Overbooked :: Effects of Mass Tourism

Overbooked_1Former New York Times and Washington Post correspondent Elizabeth Becker spoke  in the Ralph Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State about her research for Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, published in 2014.  

Here are my thoughts on the presentation:

In 1980 there were 250 million tourists. In 1995, 500 million. By 2012?

Wait for it….

One billion tourists roved the planet in search of someplace different than home.

Then there’s the environmental impact of the mammoth cruise ships, idling buses, trains, planes, ferries or cars they rode in on. Where ever that someplace may be, there’s an impact – sometimes positive, often negative.

With the arrival of the deadly 2019 coronavirus pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2,  we now know that confined spaces are exponentially dangerous for humans.  Conditions and requirements for safe travel are in the process of changing.  The environmental problems caused by increased global tourism described in Overbooked may abate while population lockdowns are in force.  Ultimately, people will begin to travel again when the virus abates.

Elizabeth Becker discussed the research and analysis behind her work Overbooked,  The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism published by Simon & Schuster in 2014. Becker pointed out that tourism provides opportunities for advancing public diplomacy and ran us through the efforts of savvy countries like France, Costa Rica, China and others with national marketing programs.

Everybody wants to attract tourists from BRIC countries and from China most of all. France harnessed the economic power of tourism decades ago. The “well-heeled, educated tourists” leave their RMB, Rupees, Reals, and Rubles throughout France, not just Paris. France shaped an integrated win-win marketing strategy that drills down to agricultural networks so provincial inns will have enough succulent organic lamb chops for the menus. Every week, a cultural festival in different regional towns ensures a steady stream of visitors. The tourism ministry even issued a detailed marketing report on how to attract Chinese tourists.

Anyone who’s been out and about during the 21st century knows about the crowds of people in security screening queues, the ragged lines of weary travelers waiting for taxis, the wait at airport check-in kiosks or counters, and there they are blocking the aircraft aisles while cramming stuffed baggage into overhead bins.  All the snaking lines offer excellent viral transmission encounters as people wait facing towards other people.  Unless the waiting lines in high-traffic airports and other transport hubs are strategically redesigned and spaced differently, pandemic infections will likely flourish.

The 2012 annual assessment that over one billion tourists increased by 2020, despite the hiatus caused by SARS-CoV-2. during the Winter of 2019 and Spring-Summer 2020.  Travelers do spend their money at popular locations like Hawai’i which relies on visitors for more than 20% of the state’s economy.  Dependency on tourism is not a sustainable economic position as many nations and states discovered during the Coronavirus pandemic of 2019-2020. There will be about 60% revenue shortfall by the end of 2020 if the outbreak continues and people defer their travel plans.

us tourism industry decline
There’s no national tourism marketing program for the U.S.A.  Alas, the U.S. government abandoned international promotion of U.S. tourism around 1995. Since 2011, tourist traffic to the States has flat-lined, creating what’s called “the lost decade” by travel industry professionals, said Becker. During the same decade, the number of tourists roaming the world nearly doubled.

In 2009, more Chinese people ventured to Paris than anywhere in the entire USA, including Hawai’i, Becker pointed out.   U.S. government efforts to leverage tourism to improve the international image of the U.S. are lightweight or non-existent. Tourism marketing is left to the individual states, Becker pointed out, but most states don’t have the resources to integrate with regional or national travel networks, let alone market themselves to lucrative overseas markets.

Carnival Dream cruise ship.

Carnival Dream cruise ship.

The impact of gigantic cruise ships damages the ocean ecosystem and shore environments. Fragile Venice receives 20 to 24 million tourists a year.

I wonder if there is an internal migration issue as well, as in China, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere. Farm families go to the big cities or regional tourist destinations to work on hotel construction or service jobs. Many rural people can no longer afford to live in their own region because there’s not enough work that pays a living wage.

Angkor Wat took in 800,000 tourists in the first quarter of 2013, yet the province of Siem IMG_6726Reap, in which the vast archeological site and city of temples Angkor Wat lies, is now Cambodia’s poorest area with devastating environmental degradation and declining water resources.

It’s not all bad though – Costa Rica practically invented eco-tourism thirty years ago and maintains highly sustainable programs. African game safari tourism outfitters are key stakeholder in protecting animals and communities, Becker commented.  Alaska is heavily invested in showing Asian tourists the natural treasures of the Arctic.

