Today we visited Cliffs of Moher and Galway, both huge tourist destinations in Ireland. Even on our bus, you could hear several different languages being spoken from Spanish to German to English. While tourism in countries like Ireland are huge part of the economy that provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, I’ve always viewed it as a double-edged sword. The tourism industry brings great benefits to the economy, but these benefits can also threaten the local culture and are easily disrupted by national emergencies, such as the COVID 19 pandemic.
From my experience of going to places that are highly touristic, it can honestly bring a sense of sadness witnessing how rich local cultures can be diluted into commodities that can be bought and sold. For example, if you visit the Coliseum, you will definitely see several men dressed as gladiators charging tourists to take a picture with them. I had an even more shocking experience this most recent spring break when I visited the Mayan ruins in Yucatan, Mexico with a guided tour. Most notably, everyone on the guided tour was pushed to participate in a Mayan ritual of which they knew nothing about, and then funneled into a gift shop where people tried to sell you the stone deities that were used during the ceremony. I couldn’t believe I had fell for such a tourist trap. So far, none of my experiences in Ireland have been as shocking as experiences I’ve had before, but I have noticed the standard gift shops and stands selling various Irish memorabilia.
Countries that are highly dependent on tourism were hard hit when the pandemic closed international borders and travel because their economies were not diversified. One economic blow put hundreds of thousands of people out of jobs. This implicitly brings an unequal power dynamic between countries that are highly dependent on tourism and those that are not. When this happens, businesses in heavily touristic areas may cater to the preferences of foreigners (usually Westerners) because they dependent on their satisfaction to survive, which in turn causes a loss to the local culture. I’m not sure how much Ireland as a country is dependent on tourism, so I’d be interested in learning more about in the next coming week.