Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tourism and politics

Travel and tourism in general cannot stay away from the influences of politics, either the first aspect that we have in mind is instantly related to leisure and pleasures of the carefree life of a backpacker. After following for a couple of days the discussions organized at ITB Berlin, I decided that there are many points to be considered for a political or geopolitical - a terms that I don't fancy too much - view on tourism.

First and foremost, the home politics of a country are the first incentive or deterrent to a successful tourism sector. The taxes and the dedicated budget, the agreement or disagreement of politicians regarding the proper country branding as well as the economic development of the country as such influences directly the degree of attractiveness of a country. If the central government does not offer, for instance, special incentives to the tourism industry, the packages offered to the tourists will be expensive and the services overcharged and thus, the tourists will better move their tents to the neighbouring countries. 

Never forget the corruption. The degree of corruption in a country will most likely affect the everyday life of a tourist. I often went travelling in countries where the taxi drivers were overcharging me only because they caught me that I do not speak the local language or that I am obviously not a local. The same corruption reflects in special prices - 3-4 times higher - for foreign tourists and various extra taxes applied to everything. If they stole you, you will not want to return and will make bad publicity to the place you've been to. 

The overall stability in a country is very important. Egypt, for instance, lost around 17% of the revenues offered through the tourist activities due to the general instability of the last 12 months. Iran, despite the important amount of funds used to pay trips of foreign journalists from various European and East European countries, goes through a decline in terms of number of tourists and there it is no question why this happens. 

Many tourists and subsequently, the tourist agencies, will prefer to invest in countries where they do not need to worry for the safety of their customers. Westerners, among them Germans, dare to visit the South of Yemen and various African countries, including Nigeria, but their number is not as high as to determine a boost of tourism. Myanmar and Ivory Coast are trying to convince the tourists that things changed and there is no dangers, but this is until you will find another news about human rights abuses and kidnapping of foreigners. Ironically enough, Pakistan presented at the ITB some leaflets with taliban-looking men advertising tours in Kandahar area. I did not dare to ask them how many German tourists took the challenge for such an unique opportunity. 

I, personally, refuse to travel in countries where the record of human rights is in jeopardy. Thus, it is a long list of countries where I will not put my feet, even though I may be interested from the cultural and historical point of view. After all, there are my money that I don't want to be used for subsidizing a terrorist state. 

The freedom of travel affects considerably the options of tourism. Long time ago, many citizens from the former Eastern European block were unable to enjoy the right of free circulation. Their entrance to an airport in Paris, London or Berlin, capital cities they were used to dream about during the Cold War was the result of long lines in the front of the EU embassies and a lot of bureaucracy. US is using nowadays the same pattern, but compared with two decades ago, everything changed for good. Sooner or later, the doors of the 'golden country' will open to the curious citizens of the former Eastern bloc. 

On a very optimistic note, I wish I live in a world free where you can travel without worries.