Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”

I woke up this morning to an article in the Guardian by Stephen Burgen called Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome: Why Barcelona Chose Migrants Over Visitors. The refugee crisis is an issue I am fiercely concerned about; you may even remember an article I published earlier this year called Invisible Victimisation: The Gender Politics of the Refugee Crisis. Reading the Guardian, some spark of motivation gripped me – something that happens all too rarely of late – and I seized my laptop and began to jot down my own thoughts.

I warn you that this is not a polished, introspective response to Burgen’s piece. Rather, this is a somewhat fragmented collection of my thoughts at 9am on a Monday morning before my first cuppa. I haven’t even finished the piece prior to writing this introduction. But that’s what I wanted: something sincere and barefaced. A conversation with you, the reader – and conversations don’t have the luxury of review.

But without further ado!

If you haven’t read the article of which I am writing about, I strongly recommend you do. Nevertheless, I’ll give you some context. Burgen begins by remembering a protest that took place in Barcelona last year targeting Spain’s refugee quota. Around the same time, graffiti began cropping up around the city that read ‘tourists go home, refugees welcome’. The Spanish media quickly termed the phenomenon turismofobia.

What was driving this outcry? As Burgen writes, “… it is tourism, not immigration, that people see as a threat to (Barcelona’s) very identity”.

I harbour many thoughts about identity politics. A lot of those thoughts are still scattered and only half-formed, and for that reason, I will not offer my full opinion until I am confident that I can articulate it well. But what I will say is that I do not believe identity to be productive – at least not in the sense Burgen is appealing to. This is a position that I expressed in my post In Defence of Cultural Appropriation. To paraphrase and truncate this article, cultural identity is destructive because it divides communities and encourages hostility through an us-them mentality. If we are ever going to enjoy a society where people of all backgrounds are treated equal, then I believe that identity is a construct we need to challenge.

However, the plot thickens when we apply this line of reasoning to Burgen’s article. If we analyse the above quote, we understand Burgen to be arguing that refugees in fact form part of Barcelona’s identity, whereas tourists jeopardise it. Here, we observe that the traditional paradigm – whereby refugees are framed as the problem – is reversed. Barcelona’s identity politics are working towards helping an impoverished group who have consistently been demonised for their own suffering and plights. Barcelona sees embracing ‘outsiders’ as integral to its sense of self.

Thus, can I still argue that identity is a bad thing?

The answer is yes.

Even if in some cases identity encourages group altruism, I do not believe it to be constructive if it still comes at somebody else’s expense. Now, that ‘somebody else’ may be privileged tourists who might have spent more time contemplating what colour bikini they are going to wear on Playa Mar Bella than the refugee crisis, but that expense is still an expense.

I am neither arguing that tourism is always a good thing: as a travel blogger, I may be the pot calling the kettle black, but I am not ignorant to the negative impacts tourism can – and does – hold. In the context of Barcelona alone, the city receives roughly twenty times as many tourists as residents. To quote Burgen, this number is “… driving up rent, pushing residents out of neighbourhoods, and overwhelming the public space”. I do not disagree that these consequences are undesirable and should be addressed.

Is the answer to ban tourism? In my eyes, no. One of the major positive impacts of tourism is that it can expose people to the lives of others and teach them that different doesn’t automatically mean bad. It can teach people that their own experience does not reflect the human experience, and that they can learn so much from those they interact with.

“… immigration has changed the city, but tourism is destabilising it”.

Stephen Burgen

One of Barcelona’s district councillors, Santi Ibarra, further argues that “… tourism takes something out of neighbourhoods… it makes them more banal – the same as everywhere else”. I sympathise with Ibarra, although perhaps for different reasons. I also sympathise to an extent with Burgen, although I take issue with some of his claims. For example, he claims that diversity is to be celebrated rather than condemned, and yet he seems to imply that tourism cannot offer that. Part of me instinctively wants to cheer him on. When I think of the word ‘tourist’, my mind conjures images of homogenous white people wearing sandals and brandishing selfie sticks. I mean, I just googled ‘tourist’, and had to actually scroll before I saw any colour representation. Try it. But the reality is that tourists are no less diverse than refugees, and to insist otherwise will help no one.

Barcelona prides itself on maintaining a large immigrant population without interpersonal conflict, but I fail to understand how, in the same breath, it can also pride itself on breeding conflict between residents and tourists. Travellers need to hold themselves accountable for being educating about responsible tourism, and they need to treat the cities they visit with respect. Those that do not should be penalised in some just way. But they should not be banned from certain cities simply for wanting to experience more of the world.

So… what is the answer?