She mentioned that the U.S. could encourage residents and citizens to learn foreign languages to be better hosts for those potential visitors.  Could the incentive of jobs in the tourism sector motivate students, educators and policy makers to deal with the foreign language learning deficit in the United States?

Posted in Books, Budget Travel, Education, environment, Geography, History, Nature, Oceanography, Pandemics, Tourism Business, Travel, Travel Knowledge, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Patzcuaro, Uruapan and St. Clara de Cobre

Lake at sunset
Lago de Patzcuaro

For a weekend excursion by car from Mexico City, follow the toll road west from La Capital towards to Toluca and Morelia to the towns of UruapanPatzcuaro and the magical artisan community St. Clara de Cobre.  

Lago de Patzcuaro is a volcanic lake and home to the early indigenous tribe that worked copper, said to be the only copper artisans in Central America. They used copper for their hatchets and other weapons as well as to make containers.  

Recommended buildings for visitors to visit in Patzcuaro include Casa de los Once Patios (House of the Eleven Patios), Biblioteca Gertrudis Bocanegra with the celebrated murals bv Juan O’Gorman and the Basilica.

The market area includes House of Eleven patios offers souvenir goods, however a few shops tucked away off the main walking route, do sell authentic hand-woven cotton cloth, copper containers and decorative creations, placemats, and inlaid wooden items.  Survey the entire shopping area before buying, not to search for better prices, but unusual items or better quality work and design.

Tzintzuntzan is the meso-American archeological site above the town, the area of the Chichimecas tribes. Bring along a guidebook for historical perspective. In the town of Tzintzuntzan, the Franciscan Monastery grounds were planted by the Spanish monks with olive trees that are still growing there fine hundred and ten years later.  
In Uruapan, to the northwest of Park Eduard Ruiz which lies in a deep ravine, there’s a liquor store (address: 87C Pino Suares)  an outlet for the liquor factory, located outside of town.  They sell sugar cane liquor (aka rum or charanda), in various flavors.  Charanda Dorada el Terasco is a favorite. 

I bought coffee flavored liquor, remembering my student days in Toronto, when we would make the delicious potion at home with raw alcohol (Ever-Clear) and thick coffee syrup made with excessive doses of powdered espresso coffee concentrate.  You were supposed to let it cure for a few weeks, but I always seemed to crack open the bottle early.  Four months after buying this Mexican coffee liquor, it is still sealed.

In the copper shops in the village of Santa Clara de Cobre, you can watch artisans at work.  The fierce banging of mallets and shaping tools on the dense copper shapes could be a drawback for visitors, so bring ear plugs if noise bothers you.  This town is famous for the traditional artisans who work in copper. The nearby Copper Museum displays metal working tools set up and ready for use.

Ask to see the obsidian ornaments.  Copper bells and smaller objects are for sale.  The bells look a little like castanets and are similar to bells attached to grazing animals.  Oval in shape, with clapper covered by two oval sides.

Where to Stay: In Patzcuaro, the Hotel Posada Don Vasco, Best Western Hotel with pool, restaurant and attractive grounds.  Single room rates vary depending on the peso-dollar exchange rate.  Rooms numbers 501 to 507 have balconies overlooking gardens.  

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Goddess of Travel


Western Hemisphere 
Trivia, a Roman diety, is said to be the goddess of commerce and travel.  She is an aspect of Artemis/Diana with three heads to represent the place where three roads meet or the triune goddess of  earth, heaven and the underworld. During a life cycle, we travel through those worlds.  Her Latin name is  Taurian Artemis.  Another form of the name is Termemina which protects the life and death cycle.
Ayizan, in the Haitian symbolic tradition, is the first ‘mat’ laid on original water represented by a palm leaf.  She takes the form of serpent, protects the marketplace, roads, doorways and gates.  Her alternate name is Ayizan Velequete.
Eastern Hemisphere
Inari of Japan is a Shinto goddess described as a vixen associated with commerce and travel, life and death cycle, sexuality, wealth, hunting and wild animals.  These are also attributes of Artemis/Diana in the Greco-Roman tradition.  And like Artemis, this icon protects prosperity bringing long life.  She is affiliated with rice and fertility.  
Poi-Soya-Un-Mat, from the Ainu province of Japan, is the woman of Poi Soya who raised herself above the gods, dressed like a man to go hunting and sailing like a trader.
Tian-Fei  is the sailor’s goddess of navigation and safe passage.  The Celestial Spouse originates in Chinese tradition to protect travel and commerce.
Doumou, or Toumo is the goddess of the Northstar, and she also originates in China. Buddhists and Daoists invoke her while traveling and for protection from disease and war. It’s possible that she is affiliated with Marichi from India and also Buddhist goddesses Guan yin and Maritchi the Queen of heaven, a Buddhist dawn goddess of three faces, who is not known to offer travel protection. 
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Connections :: Link with Nature

Oahu landscape © L. Peat O’Neil 2020

Check out this interesting theme about meeting ourselves, knowing our links with the natural world.  After all, we are part of nature.

