by ALAN CHURCHILL
Is tourism just another search to fill our empty souls, created by the manufactured lack that we, as a society, have been conditioned to feel?
Are we barking up the wrong tree, constantly searching for fulfillment through travel, money, or material possessions. Can we be content by staying still?
From the outside looking in, my current home town, Tofino, may appear to be a “quaint” west coast surf town, with cute cedar buildings and quirky local residents — a holiday destination that has “made it” onto the tourism map! But from the inside looking out, the view is a little different.
As an expat of the UK, I am all too familiar with the exploration and acquisition of land and the spread of people around the globe, as our species constantly searches for new and less-inhabited places. Searching for some respite from the crowds, trying to carve out our own plot of peace amongst the craziness. But as the population increases and these idyllic “villages” become more elusive, the more apparent our contamination of nature becomes.
It seems that our species has created a culture from which we all want to escape. This happens mainly in the form of vacations, travel, tourism, or a search for a more secluded homestead. We’ve built huge cities, we live on top of each other and the land is fast running out, at least with our current levels of consumption.
Living in a town with year-round population of 2,000 people, which swells to in excess of 22,000 daily in the summer, certainly magnifies this experience, and the local community is feeling it!
Elephant in the room
The tourism industry in Tofino can be likened to an obnoxious rich uncle-in-law.
Every time he visits, he talks at an obscene volume, tells awful racist, sexist jokes, stays up drinking until 2 a.m. every night, eats everything in your fridge, kicks you out of your bed, forcing you to sleep on the couch, and hogs the bathroom all morning making himself look great.
BUT, as he leaves, he always gives you $1,000.
You ask yourself is it worth him visiting?
Your home is disturbed whilst he visits, but that $1,000 is kinda nice.
Many locals don’t want the $1,000 — they moved here to get away from the uncle! But now the uncle has found them and he wants to build a mansion next to your quaint little off-grid shack.
Don’t get me wrong, not every visitor is like this uncle. But taken collectively, it can certainly feel that way.
The tourist industry on the other hand, wants the $1,000. They have shareholders who have invested in tourism. They want to invite everyone’s uncle, and then some. They want to invite corporate interests, and they’re happy to see the mansions.
They pretend that they care about the locals, but the flashing dollar signs have actually blinded them to the community.
Many of the players in the industry are new to town. They likely came in search of a job to pad out their resume, and/or to profit off a tourist town in the pregnant phase of massive growth. They’ll tell you they’re doing it to make the town better, to increase its jobs or year-round income.
But they do not see that everything was fine as it was, before they arrived. This town didn’t need promotion, it didn’t need “fixing,” it didn’t need updating.
Finite resources and land
The thing with Tofino is, it’s a peninsula. It’s a narrow spit of land, 500 meters wide at its narrowest point. It’s basically sand, with a beautiful forest filling most of the land. At least up until recently.
Some locals say that the tourist industry is a better alternative to logging, but with the recent developments, many trees have been cleared for construction. Quaint cedar shacks replaced with ugly concrete castles, the development of condos, and promises of futuristic police stations. Sports personalities buying up hotels, and the laying of new, wider roads to accommodate the constant flow of polluting, noisy traffic.
The seasonal shift is not noticed just in weather patterns, but also in tourist traffic and seasonal workers.
As the village becomes a city each summer, the obvious lack of space becomes apparent. The question is, do we continue to build in order to house the seasonal workers and visitors, or do we cap it where it is?
Is there even any way to stop it? Or will people keep arriving in droves, parking in the most ridiculous spots, consuming everything in their path and ravenously Instagramming their hipster experience, in attempts to gloat about their “trip to (what used to be) paradise”?
If the growth cannot be stopped, then Tofino’s true essence will be lost.
If the growth cannot be stopped, then Tofino’s true essence — as an idyllic, quiet village at the end of the world — will be lost. It will just be another corporate cash cow, a theme-parkesque zoo, where the animals in cages are replaced by humans working a minimum-wage service industry job, whilst the rich folk demand a performance, pointing and laughing.
They paved paradise to put up a parking lot is a song that rings true. Running out of room and resources is a real thing in Tofino, as highlighted by recent water shortages (in a rain forest!).
How do we ‘fix’ it?
Our body often tells us when we are doing it harm, giving us clues telling us to slow down, to take a step back and relax, lest we injure ourselves. But how often do we listen to the innate intelligence within? Almost never.
It’s not until we break that bone that we stop and hear the message. But even then we don’t learn. We go on to break more bones, until the day we finally give it all up and move on to whatever comes next.
So we can either listen to the warning signs and take a step back, or we can ignore the damage that our Western consumption habits are causing, and await the broken bone!
How this broken bone shows up is not yet understood, but humanity will push on until they literally can no longer sustain what is falsely claimed to be sustainable.
The fix is not external to ourselves. It is an evolutionary leap in consciousness that is required to completely change the face of our Earth — something that is happening, yet very slowly.
By slowing ourselves down on an individual level, will we slow down the external world? Perhaps the changes lie not in trying to change someone else, or something else, but in first looking within ourselves to see how our lives are out of balance with nature. Once we’ve got that figured out, then that way of being will slowly permeate through the fabric of society and guide the changes necessary to work alongside nature, instead of against it.
What the future looks like is completely unpredictable, and trying to control it is a symptom of insanity. So for now, at least for me, it’s about accepting what is, slowing down, and enjoying the ride.
I hope that we humans can find a way of preserving nature, because we ARE nature. And if we fail to preserve it, we fail to preserve ourselves!