Tourists in the global pillage

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The Independent Online
GLOUCESTER Road tube station - my tube station, from which I commute daily - is, especially in high summer, the tube station from hell. It is rampant with tourists, ringing to the babel of many tongues, teeming with backpackers; a permanent reminder of the West London Air Terminal, which used to be sited 300 metres away. The terminal was swept away years ago, but the host of satellite hotels that were magnetically attracted to the area remain - hence the mass of tourists who outnumber the residents in my particular part of London.

I cannot step into the streets without being accosted by someone clutching a street map. I cannot get to sleep at night until the happy people who have been sampling London's nightlife have finally run out of all the different ways of shouting goodnight to fellow members of their coach party. I am woken in the morning by the sound of the same coaches winding up their hydraulic brakes and ticking over until the last oversleeper and the final suitcase have been herded aboard.

Shops and restaurants in the neighbourhood cater to tourists rather than to me. There is a high concentration of places selling suitcases, overnight bags, rucksacks and money belts; an undue number of fast-food outlets, and an amazing proliferation of restaurants with bay trees in barrels promising quick meals for pounds 4.95. Strung along the thunderous, dusty, petrol-fuming, six-lane Cromwell Road, Italian restaurateurs stick up an awning, a few dust-blackened shrubs, and set out their tables on the pavements. How can people be so easily fooled?

I have a radical proposal. No one should be allowed to travel abroad until they can a) answer questions on the six chief beauties of their own country (family snapshots may be adduced, if desired); b) formulate several dozen simple sentences in the language of the country(ies) they plan to visit; c) show they can convert correctly from their own money into the currency of their proposed destination; and d) demonstrate map-reading ability. For the benefit of Americans and Japanese I would add e) they promise not to invade our sales, but buy their Burberrys, Aquascutums, Laura Ashleys, Paul Smiths and so on from the many shops selling them back home.

And even then, even if they can fulfil all those requirements, tourists should be obliged to take at least one holiday in every three in their own homeland, if only to keep earnings from tourism at their accustomed level.

The trouble with travel is that it has become not an adventure (think of all those Japanese tourists packed like sardines into air- conditioned coaches and bussed from the Tower of London to the Houses of Parliament to Buckingham Palace and back to mass- booked hotel); not a mind-broadening experience, but a demonstration of economic status. You reach the age where PLYs (people like you) hitch-hike in India/

Thailand/Australia (15-19), camp in France or Greece (16-21), , rent farmhouses in Tuscany (25-40), or yachts in the Caribbean (45- 60), or cruise anywhere (55 onwards), and so that's what you do.

Never mind that camping in the Scottish Highlands or the West of Ireland or the Gower peninsula would be at least as much fun; or that hitch-hiking through the Outer Hebrides would be quite as adventurous, or that you can rent farmhouses and gaze across hillsides quite as lovely in north Wales . . . that's not the point. The point is that people book holidays in order to make an outward and visible statement about their bank balances for the benefit of friends and fellow travellers.

In consequence, all the places visited are rendered the same. The same T-shirts ('My parents went to Paris/New York/The British Museum and all I got was this lousy T-shirt]'); the same postcards (plain black with, scribbled like neon across it, the words 'Athens/Bangkok/Istanbul by night'); the same duty- free scents, cameras and designer scarves; the very same family photographs - all individuality is subsumed into one global non- culture. Meanwhile the inhabitants of the places visited are disappearing, like the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands, to be relaced by a polluted, parasitical form.

In the few bistros and restaurants where food remains truly local, its cost soars: for this is the price of authenticity.

Now that global warming has ensured scorching heatwaves everywhere, there is no excuse for going abroad more than once or twice a decade. 'Ethnic' jewellery, scarves, clothing, carvings, rugs and cutely dressed dolls in traditional costume can be bought anywhere. Now that all beaches are polluted there is no need to go to the Mediterranean; you can swim in home- grown sewage off the coast of Cornwall.

Next time you are tempted by a travel agent or airline advertisement, ask yourself: have I seen the west coast of Ireland; the Northumberland coast above Newcastle; the Norfolk Broads; the East Anglian wool churches; the Dingle peninsula, or the standing stones at Callanish? And if not, why not? See Longleat and die.