There's a lot of nastiness in the world these days. That doesn't mean to say we should all be staying at home
Sunday 30 May 1999
Then imagine the lucky citizens of this country constantly descending on your home town, having flown in on specially designed space-capsules for which a ticket costs more than you will earn in a life time. They are dressed in clothes that made you look like a tramp, they take your photograph, they refuse to speak your language, they refuse to pay the prices you think they deserve to pay - then they disappear, as always, without leaving you their addresses.
A fantasy? Not quite. This, I am afraid, is what the West looks like to half the population of the world right now. What's more, in China, foreign tourists are seen as collaborators in a malign decision to single out their Belgrade embassy for destruction. In India and Pakistan, the happy backpackers who thought they were escaping from the pressures of life in the West find themselves at risk of nuclear incineration. In Russia, Western tourists are viewed as one more component in the plot to whittle away their grand old empire. Even in good old Greece, holidaymakers from fellow Nato countries are regarded by some of the locals as comparable to invading Nazis.
Will people want to travel in such a world? If the whole point of going away is to escape to a stress-free environment, will anyone still want to go anywhere? We'll need to take holidays in space if we want to escape stresses as generalised as these. We will need to blast off towards the stars until we can hear nothing louder than the gentle patter of solar particles on our windscreens.
Failing that, perhaps we should stay at home. Crowded trains, mewling children, office politics, bad television and car thieves at home don't look so bad alongside global ethnic strife. I see the point of those who liken Bank holiday traffic jams and crowded Devon tea-shops to the threat of general nuclear war, but right now local holidays look a bit more attractive than they usually do.
Does this mean that we should dump our dreams of visiting India and China and resign ourselves to eternal scones and clotted cream? Or, at the very best, dare to cross the channel as far as France and Spain (but not Italy, which is too near to Serbia)?
I don't think so. I still cling to the idea that global tourism can be good for us, as long as travel opportunities can be equalised across the world. Let's invite the two billion people of China and India - for starters - to come on holiday to Europe and the US, and see to it that they have a jolly good time. It'll make us all feel a lot better about going away ourselves.
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