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Travel at a tipping point
Travel was at a tipping point prior to the pandemic. Many popular destinations such as Venice and Barcelona, were suffering from over tourism, through crowding, and strains put on local infrastructure that pitted visitors against locals. But over tourism was also evident in smaller communities where the impact was magnified on the environment and wildlife. Tourists were unintentionally destroying the very things they had come to see.
As the pandemic recedes, boarders open, and the desire to explore returns, travel is now at a tipping point.
Will previous ballooning middle class travel, with all its excesses and easy access resume? Will we continue the quest to document destinations via social media, often missing the opportunity to savor the actual moment and experience, while continuing to exploit less discovered places for our own fame and following? Will we continue unabated, in consuming experiences and buying products that have limited financial impact on local economies, or worse, actually damage them by endorsing practices that harm animals, the environment and local communities? And has our collective pause in mass tourism allowed us to reassess how travel can return in a more responsible and conscious way?
The Last Tourist tackles big questions
These are big, important questions, and just a few of the issues tackled in The Last Tourist, a documentary produced by Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of community tourism pioneer and adventure operator, G Adventures, and directed and written by Tyson Sadler. The journey to film the documentary took the team to 16 different countries, where they interviewed dozens of leading travel experts, tour operators, academics, as well as travelers and tourism service providers in host communities.
While at times disturbing, when examining important issues including animals suffering for entertainment, orphaned children exploited for profit, the shady sides of voluntourism, and developing economies strained under the massive weight of foreign-owned hotel chains, there are also signs of hope. While pulling back the curtain on one of the world’s largest industries, viewers are encouraged to make informed choices, recognizing that travel, when done right, can be the biggest distributor of wealth the world has ever seen, and the fastest path to peace and understanding, when new cultures are truly experienced and appreciated. Using our personal power to have a positive impact while traveling with purpose and intention, as borders reopen to international travel again, is a core message of this documentary. We’re reminded that travel is a privilege, not a right.
The back story
Of course most projects have a back story, and The Last Tourist has a fascinating one! During the screening with travel writers at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver on April 4, 2022, Bruce Poon Tip revealed the curious royal connection, which in the end delayed the launch, and ironically allowed the movie to be incredibly timely. Originally, The Last Tourist was set to premiere in January 2020, to make the film festival rounds that year. But in a curious twist of fate, Prince Harry had contacted the production team about possible involvement. Of course the world had yet to learn of his imminent break from the monarchy, but the negotiation delay set the film back into March 2020. Of course as we all know that’s when the world closed down during the pandemic, causing not only the original message to fall out of context, but the ability to have the movie widely viewed and distributed was at risk. So the producer and director embarked on an edit for the two-year delayed release, to incorporate the impact of the global travel pause, and reframed the message for a post-pandemic era. The result is a fresh and extremely timely take on the state of the travel industry, and the choices we will make, as the quest to travel and explore resumes.
The carbon footprint of travel
Admittedly the film falls a little short when addressing the carbon footprint impact of travel, a fact aptly pointed out by David Suzuki, in attendance that evening, and later debated. But as Bruce Poon Tip acknowledged, planes will still fly whether we are on them or not, since tourism is such a global economic driver, but the frequency of travel, and the choices we make at the destination can have huge impact, while affording the positive outcomes of a global community with a greater understanding and appreciation of each other, which is at the heart of travel.
A personal reflection
The film caused me to pause and reflect on my own recent experiences and choices, while traveling in Belize, kayaking and snorkeling Glover’s Reef and Tobacco Caye. We witnessed first hand the plastic waste which has accumulated in many coastal areas, contributed in efforts to collect it, and also witnessed the countries progressive move to ban single use plastics. But during our initial stay on Caye Caulker we also encountered unnatural interactions with sea rays at Pelican Beach. Laid-off resort staff had started feeding the rays fish during the pandemic, and those actions have now evolved into a 5pm tourist show. Visualize rays hovering the sandy beach, like a lab looking for dinner, once fixed to a rewards cycle. While we didn’t participate in the feeding activity, our presence and buying drinks at the bar for sunset did contribute to the continuation of this practice.
Likewise, I was left questioning the real impacts of helping in a food kitchen while in Nicaragua back in 2018. While we were contributing to feeding the community with good intention, we were also building a habit of weekly reliance.
I have deliberately chosen to not post on social media during my last couple trips, but rather gather photos and content to contribute to articles, posts and video upon my return. This practice has been hard for other travel bloggers to understand, but it has been liberating. Freed from the shackles of sharing and posting immediately, the conscious choice to be more in the moment has been wonderful.
As Bruce acknowledged in the discussion following the film, “We all have likely contributed in the past to practices that we might now question.” This film is about becoming better informed, and purposeful in the choices we make going forward, with the emergence of conscious travel choices post-pandemic.” The message was truly one of hope.
The Last Tourist had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and recently was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Social Impact by the Canadian Documentary Jury at the Calgary Film Festival. It became available April 5, 2022, on demand through Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Shaw, Rogers, Telus and Bell in Canada, and will be showing at select theatres (the Rio in Vancouver, and Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto) as well as other limited Cineplex locations. It is available on demand in the US through Apple TV and Altavod.
Learn more about the project HERE, the film makers, the Director’s statement, and the entire production crew, as well as a list of guests interviewed. Watch the trailer below.
G Adventures was founded in 1990 by social entrepreneur Bruce Poon Tip. G Adventures is a small group adventure operator offering ore than 1,000 tours in 100 countries. G Adventures approach to travel is demonstrated through social impact initiatives, which include guidelines for children, wildlife and Indigenous people, community-based social enterprise projects travelers can experience on a trip, and it’s “ripple score” assessment which measures how many traveler dollars stay in the local economy. Link here to learn more about G Adventure tour offerings.