Throwing a wrench into the original format for the American Buddha Co. Blog for a Letter from the Editor.
As tourists, all of us are guilty of buying souvenirs, overtipping at restaurants or on taxi rides, and spending “tourist” prices on local activities. But, have you ever thought about the effect these actions have on the local community or the society, as a whole? Noticed the ratio of souvenir tents to doctors offices or police stations? Or wondered if the child selling the “I ❤️ Asia” magnet on the side of the road is attending school?
Southeast Asia finds itself very dependent on the economic benefits of tourism. Recent wars and genocides in this region targeted the highly educated, which left a severe “knowledge gap." For example: Due to the lack of education and productive skill sets in the surviving population, Cambodia has been facing severe challenges in redevelopment since the end of its civil war in 1975.
The billions of foreign dollars being pumped into these countries are surely providing job opportunities in the tourist industry. But unfortunately, are casting darker shadows over the industries and institutions that need attention: education, healthcare, energy, and transportation. Why invest money and years of study into a college education to become a physician, when you can make double the earnings as a tuk-tuk driver today?
In addition, its rare that profits from these tourist attractions go back to the local community. For example: Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most renown Buddhist sites, had its ticket sales managed by a Vietnamese-Cambodian business tycoon since 1990. It wasn’t until last year that the Cambodian government took back control, only to raise prices and continue to depend on foreign aid for preservation. It was last reported that only 28% of ticket sales go back to the temples. (Note: At the beginning of 2017, one-day pass prices to Angkor Wat increased from $20 to $37 per person.) Where does the other ~$26 go?
At this point, you're asking, ‘What am I supposed to do about it?’ The first place to start is awareness. There are both good and evils to the tourism industry -- opportunities to learn and explore new cultures vs. exploiting locals for foreign economic gains. It is important to understand what actually benefits each of these countries vs. harms.
American Buddha Co. Blog will be a venue to present the highlights, the red flags and the to-dos/not-to-dos. We will continue to share the People, Places and Things from our travels, but we will be posing more questions to help us uncover our and your opportunities to make change.