A Follow Up to My Recent Rant Re: Mexican Tourism

Today, a rant of mine was published on Conde Nast that expressed my frustration with being treated so much like a tourist not only in certain parts of Mexico, but in many destinations around the world. Some times and in some places, I don’t feel like a welcome visitor who is encouraged to walk amongst the people and explore and learn, I feel like a tourist who is encouraged to buy things and move on.

As a travel writer and a part of the press, I feel somewhat responsible for how the industry develops in the future given the “watchdog” aspect of journalism in which I believe so strongly. Maybe by pointing things out here and there (and everywhere), I can help it grow organically and authentically. Or at least help a school of thought be heard. There is truth to the claim that certain types of tourism can become viruses that destroy cultures over time, and I have to call it like I see it when I have the chance. For better or worse, that’s how I’ve always been.

As with all things, the sustainable approach is probably the best approach in the long run. Destinations need to learn to focus on what they do best, what makes them unique, instead of slinging souvenirs. There is nothing wrong with creating a resort environment within a destination, but I feel it is a problem once the resort atmosphere becomes the destination. We need to learn how to make these worlds coexist and not be so black and white.

The piece I penned on Jaunted was full of thoughts I had while I was in Puerto Vallarta, after spending almost two weeks roaming the streets and exploring the coastline. It’s not that this experience would prevent me from returning to Puerto Vallarta (I think it has a lot of great opportunities, which I have written about in the past), it just happened to be the place I was when I realized how much that type of tourism takes away from my enjoyment of travel. I understand this is only my opinion and that plenty of people seem to have no problem with any of it, happy for the jobs and opportunities they bring the locals and visitors alike.

Fair enough, but I just don’t buy that at the moment. To me, it seems tourism sometimes splits destinations in half, separating the worlds of residents and visitors instead of having them overlap as I believe they should (and could). It is this line of thinking that has me impressed by the possibilities of people-to-people travel frameworks, such as the immersion that comes along with a concept like Airbnb. There is nothing wrong with indulging, relaxing, treating yourself, or staying at a hotel, but I do believe there is more to traveling than vacationing.

Here is the piece in its entirety if you’d like to check it out. This is the type of thing that could take generations to change, so I’m not so naïve to think it can be resolved overnight, but I also don’t doubt our ability to impact the future when we work together.

I don’t have all the answers, but I figure the first step, as always, is to get the wheels spinning.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mel. says:

    Simply acknowledging the basic split between the two is a huge help, I think: as someone who’s been debilitated by social anxieties for my entire life–and who only started traveling in any quantity about three years ago–I’ve got no qualms about admitting my preference for the beaten path and the guided approach. It’s hard enough to leave the house on some days, and that wonderful, raw nerve that’s required to simply throw caution to the wind is well out of my reach: as such, I appreciate the alternative from the gallery.

    It’s when the division becomes a mandate that things get twonky. I don’t need to hear about how my travel isn’t travel because I passed up that chance to eat a raw scorpion any more than I’d expect those consumed by wanderlust to be entertained by my stories of dinnertime chat on a Caribbean Cruise. Understanding that one size does not fit all–nor does it have to–is simply part of putting one’s roaming identity together, as we’re seeing here.

    1. Will McGough says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Mel. The war between travelers and vacationers is nothing new. I agree and totally respect that different people are built in different ways with different preferences and difference thresholds of adventure. Don’t let anyone tell you your travel isn’t travel – those people are only trying to justify their own experiences and decisions. At the end of the day, everyone’s experience is their own and no one can tell you what it means to you. That said, I do encourage people to push their boundaries and, as I said in the piece, find a way to take some perspective with them when they go home, to balance the ideas of traveling and vacationing. It sounds like you, in your own way and on your own terms, are doing just that. Keep it up!

  2. captcooke says:

    Interesting observations Will. The same could be said for many Caribbean destinations. My wife was once terrified of getting out of a cab because it was swarmed with peddlers. Now we always try to rent from locals who give us the inside skinny on places to avoid etc. St Thomas our next stop. East end though off the beaten track.

    1. Will McGough says:

      Happy New Year John! Peddlers always make me sad, too, mostly because I want to connect with them, and they don’t want anything more than my money. I like your style. When do you head off to St. Thomas? I was there once when I was in college.

      1. captcooke says:

        Just arrived last night Will. Iffy start but we made it.

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