"Have you ever thought of wearing a bicycle helmet during a long-haul flight?" Well, Doug Lansky, an internationally acclaimed travel journalist and speaker has. "Considering the amounts of head injuries that were caused from falling luggage, last year, it would probably make sense to do so."
And so began Lansky's talk at ITB Berlin 2013 before hundreds of listeners who squeezed themselves into a packed hall to be inspired by his thought-provoking ride – yet another humor-filled, although sometimes also shocking, journey through the misnomers, blunders and negative social behaviors inundating the travel world, at the ITB-Berlin.
A favorite of the travel industry speaker's circuit, Lansky continued to place particular emphasis on the growing phenomena of traveler's ever-growing detachment from the real essence of travel – that being contact with the local environment. Doug Lansky, Travel Writer
Social and digital media, with all their positive benefits for travel have contributed to anti-social trends in the world today.
"Remember when you used to go to a youth hostel, years ago, with everyone sitting around a common area chatting with each other [slide projection: young people facing each other engaged in lively conversation]? Well this is what chatting looks like today [slide projection: young people sitting in a common area glaring into computer screens and ‘chatting' with everyone around the world but not with the people sitting in the same room].The audience burst out laughing
Of course it is not always like this, but Lansky did get his point across, when his audience burst out laughing to this and the dozens of slides he showed, throughout his hour-long presentation - his point being that mass tourism, in particular, has brought people further away from their desire to discover the unknown.
Lansky did his best not to outright blame the 'all-inclusive' industry for leading this detachment phenomenon, underlining that even he finds occasional benefit in it. But he did see it as one cause for much that is going wrong in the travel experience today – particularly uncontrolled, mass tourism."Travellers are detached from local interaction
Today, we take culture and put it in a museum… we've been doing this now for so long that we are beginning to take this for granted. Travellers are so detached from the real thing we know as discovery and local interaction. It is sort of like a landlord asking his butler to go jogging for him. That's simply not 'real'," Lansky said in jest.
"Someone else is having your foreign experience but you are not [slide projection: (1) Indonesian worker making Garuda Airline's western style food, (2) Chinese serving American style hamburgers in Bejing McDonald's]. But what are you getting out of your trip?" Lansky asked, implying that far too many travellers are not even trying out the local cuisine, opting for the foods they are familiar with from home.
Lansky could not explain why so many people today are unable to travel without leaving home behind them – a behavior he calls "irrational".Travellers treat locals as if they were in the zoo
"This kind of behavior leads us to enjoy 'unique' experiences like this [slide projection: an ocean of people at the base of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris]."
Lansky blames, in large part, the travel resource industry for failing to address or not placing enough emphasis on sustainable and socially responsible travel. "Far too many people are treating people of other cultures as they if were in a zoo," Lansky said, questioning the uniqueness of such experiences.
He also finds that both on and offline travel resources should take on the responsibility of reminding even the most well seasoned traveller about the charm that lies in discovering the "truly unique" as well as well as providing them with rules of behaviour and dress when visiting a foreign culture.Nobody any more needs to ask a direction
"But believe it or not, even the tourist resource industry is partly to blame that we are always experiencing less contact with the locals. With all the tourist information available today, [i.e. GPS maps for example], many travellers no longer need to ask even the most basic of questions [directions, for example] which, in the past used to be one of the keys for meeting locals.
Although social media has distanced people from conversing with their immediate neighbors, Lansky does see the web as one way to find ways to "meet the locals" as well. He said that sleeping over in a private home was one of the best ways to get a true "local experience", today. He pointed out some websites which facilitate this contact: couchsurfing, visit-a-swede and lunchedIn.
Lansky said that online resources were also a great way to bring people with similar interests together. "A French fencer could log into the website of the Swedish-national-sport-club to find a fencing group with whom he might be able to train, while visiting Sweden. This is what I would call organic relationship building," Lansky said
"Tourism can definitely be ruined by tourism", Lansky believes. Tourism numbers to increase 30-fold in close future
He concluded his presentation by making a plea for more managed tourism. "The reason that this has not be done before is because there is not easy formula in place to do it. The entire travel industry, led perhaps by the National Tourist Boards, need to work together to implement true sustainable tourism…. What we need is what I coined DEMO, a Destination Experience Marketing Organisation. Without this, how can the industry promote an idyllic beach that will end up being littered or exploited in the end?," Lansky asked.
With tourism numbers set to increase 30-fold in the coming years, Lansky sent out a warning to the travel industry about the urgency to begin making changes now.
Managed destination tourism might mean a long line in front of a national park such as at the Inca Trail or in the Grand Canyon. But without it, people just won't fit anymore. Lansky told 4Hoteliers he does believe that once dynamic travel management mechanism is put into place on a global level that people will then learn to plan and manage their own travels accordingly - booking the most popular sites in advance and learning to travel more in the off-season, for example.Bhutan tourism industry encouraging example
Lansky used the Bhutanese travel industry as one example of how this could work. Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world which restricts the number of visitors allowed to enter the country at any given time – in their quest to preserve national traditions. "The Bhutanese are not restricting travel, they are only redistributing it to make it sustainable," Lansky said.
4Hoteliers can't determine whether or not Lansky has been successful at changing the way his audiences look at travel or not. However, he does leave them with plenty of food for thought and a memorable experience.Doug Lansky is the author of 10 books, including two for Lonely Planet and three for Rough Guides. He has written for dozens of travel publications including Scandinavian Airlines' inflight magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Reader's Digest, Esquire, Men's Journal, The Guardian, National Geographic Adventure, World Hum, and Huffington Post.This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.
Roland also heads the annual 4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams for the 5th consecutive years.