Discussion with Tina Welling, author of Writing Wild.  

Tasmania © 2020 L. Peat O’Neil

Quebec Winter © 2020 L. Peat O’Neil

© 2020 L. Peat O’Neil

©2020 L. Peat O’Neil

Rabbit Island © 2012 L. Peat O’Neil

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Nymphs of Nitrodi:: Ancient Hot Springs on Ischia

Ischia Greek Culture 2019-06-16  During June 2019, I scanned this brochure describing the Nitrodi Springs on Ischia,  an island SW of Naples.  Ischia Nymphs at Nitrodi Springs


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Lava Disaster On the Island of Hawai’i

The Kilauea Lava Disaster of 2018 brought devastation to many residents of Puna, the region south of Hilo, Hawai’i that includes the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano. This is not the first time the region was graced with lava.  USGS topographical maps tell the story of the Puna lava outbreaks of 1955 and 1960.  Kilauea sent a steady stream of lava at various intervals to Kalapana and other areas on the eastern and southern regions of the volcano.  In 2014, a slow moving lava flow passed through a cemetery and stopped at the Pahoa recycling center.  There were eruptions that ran into the ocean between 2015 and 2017.  Then on May 4, 2018 a massive earthquake fostered a major eruption that continued until August, 2018.  The lava is still hot in some areas.

Residents were forced to evacuate under pressure of advancing lava by the end of May.  Many lost everything.  While County of Hawai’i Civil Defense monitoring was robust when the volcanic eruption captured worldwide media attention, County action on rebuilding and recovery could now be characterized as listless.

The county representatives began with a presentation about how they wanted the meeting to proceed. But the group would have none of that and in unison boomed out, “We want to know when will Route 132 be rebuilt! “
Many called out,  “What’s the county doing to work with the geothermal plant contractors already pushing through lava to their facility?” Again and again, people spoke out,  “When will we be able to get to our homes and farms?”
I had arrived early for the meeting and spoke with a representative of the County, learning that one of the goals for the evening was to “get people’s stories about the disaster.” This is part of an effort to reanimate news coverage and tourism after the lava flow that made countless people homeless and consumed acres of productive agricultural land, pastures and public recreational areas.
Individual stories, heartfelt examples of what the disaster has wrought on the community, families, individuals and institutions could be presented to state legislators, the county council or even the U.S. Congress to explain the extent of loss and begin to quantify needs to restore economic viability and human stability.
The greatest need from the perspective of people whose farms and homes were cut off from road access by the lava was repeated often: “We need the public roads repaired and replaced for access to our land and homes!”
The County participated in the talk story meeting with those profoundly disadvantaged by the lava inundation to ask affected residents about how visitors — tourists — could better understand the impact of the lava and show respect for local culture and Hawai’ian traditions of respect. The county is gathering thoughts from school-age youth and local residents to create a Pono ethics code for the Hawaii Tourism Authority to convey to tourism industry stake-holders and their customers.
By communicating to visitors the challenges faced by locals during and after the lava flow, officials anticipate that tourists will have a better understanding of local people’s priorities and possibly reduce potential conflicts due to lava viewing or lava tours for visitors that stray onto local family land. The County of Hawai’i website now provides facts for potential tourists to the island of Hawai’i (aka Big Island).
I was reminded by a Kama’aina friend today that Pono is not an elastic term or concept, but a specific Hawaiian word meaning ‘righteous.’ Is this righteous advice to tourists or an expression of the righteous behavior that Hawaiians expect of tourists?
How to finance repairs of the roads and how to best manage the influx of tourists in search of lava viewing thrills are the thorny questions for which no answers were offered during the meeting.
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Cacao to Chocolate – Agricultural Commodity Chain

This Post is a work in progress. The Keynote presentation needs to be reformatted into segments to view online.

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NOAA Scholarship Program

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) honors Dr. Nancy Foster with a scholarship program. particularly for women and members of minority groups.


