Tourism by the Numbers

Aug 25, 2014

August brought the tourists flocking back to the south of France like swallows returning to San Capistrano. The roads were full of little Dutch caravans going at forty miles an hour, and big Mercedes with Belgian plates going at a hundred and te

Tourism is the continuation of war by other means. The history of Europe had been an endless succession of wars and invasions. The French struggled mightily to keep out the British in 1453, and succeeded. They struggled to keep out the Germans in 1914 and 1939, and failed. Now, there are places in France where practically the only languages you hear spoken were English and German.

Tourism has many advantages over outright war. It is far less violent, and slightly less damaging to the environment. It is also very good for the collapsing French economy. Instead of fighting to keep us foreigners out, they welcome us in and sell us hotel rooms, meals, wines, expensive museum tickets and overpriced souvenirs. Even the old enemies have become valued customers.

A vivid illustration of this is the walled town called Aigues-Mortes ("Dead Waters," in the local dialect) that rests darkly on the salt flats beside the Mediterranean. Aigues-Mortes was built by Louis IX in the 13th century. For eight hundred years this grim fortress stood impregnable against all invaders. Now the moat is bridged and the massive main gate is wide open. You can walk right in, after paying an exorbitant parking fee, and all the invaders in the world are inside the walls, busily buying t-shirts and eating pizzas.

Tourism is good. It’s based on a healthy instinct to escape from everyday life and to see new things, and it makes the world a safer place. What troubles me is the unfairness of it all. Some of us always seem to be traveling, and others always seem to be working in the tourist industry, seeing nothing more exciting than the inside of a kitchen or an airport. Reliable authorities have said that all men and women are created equal, and this doesn’t seem to be a very equalitarian arrangement.

Nobody likes to work, but everyone likes to travel. So it seems obvious that the world’s population should be divided into two more or less equal groups, with (say) names from A to M in one group and N to Z in the other. For the first year, the A to Ms would be perpetual tourists, traveling the world and viewing its wonders according to their various whims. The N to Zs would slave away in the tourist industry, running the hotels and manufacturing cheap and nasty souvenirs.

At the end of the year, everyone would switch. The N to Zs would grab their passports and stomach pills and start traveling, the A to Ms would get to work in the bars, bistros, and theme parks. All other kinds of work not connected to tourism would cease. Thus one half of the world would always be helping the other half to have a good time, and they would understand one another’s problems. Terrorists and fanatics would be calmed down by weeks relaxing on the beach, or exhausted by walking around museums. Politicians would become entirely redundant. They could be put to work making suntan oil and other slippery substances.

Economists predict that tourism will soon be the world’s biggest industry. We may as well take the next logical step and make it the world’s only industry.

Copyright: David Bouchier