Overbooked

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By Elizabeth Becker . Simon and Schuster, Trade paperback edition 2016.

Elizabeth Becker spoke to an audience in the Ralph Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC about her latest book, Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, as part of the Library’s ongoing Speaker Series. 

In 1980 there were 250 million tourists. In 1995, 500 million. By 2012? Wait for it…. One billion tourists rove the planet in search of something different than home. Then there’s the environmental impact of the mammoth cruise ships, idling buses, trains, planes, ferries or cars they rode in on. Where ever that place may be, there’s an impact – sometimes positive, often negative.

A large eager group listened to Elizabeth Becker discuss the research and analysis behind her new work “Overbooked” The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism published by Simon & Schuster this year. Becker pointed out that tourism provides opportunities for advancing public diplomacy and ran us through the efforts of savvy countries like France, Costa Rica, China and others with national marketing programs. Attracting tourists from BRIC countries – China mainly- France harnessed the power of tourism decades ago. The “well-heeled, educated tourists” leave their RMB, reals, and rupees and rubles throughout France, not just Paris. The country has an integrated win-win marketing strategy that drills down to agricultural networks so provincial inns will have enough succulent organic lamb chops for the menus. Every week, a cultural festival in different regional towns ensures steady stream of visitors. The tourism ministry even issued a marketing report on how to attract Chinese tourists.

Alas, the US government abandoned the promotion of US tourism around 1995. There’s no national tourism marketing program. Since 2011, tourist traffic to the US has flat-lined, called “the lost decade” by travel industry professionals, said Becker. During the same decade, the number of tourists nearly doubled. In 2009, more Chinese went to Paris than anywhere in the entire USA, including Hawai’I, Becker pointed out. US efforts to leverage tourism for public diplomacy are lightweight or non-existent. Tourism marketing is left to the states, Becker pointed out, but most states don’t have the resources to integrate with regional or national travel networks.

Anyone who’s been out and about in the world during the 21st century knows about the crowds of people – in the baggage scan line, traveling and spending money. Too bad they aren’t spending that moola in the US, even if they do stand on the wrong side of Metro escalators. The impact of gigantic cruise ships damages the ocean ecosystem and shore environments. Fragile Venice receives 20 to 24 million tourists a year. Angkor Wat took in 800,000 tourists in the first quarter of 2013, yet the province of Siem Reap is now Cambodia’s poorest with devastating environmental degradation and declining water resources. I wonder if there is an internal migration issue as well, as in China, Mexico and elsewhere, farm families go to the tourist destinations for hotel construction work or service jobs, but can no longer afford to live in their own region. I’ll have to read the book to find out.

It’s not all bad though – Costa Rica practically invented eco-tourism and maintains highly sustainable programs. African game safari tourism is key to protecting animals and communities, Becker commented.

The Q & A session opened with discussion of what can be done to tap into tourism revenues and how can public diplomacy leverage tourism to support its goals. Becker mentioned that in the past Embassies offered information about travel in the US, helping to promote the US tourism industry. She mentioned that the US could encourage residents and citizens to learn foreign languages to be better hosts for those potential visitors. At the request of one participant, Becker recalled her celebrated war reporting career, a strange interview with Pol Pot followed by a desperate escape from Cambodia.

Simone de Beauvoir in America

Since 1971, I’ve experienced many long distance road trips across and into the three countries of North America. Does it take special stamina to travel on the the vast road and rail networks of Canada, Mexico and the United States of America? After reading American Day by Day, it sounds like travel by train or bus in the U.S. is more difficult now. Passenger rail systems in the U.S. and Mexico have been gutted.

America Day by Day cover

A few dozen months ago, in a New York Times interviewPaul Theroux mentioned several celebrity authors who cruised the blue highways of the U.S.A. — Steinbeck, Nabokov, Scott and Zelda — but overlooked the North American travels of French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir.  

The European feminist landed at LaGuardia Airport in January, 1947 and during four months, criss-crossed the USA by train, car and bus.  Her goal was to meet American students, especially women.

America Day by Day is her fascinating account of meetings with students at elite US colleges.  She was keen to sit down with young women at Vassar, Radcliffe, Berkeley, and the other top universities. Photos of the sleek de Beauvoir in conversation with college gals swathed in rumpled ankle-length flared skirts and thickly rolled white socks offers a superficial window to the sartorial differences of the French grande dame and care-free students.

Simone de Beauvoir
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR

There were other gaps. She thought American college students were uninformed, quite innocent of global politics, the impact of WWII, or the realities of life.  The students she met were intellectually and politically tame, but they had similar taste in music and entertainment.  For diversion, with students and literary friends, she would hunt for city jazz clubs and bars where she could talk to African-Americans.  

America Day by Day

Simone de Beauvoir

University of California Press, 2000. 408 pages.

Already Home: Topography of Spirit and Place

Already Home  ::  A Topography of Spirit and Place  

Barbara Gates searches her backyard for personal meaning, exploring what’s hidden behind the obvious.

Lotus blossom symbol.
Lotus blossom symbol.

