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.

Elizabeth Becker discussed the research and analysis behind her new 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 lines, 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.  The one billion tourists spend their money.  Too bad they aren’t leaving their moola in the U.S.A.

us tourism industry declineThere’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?

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Interview with Zoltán Géher

Special Interview With Zoltán Géher – XpatLoop.com – Specials

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Why Buy Ugly? :: The Aesthetic Cost of U.S. Taxpayer Financed Buildings

Why spend  money acquired from taxpaying U.S. citizens for structures that are ugly and not energy efficient? Why create more eyesore buildings?

People would become more visually oriented and creative if they could see beautiful structures that open their eyes to intense interrelations of beauty and nature.  If systems  thinking was applied to design then there would be more opportunity to cultivate and nurture the seeds of creativity.

Especially when the construction project is a taxpayer-funded project, it should be designed and built to the highest standards of architectural and engineering felicity.  Let federal and state sponsored building be the very best examples of American architecture.

Think of the massive structures that we travel the globe to see — the cathedrals of France, Potala palace in Lhasa, castles on the Rhine, Angkor Wat,  Borobudur,  the Pantheon in Rome, Teotihuacan and countless other ancient cities in Mexico, the temples of Athens, the pyramid tombs of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China.  These were public works projects or symbols of private enterprise in their day.  If visionary builders and paymasters centuries ago hadn’t constructed pleasing and durable buildings, there would be no residual evidence of their creative effort and social systems.

Architecture  — that which remains after the floods, hurricanes, tornados, wars and fire.  It provides specific and concrete evidence of how a society functioned, what it valued, how the humans prospered or failed, what was valuable to them.

 Would you describe any of these taxpayer financed buildings as lasting esthetic monuments to freedom and creative enterprise?

Maybe the ugly building penalty tax has a place in our culture?

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Gulangyu :: China


Cars are not operated on Gulangyu. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Gulangyu (Piano Island) lies off the eastern seaboard of China approximately 300 KM from Taiwan. It is a quiet place because no cars are allowed on the island. The nickname Piano Island reflects its shape and a nod to the famous music academy located on the island.  Gulangyu Island, though a short ferry ride away, is considered part of Xiamen, an urban center of 2 million. Students at the music school practice all day and in that vicinity you can hear their scales, harmonies and rare screeches.

Mansion on Gulangyu. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Entry gate to an abandoned estate in a formerly elegant neighborhood on Gulangyu. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil



Supply boats unloading at Gulangyu. © 2007 L.Peat O’Neil

On the beach when the tide was out I found pottery bits and sea glass. Paths along the waterfront are outfitted with speakers for recorded music of a better quality than Muzak.

Ferry Terminal, Gulangyu. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Feral cats thrive on Gulangyu. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Worker hauls away cut tree limbs. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Solo fisherman. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Xiamen is the city in the distance. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

Gulangyu’s main attraction would be the amazing mansions built by wealthy Colonial and Chinese merchants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gulangyu has always attracted smugglers and drug dealers. Many of the mansions are being snapped up and renovated by China’s new bourgeoisie class.

Former U.S. and British consulates dating back to the mid-19th c. are now hotels or repurposed for civic benefit. The Spanish consulate next to the Catholic Church was converted to a communal home for senior citizens.

Former Spanish Consulate, Gulangyu. ©2007 L. Peat O’Neil

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Training for a Walking or Hiking Tour

YOU KNOW that walking regularly can mitigate or even prevent a host of conditions ranging from obesity to heart disease. But do you know how to walkto get the most out of your exercise sessions?

Image from weather.com

Image from weather.com

Here are some pointers.

* Aim for a confident, “walk tall” posture, which means keeping your head
high, shoulders down and back, stomach in, and buttocks under. Slouching over
compresses your organs and diaphragm (the muscle that moves the lungs), making
it difficult to breathe as deeply as you could with good posture.

* Start at a comfortable pace with even steps. Gradually pick up speed, but
don’t shoot for an overly long stride. It won’t burn extra calories or work
your muscles any better.

* Let your arms swing freely and rhythmically, using them to help power you
along. Moving your arms while walking also helps give you balance–and works
more muscle groups in the process.

