Tourism in a Postcolonial Age
Tourism, in countless magazines and blogs, can seem utopian. It often paints variously idyllic scenes of sunbathing on pristine beaches, partying until sunrise and endless shopping sprees.
For others, travel is also about experiencing different and ‘exotic’ cultures, perhaps wandering beyond the resorts to mingle with locals and feeling a little more worldly in the process.
A much less common conception of tourism is as a neocolonial practice. Holding firm to promised fantasies of faraway lands, many of us go and return, blissfully ignorant of the ways in which we contribute to the destruction, exploitation and degradation of those countries and their peoples.
In her essay, ‘“Lovely hula hands”: Corporate tourism and the prostitution of Hawaiian culture’, Hawaiian intellectual Haunani-Kay Trask (1991, p. 14) closes with the injunction: ‘If you are thinking of visiting my homeland, please do not. We do not want or need any more tourists, and we certainly do not like them’.
For Trask, tourism is the cause of the mass commercialisation of Hawai’i, economic oppression of the industry’s workers, and destruction of the natural environment. Many go to Hawai’i blindly chasing a commodified fantasy of the ‘Island Paradise’, yet as Trask (1999, p. 61) describes, ‘when they leave, tourists have learned nothing of our people and our place’.
Similarly, our colonial forebearers had little interest in the native peoples who owned the lands that they occupied. In records from India in 1843, an English woman was asked what she had seen of the country and the natives since she had been in India: ‘Oh nothing’ , the lady answered, ‘Thank goodness, I know nothing at all about them, nor do I wish to, really; I think the less one sees and knows of them, the better!’ (Maitland, 1843, p. 53 in Ghose, 1998, p. 1).
When modern day tourism is seen within the context of historical colonialism, it becomes easier to empathise with even the most anti-tourism sentiments like those expressed by Trask.
But contemporary life is one of contradiction.
Many of us find it impossible to avoid travel in an increasingly globalised world. It is also unrealistic for me to believe that a few zealous individuals burning our passport in self-sacrificial anti-colonial resistance will halt neocolonialism and reverse all the trauma and violence of historical colonialism.
In these spaces of contradiction, I believe it is the necessary to search for alternative ways of ‘doing tourism’. We are in desperate need of radical reflection in innovating ways of travelling that are as fun and relaxing as they are ethical and respectful.
Ghose, I. (1998). Women travellers in colonial India: The power of the female gaze. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Trask, H.-K. (1991), ‘“Lovely hula hands”: Corporate tourism and the prostitution of Hawaiian culture’, Contours, 5(10), pp. 8–14.
Trask, H.-K. (1999). From a native daughter: Colonialism and sovereignty in Hawai?i. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.