RKS Film: “The Last Tourist”: I’ve Seen the Damage the Cruise Ship Has Done

“The Last Tourist” can be seen as the exposure of a dirty industry called mass tourism that destroys what the tourist goes to see or perhaps goes to take a wonderful Instagram photo for those with a three second attention span. Yes according to a recent survey 29.5% of Millennials travel for the sole purpose of being able to take a photo for Instagram. No joke as I have seen countless Millennials throughout Europe with lots of make-up, sponsored merchandise and the hope of going viral through Instagram failing which I suppose they’ll have to buy likes and followers!

There are some 1.3 billion international trips made a year. It was the 1960’s that saw airlines using larger and larger jets flooding tourist destinations. To borrow Neil Young’s lyrics “Needle and the Damage Done” I have seen cruise ships and the damage that they have done. Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Venice, Porto, Lisbon, Positano, Ha Long Bay and Greece transformed. When I was in Barcelona in the 70’s The Ramblas was a quaint street full of artisans selling their wares. Now at 8:30 a.m. look out as the cruise ships belch out their gaudily dressed passengers that swell up the Ramblas. The artisans have gone replaced by gaudy souvenir shops. An even worse experience in Dubrovnik. I was there three times in 71,72 and 73 and it was quaint small town with tourists but fast forward 40 years it was choked with cruise ship passengers led by tour guides with flags and microphones. Writing about travel I headed off to a museum of art off the beaten path and interviewed some locals who detested the tourism choking their town and bringing little revenue into the local economy.

The documentary provides an explanation of the rise of global tourism and discusses its impact on local economies and societies. It also suggests certain alternatives to stop the damage mass tourism has done. Perhaps a few points are in order.

  1. Cruise ships are a growing evil. They dump masses of people at tourist destinations who spend little as why they should when a cruise ship has become not only a floating hotel but a shopping centre. Cruise lines have preferred relationships with local merchants and take a commission on all sales. They take a cut on excursion revenue. The goal is to maximize cruise line revenue not benefit the local economy.
  2. All inclusive resorts operate the same way making money by keeping guests on site and importing all sorts of supplies and food through their existing suppliers. Why venture into the local town to eat when you are paying to eat at the resort.
  3. Few meaningful decent paying jobs are created. Housekeeping, maintenance, and restaurant jobs are low paying. The tourist focuses on going to the destination rather than exploring stops on the way. Prostitution and pedophilia flourish.
  4. Destinations with animal sites are particularly vile and savage to animals beating them into submission particularly elephants. Some 500,000 animals are used in the tourism industry many suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and horrific conditions.
  5. The fastest growing segment of the tourism industry is volunteer tourism where for example orphanages with unqualified volunteers paying to work at orphanages and giving generous donations. The orphans are not orphans at all but children “rented” by destitute parents to satisfy the ego of Millennials who are too dense or uneducated to realize they are in a petting zoo of children.

I found this documentary both horrifically sad and capable of putting one into a rage. This may be because of the extensive travelling I have done to destinations in Europe where I was a guest living amidst the locals, shopping at their stores, travelling on their buses, living in their homes and eating in their restaurants. And some of my travel has been to destinations 40 years ago where I have returned and seen the damage tourism has done.

So what can we do to make tourism more sustainable;

  1. Avoid cruise ships.
  2. Avoid all inclusives.
  3. Research your destination and consider if you are contributing to the local economy in a meaningful way.
  4. Instead of going to a popular tourist destination and immediately returning stay at or near the destination. I did this recently in Sintra in Portugal where tourists choked the town from 9-4 and took the train back to Estoril. We stayed in someone’s home for 4 days and discovered a rich treasure trove of parks and old mansions the day trippers had no time to see as they flocked to the royal’s summer palace waiting in line to enter for ages!
  5. Avoid animal shows and rides and visit conservation and rescue parks that save these animals from ruthless exploitation.
  6. Put local people first.
  7. Travel in small groups.
  8. Promote activities that are helpful and not destructive.
  9. Be willing to listen to those who explain how tourists can help the local economy and society.

While many may find this documentary painful to watch it is a must if you care about the people in the destination you are visiting. Of course, that Instagram photo and the likes it generates may be more important. If I see another “camera on a stick” I am going to scream.

A brilliant, insightful, visually striking and tragic documentary that will put you in a rage yet offers a glimmer of hope. You can see the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHxQhKSl_xw&t=1s

This Tyson Sandler film is Canadian. It is showing at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival on April 2. It will be released in Canada at select theatres on April 1st and digitally April 5th. Showing at Toronto Hot Docs April 1 and 3  https://hotdocs.ca/whats-on/hot-docs-festival

RKS Film Rating 93/100.

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Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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