* Take full, relaxed breaths. “People often hold their breath during
exercise–it’s an unconscious behavior,” says Jennifer Layne, an exercise
physiologist at Tufts. But not breathing freely means short delays in getting
oxygen to all your body tissues as you move along.

* Try to work up to a brisk pace. If you’re not moving at a pace that’s fast
enough to deepen your breathing and make your heart beat faster, you may be
burning a few calories and even lifting your mood–but you’re not
strengthening your heart and lungs or improving your endurance. In other
words, if you’re not challenging yourself at all, you’re not engaging in
aerobic conditioning.

Note: Many of these tips come from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder
Affairs’  Keep Moving program


* Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Nov 1999 v17 i9 p7.  Are You Using The Best Walking Technique? Full Text COPYRIGHT 1999 W.H. White Publications, Inc.

* Interview with Rebecca Solnit,  author of Wanderlust. A literary history of human perambulation.

*Peace Pilgrim walked around the continental USA sharing a message of simplicity and peace.

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi walking installed adjacent to Embassy Row -  Massachusetts Ave. NW near Dupont Circle, Washington DC. Image © L Peat O'Neil 2009

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi walking installed adjacent to Embassy Row – Massachusetts Ave. NW near Dupont Circle, Washington DC.
Image © L Peat O’Neil 2009


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Diego Rivera’s Museum – Anahuacalli

Diego Rivera My Art, My LifeDiego Rivera muses about his museum in Diego Rivera – My Art, My Life.  An autobiography with Gladys March, The Citadel Press, New York, 1960, pp. 250-253.

Image from Conaculta.gob.mx

Image from Conaculta.gob.mx

In this excerpt, he describes selecting the site for the museum.

A Home For My Idols

The second dream, one of thirty-five years’ standing, was renewed by the destruction wreaked everywhere by the war.  It was to build a home for my anthropological collection, which I had started to assemble on my first return to Mexico in 1910.

So while the bombs menaced our very lives and made painting seem a thing of insignificance, Frida and I started a strange kind of ranch.  Here we planned to raise our own food staples, milk, honey, and vegetables, while we prepared to build our museum.  In the first few weeks, we erected a stable for our animals.

The site we chose was near Coyoacán, right on top of a lava bed.  Cactus sprang up profusely from the crevices in the stones.  Nature had landscaped the area as if for one purpose, and I decided that our house should be in harmony with her work. Accordingly, we cut our stone from the basalt indigenous to the region.  The structure would rise from the earth like an extension of its natural surface.

I designed the building in a composite of Aztec, Mayan, and “Rivera Traditional” styles.  The squarely built exterior resembles an ancient Mexican pyramid of the pre-Cortes period.

The main floor is the museum where my sculptures of this period are displayed. The rooms here wind and open into each other like those of a labyrinth.  Walled in unfaced stone, they are gray and dank.  On the ceilings are white stone mosaics, mainly abstract in form.  One of the mosaics, however, is of the rain god, Tlaloc, whose face I represented as a formation of two wriggling snakes.

The upper section is still to be completed.  I intended it as my studio, where I could create my own sculptures to adorn the outside walls.  But lack of time and money have so far prevented me from carrying out this part of my plan.

Surmounting all is a tower representing the god of air and open on all sides to the raw, cool drafts of mountain air.  The cool and stony aspect of the place gives one the impression of being in an underground temple.

During the war, this building was “home” for Frida and me.  After the war, it was converted exclusively into a home for my idols.  Guided by Dr. Alfonso Caso, Mexico’s leading anthropologist, I passed many wonderful hours placing my statues in chronological order in the different rooms of the building.  Dr. Caso and his associates were enthusiastic about my collection, declaring that while my dating of some pieces might be in error, I had sown an uncanny instinct for what was authentic and important.  They rated the collection among the best in the world.

This venture, however, has almost impoverished me.  The cost of maintaining the museum has been about $125 a week.  With this outlay added to the $300 a month I gave Frida for household expenses for our home in Coyoacán and the forty dollars a month I paid for my daughter Ruth’s college tuition, I was left with hardly enough change to buy the daily newspaper.

