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Innovating tourism, for fun, savings and the good of the planet
Dave Pollard, "How to Save the World" (Salon blog)
A while ago I saw a travelogue on bicycle tourism in the Alps. The tourist authorities realized the rigours of regular bicycling wasn't for everyone, so they introduced some innovations:
* Elevators inside the mountains for the major uphill sections, so your personally-powered travel is mostly downhill
* Closely-located, unique inns and restaurants, all scheduled and booked to be waiting for you when you arrive, with local cuisine and 'picnic baskets' you can drop off at the next town
* Vans that take your luggage on ahead, so it's waiting there when you arrive each evening, allowing you can travel very light
The North American tourist industry is, by contrast, wasteful and archaic. Expressways, offramp gas stations, chain restaurants and chain hotels make every route and every destination look alike. You travel thousands of miles simply to get a warmer or cooler climate, a change of skyscraper- and billboard-obscured natural scenery, a slightly-different golf course or strip of crowded sand, or some contrived artificial 'theme park', casino or beach resort. The whole vacation industry seems designed to waste oil and water, terraform the natural environment, and make faraway places look just like 'home'. Meanwhile, the heavily-subsidized airlines are full but still going bankrupt, turning the clouds brown, and thanks to 'security' making flying more trouble than it's worth. Trains are overpriced, disconnected and limited. Most public transport is unreliable, decrepit and unsafe.
Even eco-tourism is a challenge. It's mostly priced for those with neither the time nor the sensibility to appreciate it, and can be more like a Survivor experience than a learning one -- and in some cases it is, ironically, terrible for the environment.
So what could we do about it? Apply four rules:
1. Slow down.
2. Stay closer to home.
3. Put more things to do and see closer together.
4. Design, 'string together' and organize (technologically) simpler, less expensive entertainments.
(4 April 2006)
The future of adventure
Kim Stanley Robinson, GORP
Here's what will happen:
They will be marginally-to- comfortably middle class, still in their twenties or thirties, with some disposable income, urban/ suburban Americans but with a love of snowboarding or parasailing, and local athletic club workouts. While waiting in an airport for a flight to a meeting, they will see a book about Everest; they will buy it and read it and think, How interesting. Ads in The New Yorker will remind them that they too could join an adventure tour, and make their next vacation a trip to some place as exotic and wild as Everest. Adventure travel: just a matter of some vacation time, some disposable income, and a phone call!
...Because these days adventure travel is not just the simplest meanings of those two words combined. “Adventure travel” is a marketing category, an advertising campaign, a slogan, a genre of publishing, a wing of the tourist industry, a line of products and services, a registered trademark. ADVENTURE TRAVEL: It means “the effort of capitalism to package and profit from the fun people get from fooling around outdoors.” From doing stuff sort of like things people used to do on their own for practically nothing.
This is called commodification, turning things you do into things you buy, and it's long since been true that experiences in America are as commodified as things.
The evolving idea of adventure travel is described in a long online article. Should be required reading for outdoors people who want to align their activities with values of sustainability. Author Kim Stanley Robinson is a leading science fiction writer who deals with the theme of ecological sustainability and economic/social justice. -BA