A neighbor on her Berkeley, California street has started sleeping in Gates’ car to avoid household turmoil.  Gates tolerates the backseat sleepovers, though other middle-class neighbors object that she’s encouraging bad elements .  Reminds me of the hilarious (and bittersweet) Alan Bennett novella The Lady in the Van.

The woman seeking refuge in the backseat of a car and other events propel Barbara Gates to investigate the street where she lives and the extended neighborhood.

What starts out as a tentative exploration of self and the meaning of home broadens as the author gains confidence in the mission.  She notices drug dealing on the street, the poverty of certain neighbors contrasted with the prosperity of others.  She explores abandoned industrial facilities  a few blocks from her door.

The narrative includes high and low crises in her life (a rat in the kitchen, raising a daughter, cancer) and chronicles her aperture to the broader world.  She learns about herself by exploring the neighborhood; and that’s when the story becomes more engaging.

The glamour of meditation. Image: http://matsmatsmats.com
Glamour of meditation?
matsmatsmats.com

It threatens at first to be another slightly irritating Oh-poor-me-and-my-inner-life narrative (the Eat, Pray, Love genre) from a privileged person.  What a change when they jump off the meditation cushion and notice the world, or even where their feet fall.   In contrast with her neighbors, the author can read, has a stable home life, an income and time to meditate.  What’s her problem, a reader wonders, at the mention of a rat in the kitchen?  The rat turns out to be a linking device jolting the ecology of  the neighborhood, like street crime and encroaching development.  The book turns interesting once the inner-gazing and self-glazing ends and Gates notices the windows, street, people and neighborhood.

The author is cofounder and coeditor of the Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind.  She is brave enough to show the process of how she opens to the world.  She explains and exhumes the history of her house and surroundings, then realizes the lesson is simply to let go of the past and embrace her present life there.

Resources:

Daily Om

Yoga Journal

Interview with Barbara Gates

Book information:  Shambala, Boston & London,  2003,  229 pages,  $21.95 hardcover,  ISBN: 1570624909

This review appeared in a slightly different format in The Bloomsbury Review.

The Atlantic Rim

While the Pacific Rim captures attention  ::

Consider the Atlantic Rim, an older trade route.

Map of N. Atlantic Ocean floor and N. Atlantic Rim coastal areas.

The July 3, 2008 issue of London Review of Books discusses two recent books:

North Atlantic Map. http://en.wikipedia.com
North Atlantic Map.
http://en.wikipedia.com

My interest in the history and geography of the Atlantic Rim took me to Kenneth White’s book On the Atlantic Edge. White’s ideas about geopoetics are provocative. He’s a Scotsman who lives in France and writes in English and French — a forward-thinking author with poetic nuance.

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On the Atlantic Edge
by Kenneth White

Resources:

The Atlantic World Research Network – University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Atlantic World Foodways Conference – January 31 – February 2, 2014.

Transatlantic Exchanges Forum – Plymouth University – Atlantic Studies Initiative.

Against Their Will :: Compulsory Sterilization

Roadside marker : North Carolina Eugenics Board.

No, it couldn’t happen in America, not in the 20th century.  No way!

Oh, but forced sterilization did happen, encouraged by state governments, doctors and social workers. The programs were sometimes supported by pharmacy manufacturers and were based on lousy research by people who weren’t geneticists.  The political  ramifications bear close attention.

Sterilization programs did happen and not just in one place or during a remote time long ago.  Utah, where researching ancestry is an ardent pursuit, was sterilizing people without their consent as recently as 1963.  I’m relieved to note that my home state — Maryland — never passed a compulsory sterilization law.  However, sterilizations without consent still occurred.

If you can stomach it, read Against Their Will to learn about the awful reality of North Carolina’s 20th century sterilization program which curtailed forever the capacity to reproduce for thousands of people without their consent. When was this North Carolina law finally struck down?  In 2003!

Against Their Will
Kevin Begos, Danielle Deaver, John Railey and Scott Sexton
Gray Oak Books 2012

Eugenics programs existed in many states.  More than 60,000 Americans were sterilized without their consent, part of the  eugenics fad of the 1920s that found its way into the rhetoric and practices of Nazi Germany.  Nazi Germany and the United States of America were not the only nations engaging in compulsory sterilization —  two provinces in Canada followed the US lead in this practice of weeding the gene pool.

North Carolina considered setting up the first Department of Heredity, leading to program where agencies across the nation would track family roots and decide who should or could reproduce.  That didn’t happen.

Heroic journalism by the Winston-Salem Journal reporters Kevin Begos, Danielle Deaver, John Railey and Scott Sexton brought this repulsive episode to light.  The series led to the North Carolina governor issuing an apology to the involuntary participants in the program.  The North Carolina legislature was the first in the U.S. A. to consider compensation to victims of eugenics or involuntary sterilization.

Resources

Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States

Against Their Will  – Midwest Book Review

Against Their Will – Good Reads

The Pioneer Fund — Supporter of Eugenics “research”

Eugenics and the Campaign for Voluntary Sterilization in Britain Between the Wars

Rwanda Forced Sterilization Bill Sparks Controversy