People are under the impression that I am wealthy because I have sometimes paid as much as $250 for a single idol.  But when I have made such a purchase, I have often, as a result, had to scrimp on necessities.  Frida used to scold me sometimes for not keeping enough money to buy such prosaic things as underwear.  But my idols have more than compensated me for their expense. Whenever I feel disgusted with some painting I have done, I have only to look at them and suddenly I feel good again.

By now, I have already spent more than fifty thousand dollars on the museum and still it is not complete.  Most visitors are astonished to hear this low figure. However, I did so much myself:  the architectural designs, the engineering, and even the overseeing of the actual work, thus cutting the cost of construction considerably.

Since beginning the project, I have put into it literally every penny I have earned above modest living expenses.  Work on the museum halted during Frida’s illnesses, when the heavy medical and hospital bills virtually bankrupted me. However, when Frida was well and earning money from her own paintings, she would refuse to accept any money from me, and I would go on idol-buying sprees. All in all I have spent about one hundred thousand dollars on my collection – apart from the building itself.

I calculate that another forty thousand dollars will be required to complete the building.  My plan is to give the museum to the state, provided it appropriates the money needed to finish it.  My only other stipulation will be that I be allowed to supervise the final construction.  If I cannot arrange a mutually satisfactory agreement with the authorities, I shall dynamite the building with my own hands rather than have it put to some stupid use at odds with the purpose for which I designed it.

Visit the museum:

Calle Museo 150

Mexico City, D.F.




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La Virgin Guadalupe: Patroness of the Americas

Patroness of the Americas

Patroness of the Americas

I first visited the shrine to La Virgin at Guadalupe on the fringes of Mexico City during the sweaty summer of 1976 with my parents. In 2006, I visited with my niece, the photographer sjlzocklein.
In 2011, I started reading books on the Virgin of Guadalupe in the collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.   Online resources include: http://www.sancta.org  the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Here are some notes from my study of La Virgin of Guadalupe.

Examination of photos of the eyes in the original image transferred magically or painted onto Juan Diego‘s tilma (cloak) has revealed through photos taken of the Virgin’s pupils and subsequently enlarged,  that there are miniature scenes depicted in the eyes, as described in the revelation report.

Paul Badde, the author, travels to Jerusalem, Greece, Medjugorje in Herzegovina, other well known pilgrimage sites. He also travels to Mexico in a pilgrimage to find out more about the Virgin of Guadaloupe and her place in Mexican culture.

“At the time of the Spanish conquest, Tlatelolco was a suburb of Tenochtitlan and the largest commercial center of Mexico. All the references to places in the Nican Mopohua can still be found o the Mexico City map and in the network of Metro stations.” p. 142

Source: Badde, Paul. (2008). Maria of Guadalupe. Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts. Translated by Carol Cowgill. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.


On the night between the 11th and 12th December, Tepeyac is literally packed with people, thousands of salesmen selling fake jewellery, musical tapes, feathers, clothes caged birds, etc. People approach the basilica walking on their knees, weeping and chanting. Lights are lit in the basilica, soft singing echoes … people file solemnly under the image of the Virgin. Perhaps the scene in and around the basilica can be interpreted as an example of what liberation theologians call eclesiogenesis: the church is unceasingly created by the marginalized, peasants, farmers and beggars, who to this day can act like subjects in their own history. (interpretation from Monsivais, C. 1993, Los espacios de las masas, pp 267-308 in: Mexico a fines de siglo.)

Source: Andersson Daniel. (2001). The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Day of the Dead in the Construction of Mexican Identities. Goteborgs: Skrifter utgivna vid Institutionen for Religionsvetenskap Goteborgs Universitet.


In the area of Mexico City, veneration is focused at Tepeyac where an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the cloak of a country peasant man seeking medical help for a relation who saw the apparition on a hillside.  The beauty of the image as perceived by evaluators led them to rule it was not made by human hand. p. 43.  The Virgin of Guadeloupe appeared in 1531 on Dec 9, to the peasant who was named Juan Diego.  He dictated his experiences to clerks in the bishop’s office and a transcription of the vision as reported was made soon after, but not published until more than a century later.  The Nican Mopohua was written in Nahuatl in 1544 by Antonio Valeriano and published in Spanish in 1649 by Luis Laso de la Vega.