 Dr. Foster hosing down the newly recovered anchor from the USS Monitor. 1983, NOAA.

Dr. Nancy Foster was the former Assistant Administrator for Oceanic Services and Coastal Zone Management at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The scholarship celebrates her advanced understanding and appreciation of marine ecosystems. She died of a brain tumor on June 27, 2000.

The Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program was signed into law on November 13, 2000. Other tributes to Dr. Nancy Foster include naming the Florida Keys Environmental Center in her honor and the  NOAA ship NANCY FOSTER  which was commissioned on May 10, 2004. Her legacy of leadership and outstanding contributions in advancing NOAA’s mission continues through the scholarship program.

The scholarship program supports master’s and doctoral studies in oceanography, marine biology, maritime archaeology and all other science, engineering, social science and resource management disciplines involving ocean and coastal areas.  The program covers tuition and a living stipend.  There are numerous masters and doctoral level programs where scholars may apply the scholarship support, including UCLA  the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography,  as well as other universities.


Application for the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program 

2017 Students Awarded Foster Scholarships

Information about the Foster Scholarship


Posted in Awards, Education, Geography, Hawai'i, Marine Science, Oceanography, Outdoors Life, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Travel Beginner

I wrote this little piece about my earlier travels–about an attempt to travel from Italy to Egypt and beyond.   You’ll read it on Medium Publications,  a new online platform related to Twitter, but you don’t have to write in 140 teeny-weeny non-words.

Here’s the article in The Economist where I learned about Medium. Writers are invited to publish their own work on Medium.  If you’re interested in memoir, you may enjoy reading this commentary.

sphinx postcard

Postcard from Giza

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Memoir Writing

Somewhere between documentary and created personal myth, today’s memoir is a seductive medium. After all, whom is more interesting to write about than one’s self? Memoir writing is recalling events stored in human memory. It’s currently a popular form for writers of essays and creative non-fiction. Some memoirs even strive to report life rooted in fact.

Author near pilgrimage cross in Rousillion_Pyrenees0002

Resting at a way-sign, Pyrenees Pilgrimage, September 2001. Old-style ‘selfie’ photo.

I looked up memoir in my Hachette Oxford French dictionary and was surprised to see that the literary context is the third meaning of the word, after a full column of English meanings related to administrative memos, dissertations, legal statements, and computer storage. Why did I look up memoir in a French dictionary? Because those pesky French are dedicated to meticulous language management and the book was easier to lift than Vol. 1 of the Shorter OED.

It turns out that the OED dedicates less space to the word memoir and roughly follows the order of meaning as presented in the French-English dictionary. The OED’s second meaning is “A record of events or history from personal knowledge or from special sources of information; an autobiographical or (occas.) biographical record.”   A record of events or history from personal knowledge.

Nothing about idealized autobiography, my life according to me, or too-vivid recollection laced with exciting falsehoods and recreated dialogue.

I enjoy reading memoirs, or at least I did, until just about everybody breathing decided their life was interesting enough to report. (Or embellish, in the case of some creative non-fiction writers.) Most memoirs I dip into and reject have the depth of a corridor and the nuance of two walls. I’ll call those the memory lane story books.

To write a memoir you have to have a life to write about. A full life, not a single turning point or a shocking event. Too many memoirs trace skeins of recollection that knit a hair shirt of abusive or cruel parents, wallow in voluntary pursuit of sexual, criminal or chemical excess, or turn on happenstance. Are there memoirs-in-the-making that center on “What happened to me on 9-11.”

Let’s look at “this terrible thing happened to me” memoir. Some of the voices telling these escapades are self-involved, linear talk-show chatter glued between covers. Or they preach and warn, as if lives followed predictable routes. Am I cruel to say that these writers don’t seem to have much else to examine or write about arising from their lives except “the big bad thing.”

Then there are the “I survived, so you can too” memoirs that suggest that people’s lives can be compared. They can’t be; we’re all way too different. Two legs, two arms, and two eyes, etc. doesn’t make us similar or the same in terms of experience, psyche, brain or behavioral type.

Perhaps people with only one big life event to discuss shouldn’t attempt memoir. At least not until they’ve lived a life – say, three score or seventy years – and can put the big event in context. To limit their personal horizons to focus on an experiential element that’s still governing their thoughts years ex post facto, signals to me that the authors haven’t thought enough, haven’t placed their experiences in perspective or used the big event to learn something useful to the rest of us. Does publication expiate demons?