I don’t know. I’m not writing this to offer a solution to Barcelona’s tourism problem. I’m writing this to share my messy, 9am on a Monday, tea-less thoughts. I am feeling optimistic about the council’s 2015 approach to “… impose a moratorium on new hotels… contain the spread of tourist apartments and devise an urban plan… that prioritises local commerce over businesses aimed at tourists”. I can imagine a similarly optimistic outcome for extending these changes to public transport so that residents can actually move within their own city. What I am not feeling optimistic about is an outright ban on tourism in Barcelona – or anywhere else, for that matter.
In his Guardian article, Stephen Burgen reflects upon the palpable tension between Barcelona residents and tourists. I think it is fantastic that Barcelona is challenging the close-mindedness many communities experience regarding the refugee crisis, but what I don’t think is so fantastic is their use of identity politics to ostracise the tourist population. I sympathise deeply with much Burgen has said, and as someone coming from a country that harbours its own resentment towards tourists, I agree that it is an issue that demands urgent address. But Barcelona’s reasons for ostracising tourists is unjustified. Identity should never have come into the equation, and if the city wants to rationalise its animosity, it would do better to look to concrete logistics such as housing shortages and transport issues that simply cannot accommodate the hordes.
If this opinion piece has whet your appetite, make sure to peruse Airline Inequality: A Social Microcosm of Class. I would also love to hear your feedback on the articles I linked above in this post about the refugee crisis and cultural appropriation. Drop a line to my email below.
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40 Things to Do in Dunedin, New Zealand

Forget Tripadvisor.

I couldn’t return to my home town for a quick visit (or as quick as a visit can be when you’re traveling 12,000 miles) and not pay at least some blog-worthy tribute to this sentimental city. Returning felt a bit like being embraced by a warm hug, and it was certainly nostalgic to revisit some of my old haunts.

Although you’ll find some token touristic attractions here, you will also find a few hidden gems that only Dunedin locals know about. It took a lot for me not to comprise this list solely of food ideas, so know that the ones I have included are – in my humble opinion – on a level above the rest.

So, in no particular order, here are 40 things to do in this little Scottish settlement by the name of Dunedin…

  1. Follow the Dunedin street art trail
  2. Catch a wave in the St. Clair surf
  3. Take a step back in time at Olveston Historic Home
  4. Sip on a Pic’s Poles at Starfish Café
  5. Play disc golf at Chingford Park
  6. Eat fish and chips at the Signal Hill Lookout
  7. Dine on authentic Italian cuisine at the Esplanade
  8. Embrace Dunedin’s multi-cultural heritage at the Chinese Gardens
  9. Take a dip at St. Kilda Beach
  10. Start your weekend off the right way with an order from the Friday Shop
  11. Catch some rays at the St. Clair Hot Salt Water Pool
  12. Enjoy a cheese platter from Carey’s Bay Historic Hotel
  13. Burn some calories by walking up Jacob’s Ladder
  14. Attend a public lecture at the University of Otago
  15. Order an iced coffee at Kiki Beware
  16. Take in some New Zealand landscape at Lover’s Leap
  17. Feed the ducks at the Dunedin Botanic Gardens
  18. Eat an ice cream from Rob Roy Dairy on the museum lawn
  19. Catch a butterfly at the Tropical Forest
  20. Enjoy a lazy Sunday brunch at Nectar Espresso Bar and Café
  21. Enter the pub quiz at the Dog with Two Tails
  22. Stock up on some fresh seasonal produce at the Otago Farmer’s Market
  23. Take a selfie at the Railway Station
  24. Jump from the rocks at Outram Glen
  25. Channel your healthier side at the Good Earth organic café
  26. Cheer for your favourite team at Forsyth Barr Stadium
  27. Visit the Albatross Colony on the Otago Peninsula
  28. Melt at the sight of the puppies at the Nichol’s Pet Warehouse
  29. Scale the sand dunes of Tomahawk Beach (and mind the sea lions!)
  30. See a real Egyptian mummy at the Otago Museum
  31. Admire the interior architecture at Rialto Cinema
  32. Order the pancake of the month at Capers
  33. Brew a pint at Speight’s Brewery
  34. Expand your literary boundaries at the University Book Shop
  35. Inject a doughnut at Nova
  36. Challenge yourself to climbing the steepest street in the world
  37. Start the day with Eggs Benedict at Ironic Café and Bar
  38. Take in the secret ocean views at Second Beach
  39. Play aristocrats at Larnach Castle
  40. Explore the industrial area with a pit stop at Vogel St. Kitchen

Are you a local who wants to to add something to the list? Let’s connect – email me at thegingerpassports@gmail.com or message me over Facebook or Twitter and I’ll hop to it.

Alternatively, if you’re about to touch down in Dunedin, be sure to watch my vlog (and laugh at slow motion footage of me failing to blow a dandelion).

Here are also some of my Dunedin highlights fresh from the blog:

📚 The Local’s Guide to Dunedin

🌊 The Beach Review #1: St. Kilda

⛰ Postcards from Lover’s Leap

🐝 Flight of the Butterflies: Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest

and last but not least, my own personal favourite…

☕ Starfish Café: Your Sunday Morning Fix

The surfing and farmer’s market photographs are courtesy of Unsplash. The photograph of Kiki Beware was taken by Naomi Haussmann for Neat Places, and the photograph of Larnach Castle was sourced from Tripadvisor.