In 1656, at Tulantongo, on the edge of the Valley of Mexico, there is a chapel where the peasant beggar Antonio de Gandia, who was also blind, received a proclamation from the Virgin promising restoration of his sight if he built a chapel by the well in the yard.  … Nearby Franciscans complained their flock were migrating to the Tulantongo chapel. Eventually the Franciscans pushed de Gandia out and refined his legend to suit their own purposes as the centuries passed. p.15

At the town of Calpulalpan in mountains approximately 50 miles east of District Federale (Mexico City) there was a victory of royalist soldiers who defeated rebels from Calpulalpan in 1812. The royalist soldiers took the village statue of St. Anthony of Padua. The townspeople appealed for its return. p. 16-17

Source: Taylor, William B. (2010). Shrines and Miraculous Images. Religious Life in Mexico Before the Reforma. Albuquerque: Univ of New Mexico Press.


Brujeria (accent on the ia) is a collection of religious and folk magic practices that blends Roman Catholicism and the Aztec goddess faith. It has been influenced by other traditions, such as spiritism, Santeria, Voodoo, Wicca, and ceremonial magic. It is common throughout Mexico and among Chicano (sic) populations in the United States.

Recipe for love potion from Monsieur Diaz an antique book dealer who had a gallery in the Palais Royale, Paris during the 1980s.

Por Mi Amante

2 lbs fresh strawberries, sliced

juice of 1 lemon (or lime, even better)

1 bottle great quality tequila

1 tbsp piloncillo – Mexican dark sugar, or regular sugar,  or omit, depending on taste.

Mix in large bottle. Let rest in darkness for at least a month. Filter and drink very cold.

It is liquid ruby with very intense alcohol.

p. 44-45

Source:  Hanut, Eryk.(2001  The Road to Guadalupe, A Modern Pilgrimage to the Goddess of the Americas. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.


This book contains many images of the Virgin of Guadeloupe — naive, modern, antique, fancy, fanciful, charming.


Source: Corcuera, Marie-Pierre Colle. (2005).Guadeloupe: Body and Soul. New York: Vendome Press, New York

Locations of sacred sites where the Virgin has appeared in Mexico:

Our Lady of Zapopan, in an Indian village close to Guadalajara.

Our Lady of San Juan de Lagos, in a sanctuary in Jalostitlan, close to the road to Zacatecas.

Our Lady of Ocotlan, majestic sanctuary outside Tlaxcala.

Source: Brading, D.A. (2001). Mexican Phoenix. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.p. 141.


Other major spiritual shrines in Mexico include:

Zapotlan del Rey, Jalisco – Madonna and child known as Neustra Senora del Socorro.

Shrine of San Miguel del Milagro, Tlaxcala with original story from early 17th c. There is a great wooden cross planted there, crucifixes radiating a great light.

Sacred journeys for Otomi people of San Pedro Cholula are to Ocoyoacac, Estado de Mexico.

At Tlatelolco, the shrine of Neustra Senora de los Angeles.

At Huatulco on the coast of Oaxaca state, there is a miraculous image of a cross that could not be destroyed by English Protestant pirates. p. 27

The Huaquechula cross was discovered in August 1806 painted on a boulder in the river on edge of town. The Indios who found it sought permission to create a shrine. Prints of the refined cross circulated. By 1809 pilgrims came from both coasts to celebrate the Day of the Holy Cross on May 3. Their unsanctioned and effective local marketing effort was nipped by Bishop Manuel Ignacio Gonzalez del Campillo in 1810 when he ordered the stone pulverized and all images destroyed. p. 49

Pachuca – In 1648 the soul in limbo of Juan Mexia, a recently deceased miner, had appeared to a young Spaniard named Juan Gonzalez. Mexia’s shade appeared three times during Holy Week.

Zumpahuacan – shamans claimed to have met Christ and angels during a series of drugged visions here. p. 28

Other sites:  Ocotlan, Tlaxcala; Juquila, Oaxaca;  Soledad, Oaxaca; and Izamal, Yucatan.

Source: Taylor, William B. (2010). Shrines and Miraculous Images. Religious Life in Mexico Before the Reforma. Albuquerque: Univ of New Mexico Press.

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