It isn’t likely that your local bookstore will be selling a copy of Elizabeth Becker’s “Overbooked”, a devastating critique of the impact that travel has on certain major destinations. Although it garnered excellent reviews, it is not the page-turner that results in best-sellers. But it is a unique discussion of issues that most travel writers and commentators carefully avoid. So if you can’t find a bookstore copy, then look into thhe various mail order sources.
“Overbooked” is a searing commentary that tells of the virtual ruination of Venice from unchecked tourist numbers, the untold damage to the culture of Cambodia and the enslavement of child “prostitutes” in that country and in Thailand, the inability of “safari tourism” to bring about a meaningful improvement in the livees of Africans, the standardization of the travel experience in China, the mindless visits of cruise ship passengers to islands in the Caribbean, and untold other examples brought about by uncontrolled and excessive mass tourism.
I found it frightening and yet inspirational, enlisting all of us in travel to help correct these conditions. And I felt that way even though I was subtly blamed in the opening pages of the book for having contributed to the problem. Because my 1956 book, “Europe on $5 a Day”, set off a torrent of American travel to Europe, I am apparently blamed by Ms. Becker for what then ensued. She fails to point out that I never advocated group tourism; I wrote of the joys of absolutely independent travel, on one’s own, living modestly in the local economy, blending in with residents, reacting respectably to their viewpoints, their lifestyles, their lessons. I never suggested that you see Europe from a 45-passengers motorcoach, staring anxiously at the life outside.
And thus I share with Elizabeth Becker my total dismay at the way so many people choose to visit a foreign nation. I groaned when I read her description of the typical schedule of Chinese tourists in Venice, a never-varying routine which starts with 90 minutes of being herded as a group through various churches, and then being brought next door for two hours of shopping for Venetian masks manufactured in China.
If you have ever felt that numerous commercially-offered travel experiences are mindless and inane, disrespectful of your best values, instantly forgotten, and injurious to the destinations, you will find countless examples in Elizabeth Becker’s searing book. But you may also discover—it depends on you—the innovative policies that might erase the damage that excessive and badly-planned tourism is producing all over the world.