[By Guest Writer Jamon Mok, Backstreet Academy
When tourism was manufactured
Mass tourism today is characterized by the package tour industry – The most efficient form of travel where you see the most places in the shortest time possible. The caveat is that you only get to spend a pre-determined amount of time at each location, bounded by the schedule set by the tour company and other more demanding passengers.
Personally, this is one of my most hated travel methods. You generally get only a very short time at each of the attractions, rushed by the tour guide with ridiculous demands to be back at the bus by 45mins. It sucks the life out of travel, where you’re supposed to enjoy the place and fully take the sights and sounds in as you experience the history, the marvel and beauty of a place. And if you’re late, you get slapped with a shaming act designed to make everyone come back on time for the good of the whole group. While yes, if you willingly signed up for this, you should subject to it like and be treated like a kid, and at times an army recruit. BUT, you don’t have to sign up for this, really. And while they rush you at the attractions, they indulge at the shopping destinations. Haven’t we all wondered why we needed to rush so badly at the amazing palace, but yet take all the time in the world at this ginseng wholesale centre? The angry ‘ WHY ARE YOU LATE’ face from the tour guide quickly changes into a ‘Don’t worry, take your time’ angelic face complete with smiles from ear to ear. There is absolutely little value in these mass tours, unless that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Not only that, these type of travel is heavily monopolized by the tour companies, motivated by commissions instead of experience, supports and encourage the culture of irresponsible mass consumption and builds the barrier of a continued inequality in tourism.
Travel, individually crafted
How wonderful if every trip could be crafted the same way a coffee is made, according to our tastes, preferences and interests?
While travelling in Myanmar, I had the chance to meet 2 amazing artists, one of them a water colour artist who peddles his paintings at various tourist spots in town.
Extremely hardworking and talented, he self learnt the technique by watching other people paint and then improvised along the way. We spent a good half an hour chatting in broken English about his life, his art and how he makes a living – Leaving wishing I could bridge the language barrier, understand him better and sit down for an afternoon to learn the skill from him! Yet that was impossible, so on to the second artist.
This artist is in an even worse position. Peddling her art among vegetables, on a tattered picnic mat, she draws a crowd by doing them live. Using just a small razor blade and one colour, she churns out paintings in 10mins and sells them for 50cents. All that amazing skill, for just 50 cents. This time, she spoke no word of English and all I could do was to stand there and marvel at her performance, eventually buying as many as I could carry. And again, leaving with a thought about how wonderful it would be to connect with amazing people like her and learn something from her. Then it struck me. Why not?
I got myself a translator and got the experience I was desiring for, learning something with a local, appreciating the arts and also their way of life while paying for an amazing experience. If only everyone had access to such a platform, then we would all not only be able to do some good while we travel, but have an absolute blast and not feel so cheated at all these other schemes.
That platform became Backstreet Academy, the community we built in so many cities to connect people and make a social impact. Today there are boxing champions who fight week in week out, wood carving masters who used to carve palace gates until they fell out of fashion, even fishermen who will bring you to their favorite spots and show you their traditional techniques, all with hospitality only seen in movies.
As Airbnb connected people through living in shared spaces, Backstreet Academy hope to connect through doing things with people who share interests, and hope that we are only a tiny cog in the wide movement to bring people closer together and appreciate one another’s culture more even as we visit ever more countries. A vision to see travel hand-crafted, and where sparks fly between people of shared passions.
About The Guest Writer
Check out more at Travel Inspiration 360‘s Guest Writer Section or visit Jamon Mok’s Backstreet Academy 🙂
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