Focus on Responsible Tourism

We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year on the west coast of México where I live. For years I have promoted cultural and religious tourism to the State Secretary of Tourism, trying to encourage travelers to get beyond the beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico.”

Recently, a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, told me about a special film track she coordinated in May at the SIETAR Europa Congress in Dublin entitled, Focus on Responsible Tourism. She cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but there are also downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to the host culture.

Maura got me excited and I can not WAIT to view these two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles, €445 for the film in an educational package with guide and readings on tourism’s impact).The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. The film screening was followed by a Q&A with producer Ilja Kok. A preview follows:

The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles, €395 for the film in an educational package with slides and readings on understanding Chinese tourists). This is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamed of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? Below is a preview:

Maura also curated a third film for the festival at SIETAR Europa:Holi-days” by Randi Malkin Steinberger (50 min). If you’re interested in tourism and its impact on culture, it looks very worthwhile.
Why do we visit pilgrim’s places, art capitols and tourist’s paradises en masse? Traveling from Jerusalem via Florence to Las Vegas, Steinberger takes the answers to these questions to an increasingly general plane. In Jerusalem (welcoming three million visitors a year) we see tourists visiting the holy places, buying souvenirs, and putting themselves through torments that Jesus Christ once endured. What they are looking for is elucidated in short statements by pilgrims, tour operators, church leaders, guides, scientists, and souvenir vendors. All these opinions put forward a few basic ideas: tourism and commerce overgrow religion, and sacred places and objects give people the feeling that they are part of some higher order. We could look at Florence in the same way, where annually six million tourists drink in the best of Renaissance Art. The street interviews allow the same conclusion as in Jerusalem: people feel dumbfounded and overwhelmed. The countless tourists and the massive trade in souvenirs “have turned the city into a congealed moment in time.” The climax of this film journey is reached in Las Vegas. In this city, 36 million people a year enjoy replicas of famous cities and monuments, cinematic reconstructions of historical moments, spectacular shows, and dazzling gambling palaces. Here, the reality, which people also look for in Jerusalem and Florence, is better and more typical (and even more soulless) than in reality.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! (What do you call a witch at the beach?)

mid-autumn6The Mid-autumn Festival — 中秋节, often called the Chinese Moon Festival, is held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon is at its roundest. It is the second most important Chinese holiday after lunar new year, and celebrates the Chinese value on home and family — 家庭. People travel from far and wide in order to be able to spend time with extended family.

Customs on this day include moon viewing and appreciation, getting together with family and friends, eating moon cakes, reciting poems, dragon dancing, and lantern riddles.

Lantern riddles are a terrific exercise for Cultural Detectives, teaching us to think beyond our normal habits. They are also an engaging cross-generational activity. Many thanks to cultural-china.com for the riddles below. I’ve selected a lucky number, eight of them, for your enjoyment. Take your time and guess, then scroll down past the moon cake recipe for the answers.

Lantern Riddles:
  1. Which is faster, hot or cold?
  2. What building has the most stories?
  3. When is your mind like a rumpled bed?
  4. What do you call a witch at the beach?
  5. They are twin sisters of the same height. they work in the kitchen, arm in arm. whatever is cooked, they always try it first.
  6. When I slap you, I slap me. When I hit you, my blood flows.
  7. It will follow you for 1000 miles and never miss home. It desires neither food nor flowers. It fears not water, fire, knives nor soldiers. It disappears when the sun sets behind the western mountains.
  8. Half is above ground, and half is in the ground. Half is solid, and half empty. Half is white, and half green. Half is eaten, and half thrown away.

Moon cakesWant a recipe to make your own moon cakes? Try this one!

Answers to the Riddles:
  1. Hot’s faster; you can catch a cold.
  2. A library
  3. When it’s not made up.
  4. A sandwich
  5. Chopsticks
  6. A mosquito
  7. A shadow
  8. A scallion

Happy Mid-autumn Festival, everyone! Please share with us your favorite holiday traditions or riddles.