I have been told by a very wise person that perhaps I should take another look at what I am writing and reconsider my approaches. So I have reassessed … she is completely right. I work in tourism because I believe it is a tool that can do so much good in the world, so why am I always complaining? Probably because this blog is based on recent things I hear in the news and as you well know, a lot of the things that we see in the news are negative. So lets switch this around and look at the positive in a negative story I heard this week.
The story that shocked me this week was a short documentary called The Elephant in the Room that was possibly inspired by the Blackfish effect. The short documentary investigated captive Elephants across zoos in Europe. I am sure you will agree it is an incredibly sad documentary. In many places we watch elephants in their concrete confines without really considering the cruelty behind it. So what positives can be taken from this story?
To contextualise my answer, around 15 years ago I travelled with my dad during my summer holidays at school. Visiting the hill tribes in Laos, eating weird and wonderful foods, speaking different languages and experiencing new approaches to life. But my holidays always had to end and I would leave them behind to sit in a class room to listen to an uninspiring teacher talk about the Russian revolution. I later realised the Russian revolution was actually a very interesting subject, but for a cardboard cut out of a teacher who has been teaching the same thing since the Russian revolution, it is not! Looking back I realise that I learned more on my trips with my father than I did in the whole time I was at secondary school.
Travel is becoming more available and popular than it ever was. The mix of beliefs and values we experience as we travel will no doubt formulate questions, requisitioning ones approaches to life, inspire further curiosity and create cultural awareness. Tourisms positive influences are now making or at least are beginning to influence change. Off course, popular culture like the news has a massive influence but the individual behind the media still needs to be inspired by something and will likely have to travel to document it. When people see these animals in their natural habitat, as did this family as they watched the Orcas herd salmon in the wild, it dawns on them that some things are very wrong with orcas or Elephants being in such small confinements. Travel brings you face to face with issues around the world that in turn influences people into doing something about it. This emersion creates a learning context to acknowledge and except differences, allowing you to;
I am sure people do not want to inflict harm on a creature, but through cultural traditions it soon becomes normality. I accept that tourism was a strong force behind elephant rides, orca captivity etc but I do not accept that this accounts for all tourism. The rise of responsible tourism makes me feel we are in times of change. Surges like the Blackfish effect, the removal of orphanage tourism from many operators itinerary’s and a re-evaluation on how elephants are treated are due to sudden changes of opinions. Travel engages us and at another level, it forces us to re-evaluate what we have come to know as the ‘norm’. It gives us the classroom to learn from each other. Who are we to say that we are right when documentaries like the ‘Elephant in the Room’, have quite clearly shown we are wrong so many times.
So in answer to my question, I think we should feel very positive when we see documentaries like The Elephant in the Room. We should celebrate the fact that these campaigns are signs that we are revaluating ourselves, we are realising that we are wrong sometimes and were working to fix it. I hope responsible travel continues to grow, who knows what we will learn from ourselves in the future?