When we think of tourism, we imagine unique moments in paradisiacal landscapes, beautiful accommodations, and enriching meetings with other cultures. However, that experience promised by a tourism agency or an influencer on Instagram can change depending on the physical appearance of the traveler. Therefore, racism in the tourism industry is a serious and complex problem.
As a teenager in France, they mistreated me and looked at me contemptuously because they thought I was an Arab. Nicole Philip, an African-American American, was attacked on a beach in Italy for being black. A couple of years ago, multiple racist allegations were made against Airbnb hosts. It is enough to just ask a little bit to uncover disturbing stories.
According to Evelyne Heyer, a biologist, and genetic anthropologist, “Racism is not just about skin color, it is also discrimination against individuals who are physically, culturally, or morally different.” So we know that there is racism in tourism, but… what can we do about it?
Why is it necessary to talk about racism in tourism
Recognizing and understanding that it is a problem and that not everyone enjoys travel experiences, in the same way, allows us to have a more open mind and even more possibilities to provide solutions. However, when it does not affect us directly, we are often left in our bubble of ignorance.
Do you know what your risks are and what your privileges are when traveling? Have you ever wondered what you can do if you see a racist attack in a tourist area? Have you ever wondered how a person’s travel experience with Asian features can change, especially after this Covid-19 pandemic?
In an article published in the Here Magazine, they recommend doing a self-assessment first and educating yourself to recognize racist acts and take action.
An entertaining and valuable way to analyze the different experiences when traveling is to follow influencers or journalists who represent those often victims of travel. For example, listen to the anecdotes of the Canadian Oneika Traveller on YouTube or follow more Latin, black, Asian, or indigenous tourism voices.
The importance of cultural exchange
Yes, it is essential to understand and take precautions — especially if your physical features are discriminated against in that place you want to visit — but we cannot limit our experiences out of fear. Traveling, getting to know other cultures, and allowing others to understand our customs is one of the most valuable exercises to combat racism and our prejudices.
In his Guide for Innocent Travelers, Mark Twain wrote that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” As travelers, we question stereotypes, and we have the possibility of demolishing myths and beliefs with which we grew up from childhood.
Knowing —really— other lifestyles and customs is an exercise in conscience. It is not just about visiting iconic places and posting photos on Instagram; it means going a little further: talking with locals, listening, observing, understanding the differences, their problems, and virtues.
If we want to use our trips to combat racism, we must do an introspective, educational exercise and approach other cultures with humility and a desire to learn. It is almost a scientific methodology, but it is the best way to change ourselves and hopefully our small contribute to combat racism in tourism.