The writers who explore their memoirs of personal obsessions and failings also abuse the publishing platform. To me, it is intellectually short sighted to operate under the premise that addictions and low-life explorations are unique.   Just because an author chooses not to write about a sexually defined youth doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. Or two hundred. If an author decides to gloss over the scummy process of drug rehab doesn’t mean it was easy. I’m suggesting a little restraint and living life long enough to have something to say. Do we really need more books about how stupid, dependent, vapid and weak humans can be?

A few gifted writers parse their personal sufferings in a useful way without pandering to the gawkers. Most of us just sound silly babbling in over-exposure; therapy sessions gone public.

The genre I know best is travel memoir. The travel memoirist steers lightly across memory lane, in the context of the journey through a place. The elegance lies in developing and expanding the people encountered and the settings absorbed, rather than simply prattling about the writer’s perspectives on the people or opinion of places seen. Perhaps the travel memoir about place meets a touchstone in the author’s past experience, just for a moment.

The travel memoir edges towards being biography of place.   History, commentary by other visitors, language and cultural change, climate and geography all play in a travel-ish memoir.

I urge focus on the people of a place. Let the locals show and tell their story. The travel memoirist reports their narratives set in the structure of the author’s journey.   If a situation tempts you to follow memory lane and its tangents, go ahead and write, but be prepared to sharpen the de-boning knife and slice off that self-indulgent thigh meat, perhaps to be used elsewhere.

At issue is the reader’s expectation. The reader of a travel memoir wants the story of the trip and will tolerate digressions that illuminate the person doing the trip. But, when the tangent down memory lane engages characters we don’t know and haven’t met in the current narrative, or enters realms of the author’s head, or cites the ‘you had to be there at the time’ excuse, best to cut. In travel memoir, the subject is the place, not you and what it means to you.

Sometimes the universe contrives to teach. In a chapter in my book on walking across France in the Pyrenees, I was discussing meeting a traveler on the footpath. He was headed to Santiago and the spittin’ image of someone I was fond of and traveled with during my twenties, one of those spirited youthful adventures memory laners are fond of writing about. It was fun to write about this tangent to my journey and each time I revised the chapter, that particular segment grew. After all, what is more interesting than our own selves? Soon I was poking around in my own mind more than connecting the reader with the place and action at hand, which in this instance was St. Jean Pied du Port, a gateway city to the Camino.

While I wrote about how amazed I was that some stranger who looked just like Dr. X was proposing we walk a long distance together, just like X and I had talked about during cross country road trips, I easily slid back into the mid 1970’s. I was writing happily in my memory lane.

Meanwhile, waves of sheep were scampering across the farm lane where we were chatting. A storm the night before had watered the pastures, revived the grass. A cheese-making town was just over that ridge and a few miles ahead, the pilgrimage way station of Ostabat.  The reader of a travel memoir about Basque lands probably wants to know about how two shepherds and three dogs control several hundred sheep, wants to taste the local cheese, perhaps read about the medieval traditions of pilgrimage and how the locals greet modern day pilgrims. The reader wants to be in the moment of that travel scene. But I was more interested in exploring my fond memories and the crossed stars of coincidence.

Now, don’t come away with the idea that you leave yourself out of the memoir narrative. Not at all. Proportion is the key. Readers of memoir want to know the narrator and some of the quirky experiences that make the author believable and consistent. They also want context and factual grounding.

Personal experience makes more sense set against a fact based backdrop. Let the reader know what the world at large was doing while you were stuck in rehab or losing wealth as the dot-com you founded foundered. Use your life to make a point, but make sure the lesson is larger than your “oh poor me” feelings.

I’ll finish up in just a sentence or two, but first, I want to tell you how the universe conspired to teach me the difference between memory lane and travel memoir.

The universe arranged that my computer flashed a fatal error message and blasted into the black hole beyond your hard drive, the version of my Basque walk with all the memory lane stuff, which I hadn’t yet saved.

Gone, all my musings about the meaning of meeting the duplicate stranger on the path to Santiago. When I re-read the earlier version that survived the error blackout, I realized that the chapter was better for having lost the paragraphs of infatuation with coincidence and self-indulgent memory lane gazing.

Note: A slightly different version of this essay appeared in Wordhouse, a Baltimore publication for writers.

Posted in Freelance Writing, Memoir, Motivation, Outdoors Life, Pilgrimage, Travel, Writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments