I mentioned in a previous post, that I am in Xela for a few weeks to dust off my Spanish. Although the second biggest city of the country that is Guatemala is not on the tourist trail, there is still a fair amount of foreigners, the vast majority of which is studying Spanish at one of the many language schools and/ or is participating in a volunteering project. For a certain traveller Xela has a perfect balance of not being terribly touristy, but having a decent infrastructure to assist western foreigners. There is a decent amount of hipster cafes, that can satisfy one’s preference for coffee with coconut milk, wheat-free treats, smoothies and other hippy-food bollocks. There is a yoga studio housed in a shabby, yet charming colonial building. The building is pretty big, yet the studio itself seems to have been an old living room and with about 20 people or so in class, the place is absolutely packed. They offer yoga mats that are absolutely minging, but the teaching, by an international collection of instructors, who are actually living in the building*, is good and classes are dead cheap, even for Guatemalan standards. Not that I’ve sampled any of it, but the night life in Xela seems pretty decent as well.
When Tourism Becomes Prostitution
Most places that don’t suffer from a tourist and/ or ‘expat’ overload (yet), tend to welcome an influx of a certain type of foreigners, as they bring in mighty dollars, euros or yen and can liven up a place. Malta, the Mediterranean Rock I recently escaped from, has always been very excepting of and welcoming to tourists and foreigners- as long as the latter are westerners; Africans and Arabs seem to get a rather different treatment. Tourists have always brought in decent amounts of money to the country, that has no natural resources and very few other sources of income until very recently, and summers are considerably livelier, than the off-season. However, an increasing amount of (western) foreigners, who are settling on the island, are changing things a fair bit, when it comes to the off-season calm.
There are places that feel rather swamped by tourists and according to an article recently published in the not so-independent British newspaper the Independent, Amsterdam, the capital of my native Netherlands, is one of those places. I didn’t need an article to confirm a sentiment, that I’ve had for a few years; there are too many bloody tourists and foreign residents, who don’t speak a word of Dutch in Amsterdam’s city centre. It’s not unusual at all to step into a coffee shop, restaurant, or bike rental shop in the city centre, where you are not able to use the country’s native tongue, which just really pisses me off.
Amsterdam Before and After the Flood
I used to live in Amsterdam in another century for several years and the city always had quite a lot of tourists all year round. With the exception of a few places, the city centre was very much a place of Dutch-speaking locals and tourists and locals pretty much lived in segregated worlds. You wouldn’t find (a lot of) tourists in the places the locals frequented and vice versa. Times have definitely changed. Not that long ago I walked for 45 minutes or so through the city centre, where my friend Moira and her kid live and I was rather appalled not to hear a word of Dutch and to be addressed in English first, rather than Dutch. I’m sure Amsterdam is a sort of Disney Land to foreigners with all the coffee shops, metropolitan- like entertainment, English and some other language widely spoken everywhere and a general liberal attitude. Yet, the current floods of tourists have been absolutely detrimental to community cohesion in the city and in the city centre in particular.
I remember some 15 years or so ago, Amsterdam started to oversell itself with the slogan I AMsterdam. I had already left the city and the country by then. The marketing campaign clearly paid off in terms of the amount of tourists with an 8-fold increase of foreign visitors in about 10 years. Now the head of Amsterdam Marketing, Frans van der Avert, is quoted in the Independent article. He said that the city has had it with tourists, which is rather peculiar coming from the head of an organisation that is responsible for the massive influx.
The Changing World of Traveller- Tourist Exploration
There might be an idea amongst, especially older, travellers that all the best parts of the world have been explored and that a traveller- tourist life was much more chilled 20 or 30 years ago. When it comes to places like Amsterdam, Barcelona or Venice- the latter is interesting enough not mentioned in the article- then I am sure they have a point. There are, however, countries one couldn’t go to as a traveller- tourist 20 or 30 years ago. There are still plenty of regions unexplored and the majority of traveller- tourists wait until some sort of tourist infrastructure is in place. On the other hand, places like Libya, Syria or Iraq, which were great countries to travel in 20 years ago, are now pretty much off-limits due to infuriating foreign interference.
It is true that more and more people across the world get the opportunity to travel. Twenty five years ago it was pretty rare to see a Chinese tourist. Now, due to the growth of the Chinese middle classes, tourists from the most populous country in the world are to be found in pretty much every corner of the earthly plane. Sustainable tourism has been a fashionable term for quite a while, but perhaps with the exception of countries like Costa Rica and Namibia, most countries think sort term and quantity over quality. Until it’s too late and both locals as well as tourists get fed up. A population of a place fed up with tourists, is not nice to visitors, which is not particularly enhancing the visitors’ experience.
Xela, like any other place won’t be the same in 20 years’ time. People might get fed up with Antigua’s language’s school scene and/ or Xela might decide to totally sell itself as a more authentic alternative to Antigua; who is to say. We, as traveller- tourists can help the situation by behaving respectfully in the countries we visit. Cities, regions and countries can do their part by not treating themselves as low-life prostitutes. A tourist location, unless it’s a festival town like Montañita, where no one really lives, belongs to the people who live there, rather than the people, who visit and might bring in a decent amount of money, but don’t really respect the place.
Let residents and travel- tourists unite; everyone wants a happy place to live in and travel to.