Human rights and tourism:  A contemplative essay

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In the United States, the month of November is connected to the holiday of Thanksgiving. It is a day of contemplative thought, mixed with travel, large feasts, and sports. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Tourism & More (T&M) offers this contemplative essay about human rights and giving thanks.

Tourism officials and professionals are carefully watching the debate as to the definition of national borders, questions of visas and issues of free or less-free travel access, although these issues also tend to be connected to the relationship between human rights, national rights, and travel.

The assumption behind all human rights is that a person is born free and has the right to exercise that freedom within the rule of law. No discussion of human rights and its impact on travel and tourism can take place outside of the assumptions of freedom, and freedom is often best understood from its opposite perspective, that of slavery. Slaves have no human rights. They are objects cast in human form but lacking a “soul.” Slaves live in the eternal present. To be a slave, one lives in world of uniformity, one place is the same as another, one moment the same as the next. Slaves have no rights to personal dreams, and dreams are the foundation of freedom, human rights, and travel.

In contrast to the slave, the free man or woman sees him/herself as part of an evolving chain of traditions. To be free is to learn to connect one’s past to one’s future; to be free is to live not only in the “here” but also with the dream of the “there.” To be free is to face the “other” and to realize that one has the right to interact with another being, in another time and at another place.

It is this assumption that the human being has the right to know the other that forms the basis of the travel industry. Without this assumption, travel is merely the transfer of a “here” to a “here” outside of the context of time. For example, a prison inmate may be transferred from one incarceration center to another, but the person is not a traveler. In this case, the prisoner is merely an object being moved for the convenience of his/her jailer. In a like manner, we only need to look at refugees on the run.  Although they have physically moved, the blank expression on their faces is indicative that they have been deprived of their human rights; they are now captives of history, living outside of the boundaries of time and space.

To be a traveler, we assume that we possess basic human rights. To be a free traveler one assumes the following:

  • There is a reason to go from a “here” to a “there.”
  • The traveler will be treated with respect.
  • The traveler will be free to leave.
  • The traveler will have the right to encounter the “other.”
  • The traveler will have the right to pursue his/her legal dreams.
  • The traveler has the right to learn about into the past and to contemplate the future.

The nomads of the Middle East are an example of a truly free individual. Recognizing no political boundaries, the ancient nomad went where his/her spirit moved him/her. Despite the poverty entailed in the nomadic life, the nomad enjoys the dignity inherent in a free soul. In contrast to the ancient nomad stands modern man. Modern humans often feel hemmed in by a number of a factors that separate them from the classical image of freedom. Twenty-first century travelers live in a dichotomous society. On one hand, due to modern transportation, travelers and tourists may go to wherever they want. On the other hand, tourism must survive in a world of regulations. Even in the freest of societies, we cannot simply “move” from one nation to the next. Travelers need passports, they often must obtain and pay for exit and entrance visas, and travelers must work through a maze of regulations and restrictions in order to purchase travel tickets .

Furthermore, with the advent of mass-modern travel, the question must be asked: “About whose human rights are we speaking?” Are we referring to the rights of the traveler or of the host population? For example, westerners often enjoy their freedom to travel so as to take “advantage” of the sexual favors of Asian women and Caribbean men. Many of these women are kept in a near state of slavery. In such a case, the traveler ceases to be the victim but instead becomes at least the partial victimizer.

If human rights are tied to the issue of freedom, then the question turns to freedom for and from “what.” Because travel can at times be defined as the “stressful pursuit of the enjoyment of the other,” travelers seek the right to:

  • go where they desire
  • speak with whom they desire
  • see what they desire

Yet any rational person will soon agree that no one enjoys these rights without limit. Does a nation have a right to keep outsiders away from sensitive military sights?  Or does a religion have the right to limit entry into its holy sites to that of only its followers? May a government keep a known killer away from tourists? Does a society have the right to enact laws of pornography? These are the central questions of the tourism industry, and the way we answer them will determine much of the industry’s future.

To complicate the matter still further, there is no one definition of “human rights.” Are “human rights” the right to travel to where one desires or the right to leave one’s nation or are human rights nothing more than the right to choose the food that one eats, the color of the clothing that one wears, and the right to breathe the air without fear. If the former fits the definition, then many nations lack human rights. If, however, the latter forms our definition, then the nations that prohibit the use of pork, school systems that require a school uniform, and places filled with polluted air also lack human rights.

In this world of constant travel, in order for tourism professionals to maintain a viable and credible industry they must begin to answer such questions as:

  • What are the rights of the host society?
  • What are the rights of the traveler?
  • What are the rights of the travel and tourism industry?
  • When does the common good of restricting travel outweigh the rights of the individual traveler?

Finally, we need to ask ourselves questions such as: what is travel and how does it differ from emigration, tourism, and business trips? Should each type of traveler enjoy the same quantity of rights? If not, why does one form of travel take precedent over another?

The author of this essay is unknown to me,  I have modified it for the tourism industry and express my thanks to all who have contributed to it.

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