The Tourism Invasion

Waterfront living has appealed to mankind since the beginning of time. Apart from finding the necessities of life near water, there is a feeling of calm which acts like a dopamine in our brains.  Water is mystical, spiritual and alluring. As travellers, we love to escape to tropical islands, lakeside cottages, and waterfront condos. however have we thought of the impact our “visits” have on the culture of those who live in the region.

As soon as we arrive in a foreign destination, we inadvertently impact the fabric and makeup of a culture. Tourist’s behaviour and interactions can create a value shift in the response of the local people. What lies behind their smile? Living on a 7 sq. mile tropical island (35 years ago) gave me a glimpse into the lives who were truly affected – both good and bad – by the onslaught of cruise ships, day visitors from neighbouring islands and short term visitors.

I think the hardest thing for me to watch was the attitude of youth, who were tantalized by “shiny objects” and for some, greed took over.  They saw ways to earn money from tourist “gawkers”, which was paramount to begging, stealing or duping the visitors they would never see again.

The natural resources on this tiny island were scarce.  Fresh water from our reservoir would run dry when 1,000+ people came ashore as the visitors flushed toilets and ran taps.  This created hardship for the local residents who didn’t have enough water in reserve for the necessities of life.  And why would anyone leave a dirty diaper (among other things) on the beach? Back then, before WiFi and selfies, the average tourist bought a soda and a postcard.  Very little revenue was generated to offset the cost of hosting mass tourism. 

The residents soon realized they were unprepared to handle the tourist invasion which was costing them money. Changes to the infrastructure were necessary for the betterment of the people. There was a lot of work ahead for the tourism board and planning committees who were mandated with the task to bring “good tourism” to the island.

When I brought my son to live on the island, I told him he’d have to “do without”.  We lived in a simple cottage up on a hill overlooking the harbour.  With no car, we walked the hilly paths and winding road into town, stopping at one house to order our provisions (vegetables) from a neighbour who went weekly to the mainland with our orders. Next it was on to the bakery (another house) to purchase our fresh, homemade bread and then finally we’d reach town for a few sundries and some socializing to catch up on the local news.  As a treat we would sometimes take the water taxi home, where we would refresh ourselves at the beach with a swim.   We had no TV, entertainment or gaming devices. My son brought very few toys, so he learned to be creative in nature’s playground.  He was homeschooled with a few other children and soon made friends. On the day we left our island paradise, my son asked me if he had “done without”.  He was 5 at the time and couldn’t have made me prouder if he’d tried. 

On subsequent visits to the island, I noticed how the fabric of the culture was changing. An outdoor mall had been built in town, and the local people were selling their wares to tourists who meandered the waterfront.  I felt sad to see the development, but then I also started to see more pride in the eyes of the local people. They were showcasing their culture through quality craftsmanship skills handed down through the ages and celebrating their history through music and the arts. They realized mass tourism was not their market. It was all about finding the balance.

On one visit a few years ago, I saw the island through the eyes of my husband who was visiting for the first time. We stayed in a guest cottage where we soon got into “island time”. My husband laughed to see they only sold 3 types of salad dressing in the tiny store – some things never change. He was also very sceptical when I handed $20 over to a complete stranger who said he would catch and cook 2 fresh lobsters and bring them to our cottage for dinner that night … and true to the stranger’s word, it was the best dinner we had on our visit!

One day we stopped by my old cottage where my landlady recognized me from 35 years ago.  While sitting on her front verandah, we talked for hours while she introduced us to her family visiting from Canada – and low and behold we had a connection through acquaintances we knew from back home. It was another memorable day.

Now you might ask what all this has to do with waterfront living.  Maybe nothing, but then again maybe everything. What will your impact be on the culture when you invest in an offshore property?  Will you integrate yourself into the lives of an existing community or try to change things to make them “more like home”. Intentions are good, but sometimes we don’t look at the long term ramifications of blending into a culture other than from our own perspective.

We suggest before investing, that you visit the destination, observe, listen, dialogue, and ask questions without judgement or assumptions. Not everything is as it appears. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. 

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