driver asked me why all foreigners were so quick to jump on them about prices - I said it's because we've had unfortunate experiences where someone tried to take advantage of us, and so now we're forced to be more antagonistic. I told these to story to a professor when I returned. Despite spending a lot of time elsewhere in Morocco, my Marrakesh tales of interactions of locals (who deal with tourists on a daily basis) was quite a surprise to him - it's not like that in Fez he told me. While the increase in popularity in tourism was clearly a good thing for the economy in Marrakesh, the attitudes of locals have clearly shifted with it.
Tourism as empowerment
I found it interesting to see the emphasis the Moroccan tourism board puts on the idea of interacting with locals and experience though their advertising (
http://pretavoyager.blogspot.com/2009/12/morocco-anyone.html_, but clearly if something isn't done to help the local mindset soon, the word of mouth that travels by visitors is going to be a negative one. It is these mundane interactions that often make a trip most memorable and have the potential to be a great asset to tourism, both empowering local people, while at the same time improving the experience of the visitor.
While in Morocco, I met with someone who works with the Morocco tourism offices. She acknowledged what a problem it is becoming. She shared some illustrated posters that are designed to teach and educate locals about certain issues. There are "official" tour guides in Morocco, but are these guides helpful or just part of a cookie-cutter book they've memorized? In more developed countries, tours such as Context Travels
http://www.contexttravel.com/, use local experts to in small group tours to help provide an educated alternative to mass tourism, offering specialized thematic tours. How can something like this be translated to other parts of the world? What are alternatives to tour guides or ways to experience a place? How can cities be/provide better hosts? And what can we do as travelers to be better visitors?