Warning: This is a rant. No beautiful photos of dreamy sunsets will go with what I have to say. Yet, I have to get this off my chest…When irresponsible and uncontrolled tourism leaves a wake of destruction in its path It. Isn’t. Pretty
The truth is that irresponsible tourism can kill. It kills unsuspecting people, cities, small towns in pristine places, and our fragile environment. It kills morale and self-confidence, replacing them with fear and denial. In its wake, it leaves us bewildered, confused, frustrated, afraid, and angry…oh so angry.
Irresponsible tourism affects everyone from the locals who are displaced to the business owners to the foreigners who have chosen to retire and live abroad. It affects us in Nicaragua and we are all responsible for the consequences of our irresponsible actions. No one gets off the hook easily…not anymore.
Yet, exposing the dirty side of irresponsible tourism in Nicaragua is a big NO! NO! Those who are courageous enough to speak out are harassed, shunned, and/or blocked from expat forums. Why? Well, I suspect a number of reasons, the biggest reason is economic. Responsible and sustainable tourism can provide direct jobs to the community and indirect employment generated through other industries such as agriculture, food production, and retail.
Responsible tourism can bring about a real sense of pride and identity to communities. By showcasing distinct characteristics of their ways of life, history and culture, tourism can encourage the preservation of traditions which may be at risk of losing their unique identities and cultural heritage.
Nicaragua relies heavily on tourism. Visitor expenditure generates income for the local communities, which can lead to the alleviation of poverty. The benefits of responsible and sustainable tourism are great, yet what about the problems that irresponsible tourism brings and how do we solve those problems without creating an awareness of them first?
I have written about the Codes of Responsible Travelers and I think that if we are responsible travelers we are aware of the effect we have on the places we visit. Yet, there is another side of tourism that is rarely discussed. What responsibilities do the locals have, the business owners, the local government, and the foreigners who have chosen to live in the high tourist areas? Do we escape accountability for when bad things happen?
I have given this much thought, and although I do not have a business in Nicaragua, I see the effects of the good and the bad practices daily. In discussing my thoughts, I want to make sure it is presented in a context where I don’t place anyone on the defensive or create emotional turmoil. I read about the problems on expats of Nicaragua forums, and I talk with many local and foreign business owners. These are only my thoughts on the problems. I place no blame on any group, but I think it is time that we ask ourselves some important questions to help our tourist communities be safe, enjoyable, and unique places for tourists to visit.
With the influx of foreigners moving to Nicaragua and starting businesses, are we loving Nicaragua to death? So….
Let’s Get Real About When Tourism Can Kill with six important questions we should ask ourselves as expats.
1. What responsibilities do we have to ensure the safety of our guests?
“The tourists had money and we needed it; they only asked in return to be lied to and deceived and told that single most important thing, that they were safe, that their sense of security—national, individual, spiritual—wasn’t a bad joke being played on them by a bored and capricious destiny.”
When visiting a new place, I always ask the locals where the safe places are to walk and the places I should avoid. We usually stay in AirB&Bs and our hosts have always been gracious in answering our questions about safety. I always leave reviews either on Trip Advisor, or AirB&B about our travels. Usually, my reviews are very good, but occasionally, there are reviews that I have to write informing others of some of the problems we encountered.
But, my question is…How much should we tell tourists and should we warn them only if they ask? It is a moral dilemma sometimes because if we write about the problems, complain about the crime, or express our frustrations because we are people who live in these high tourist areas, then businesses may suffer, we are harassed by expats in denial that these problems exist, and/or we remove our posts from social media. People will be afraid to visit, and most likely will avoid the problem areas.
And if we warn them, how much should we say? Should I tell tourists that at least five people have died climbing our volcanoes? Do tourists need to know that two people died during Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur? Should we tell tourists to read the reviews carefully for the places they stay because some of the places can be dangerous or are unsafe for single women because of hosts who allegedly sexually harass the guests? Should we tell tourists about the known pedophile fugitives or the local thieves or a dangerous cult in Nicaragua?
2. How involved should we, as foreign residents of Nicaragua, be in the local politics?
One of the major problems that accompanies tourism is crime. Tiny police forces in Nicaragua are overwhelmed, underpaid, and understaffed. When uncontrolled tourism bombards a small community, fishing village, and picturesque colonial cities and they are unprepared to deal with the petty crime that accompanies tourism, should we take actions into our own hands or try to work with the local police force?
How successful are community watch programs or Friends of the Police programs in solving the problems that occur because of increased tourism?
As pensionado visa residents of Nicaragua, we cannot become involved in the politics in Nicaragua for fear of being deported. Yes! It is the law! So, we have to tread lightly and gently in discussing our thoughts about corruption and Nicaraguan politics in general.
3. How important is planning in developing sustainable tourism?
I believe that planning for our future is invaluable. Planning for an increase in tourism is imperative. Without foresight everyone suffers. For example, we should ask ourselves, “What kind of tourism do we want? ” If we want a party atmosphere with bars lining every street, then we need to be prepared to deal with the problems that a party atmosphere will bring to our communities.
Tourism is relatively new to Nicaraguans. With the influx of foreigners moving to Nicaragua to start businesses, many of the locals can’t compete because they lack the start-up revenue, the awareness of what tourists want, and the marketing skills. Not only that, but the prices of everything increase significantly.
Nicaragua is experiencing growing pains in tourism. Are they prepared and have they planned for the future?
4. What are the laws of Nicaragua for developing businesses?
There are several good sites for information in starting a foreign business in Nicaragua.
Doing Business Here
How to Set Up a Company
Guide to Doing Business in Nicaragua
NGO Law Monitor: Nicaragua
Doing Business in Nicaragua
5. What responsibility does the Nicaraguan government have in developing safe, sustainable tourism?
I had an interesting conversation with a local business person who owns four businesses in Nicaragua. I asked him what he thought the biggest problem was in tourism and he didn’t hesitate in telling me that it was the government. His opinion is that Nicaragua enacts many laws that affect tourism, but very few of them are enforced on a consistent basis because they encourage foreign business ventures.
For example, he is required to pay into his local employees’ public health insurance (INSS) Yet, he knows of several businesses (mostly foreign) where the local employees are not receiving public health insurance, which is required by law. Also, he said that there are some businesses who do not hire local employees, instead they run their businesses with volunteers or foreigners. In exchange for work, they get free room and/or board.
6. Are we loving Nicaragua to death?
“Ironically, in many areas today’s number-one threat is not clear-cutting, overgrazing, or destructive mining practices. It is something more insidious. Well-meaning people, many of them former visitors who were seduced into moving to the glorious region, are loving it to death.”
Have we been seduced into moving to Nicaragua by articles, or blogs, or expat forums where the ugly side of living and working abroad is hidden from us? Is it possible that we are so enamored with our adopted country that we are destroying it with our affection?
The truth is ugly, but so is ignorance and denial. I hope I’ve given you some thought-provoking questions to ponder. I know that I’ve been thinking about these questions for a month and trying to figure out how to create an awareness of our problems without being offensive or casting blame on one group. We are all responsible to some degree. I believe creating an awareness is the first step to solving problems.
How do we create a thoughtful discussion of the problems that tourism brings without exposing the ugly side of tourism…the side that can kill?