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WTF Happened to Egypt’s Tourism Industry?!

For me, one of the greatest joys of traveling is the opportunity to expose yourself to diverse cultures and languages, to see how other people live, and to distance yourself from everything familiar and comfortable. It is for those very reasons that places such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America do not naturally draw me.

It is also for those very reasons that without a shred of doubt, I can say that the crown of my travels in 2017 – if not ever – goes to Egypt.

Many things amazed me during my three weeks spent in the capital of Cairo. There were the pyramids, the landscape, the way of life… but perhaps what amazed me most was that there was hardly a (western) tourist in sight.

Why was this? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Here is a country with such rich history that places like Paris pale in comparison. Here is a country where you can easily budget for NZD$15 a day. Why am I – a white, western tourist – such an anomaly?

Cue research. Statistics show that Egypt’s tourism plunged from 11 million in 2010, to 9.3 million in 2015, and then to 5.3 million in 2016. I’m not ignorant; I’m fully aware that Egypt hasn’t escaped disaster over the last few years. This is understandably enough to deter anyone from regarding it as a tourist hotspot. To cite personal experience, I myself have rejected flights with Malaysian Airlines after the events of 2014.

Despite being located in North Africa, Egypt is also a Middle Eastern state, and to hold that label comes with certain connotations for us western folk. I’m not saying that these associations are completely false, but neither am I saying that they should serve as well-grounded rationale to veto the Gift of the Nile. For a long time, Egyptian politics have been anything but stable. We can track how statistics nosedive following the 2011 revolution, whereby autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. This political uncertainty kept tourists at bay.

“The low number of inbound tourists has affected the economy, which looks to the sector as a crucial source of hard currency.”

Quartz

The 2011 Revolution; photograph courtesy of the Atlantic

Further events have dissuaded the hordes. In October 2015, a Russian passenger plane was brought down on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, resulting in 224 fatalities. In the wake of the tragedy, Russia – a major source of tourists – cancelled all air links with Egypt, and the United Kingdom suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh (the Egyptian resort from where the flight had departed). It is estimated that this decision occasioned a loss of 900,000 British travellers.

In January 2016, two German tourists were stabbed to death in Hurghada, and in December that same year, ISIS killed 27 worshippers at a Coptic church. Just two months ago, an attack on a Sufi mosque claimed over 300 lives… I’m probably not supporting my cause here, am I?

Let’s take a look at the UK government’s foreign travel advice for Egypt. Under terrorism, the government warns, “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Egypt… you should avoid crowded places and gatherings… in North Sinai, there are frequent, almost daily reports of terrorist attacks… foreigners have been targeted.” It’s not exactly the most reassuring news for prospective travellers. There is also a lovely little segment on how the government will not pay a ransom to free British citizens in the instance of kidnapping, but for the sake of encouraging people to visit Egypt, I’m going to leave that bit out.

However, the article does continue with, “The authorities in Egypt maintain a significant security presence across the country, including armed security officers stationed at important sites, critical infrastructure, and road checkpoints… extra measures are in place at tourist sites… (and) the Egyptian government’s counter-terrorism campaign has resulted in significant reduction in the number of terrorist attacks on the Egyptian mainland since January 2015.” That’s a little better.

There is a light amongst all of the darkness; in the first half of 2017, Egypt’s tourism rose by 170% to reach 4.3 million. This has been attributed to how Egypt has upped the ante when it comes to security and other incentives for travel. That number doesn’t even come close to the peak of Egypt’s tourism heyday – and it’s not to say the industry isn’t still reeling – though it illustrates how the country is making a slow but steady comeback.

“… we must move away from a ‘green-light’ mentality on travel advisories, and government and travel companies must devise a methodology to inform consumers as to all risks, actual or potential.”

The Independent

My advice to you? Travel to Egypt. The threats certainly exist, but if you take the time to educate yourself on how to best navigate things, you will be greatly rewarded. With a non-existent tourist population, you will probably find you have the sights all to yourself. Al Jazeera described visiting the pyramids as “… like walking on the moon… deserted, forlorn and uninhabited”. Don’t believe them? Just take a look at my experience below…

If you consult terrorism statistics for London, you will observe that there have been five separate incidents in the last twelve months alone. With today’s political landscape, it’s unfeasible to be thinking of places as having safety guaranteed. Nothing is sure in this world.

Did I feel safe in Cairo? Yes. Aside from some minor harassment – which you can read about here – I did not for one moment feel that my protection was under threat. I am not encouraging that foreigners should take their safety for granted. In other words,  don’t be stupid. Use common sense and exercise caution. Dress appropriately for the culture and understand that you have a responsibility to both yourself and others to behave respectfully. But the fundamentals aside, embrace the incredible opportunity that is Egypt.

I’ll see you there.

Need some more convincing for why you should travel to Egypt? Check out the following blog posts…

And last but not least, find inspiration in Hamsa Mansour: The Egyptian Cyclist Showing How It’s Done

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