Is tourism really a good thing?

Michael Stone became a tourist when he obtained one of these machines.

T. Michael Stone


My colleague Hank Segars wrote about some of the tourist attractions in Madison and Lake Country a couple of weeks ago, pointing out that Heritage Hall is Madison’s most visited attraction.

According to Hank, “Madison is geographically blessed” to be situated near Interstate 20.
I’m not so sure an interstate is a good thing?

I read the law enforcement incident reports from Greensboro, Madison, Morgan and Greene counties every week, and I-20 brings a lot of trouble into Lake Country.

But we’ll get to that.

I suppose tourism is usually a good thing, but let’s take a closer look before we get all excited about the economic benefits of bilking unsuspecting travelers out most of their life savings.

According to, tourism is 1) the practice of traveling for recreation; 2) the guidance or management of tourists; or 3) the promotion or encouragement of touring.

I find that definition altogether inadequate, because it explains nothing.

So let me fill in the blanks, and we’ll start with a history lesson.

The first tourists lived in Africa perhaps 200,000 years ago, if my read on the “Out of Africa” theory of human origins is correct.

According to the “Out of Africa” hypothesis, modern humans emerged in East Africa 200,000 years ago and began to migrate all over the globe a few years later.

Since none of these people had travel brochures, they didn’t make much progress at first.

Then one day about 75,000 years ago, a really big volcano erupted in Indonesia. The eruption lifted an enormous amount of ash into the atmosphere and started a volcanic winter and a prolonged period of cooler temperatures.

As the temperatures dropped, the East Africans realized they had to do something or freeze.

After much deliberation, a large contingent decided to vacation in Florida and began making their way there.

Unfortunately, they headed in the wrong direction and quite a few wound up in Australia instead. Until the advent of mapquest and such things, tourists got lost all the time.

However, some wound up heading north and either crossed over into North America via Beringia or sailed across a narrow bit of ocean from Siberia to Alaska.

Without trains, planes or automobiles, all this traveling took quite a bit of time, but some of our East Africans finally reached Miami Beach 63,000 years later or 12,000 years ago. That’s probably just as well since there were no motels there then anyway.

But since they were worn out from all that time on the road, they stayed in Florida anyhow rather than schlep all the way back to Dar es Salaam.

Meanwhile, other East African tourists were heading to other parts of the globe.

Some of these tourists were more interested in skiing than surfing, so they headed north to places like Sweden and Holland.

As a result, these East Africans began to have trouble maintaining adequate levels of Vitamin D. According to an article on the National Association of Science Writers website, people living near the equator developed darker skin due to the high levels of UVB radiation they were exposed to. This darker skin contains eumelanin that serves a natural sunscreen but makes Vitamin D absorption less efficient. Lighter skin contains higher levels pheomelanin that produces Vitamin D more efficiently but also produces unhealthy levels of free radicals when exposed to the more plentiful ultraviolet radiation that rains down on equatorial areas of the earth.

Thus, tourism helped create an array of serious racial issues and a disease called skin cancer in one fell swoop.

Anyway, that’s how tourism got started.

Over the years, some tourists have behaved well and some haven’t.
Marco Polo, for instance, picked up a brochure about China in a truck stop in Venice and decided to go there. He enjoyed his trip and brought back a bunch of souvenirs, including shot glasses, T-shirts and Dollar Tree gift certificates. Cool dude, that Marco Polo.

However, tourist Genghis Kahn wasn’t content with a saltshaker or ashtray from any of the tourist traps he visited. When his Mongol forces invaded the city or Urgench, women and children were given to soldiers as slaves and almost everybody else was killed.

Which is why I’m not so cavalier about the idea of tourism.

The Marco Polo style tourist is what we want, of course – Bob and Irma Page driving down from Indiana in the Honda minivan with Patti and Jimmy in the back seat singings songs like “Found a Peanut,” “Bingo” and “This Old Man,” knick knack paddy whacks abounding.

But what about the Genghis Khans traveling down I-20 on Harley Davidsons?

What about the vicious malcontents who whistle at our women and litter our pleasant thoroughfares with cigarette butts and beer cans? Eh? What about them?

All I’m saying is that luring tourists to Lake Country is a double-edged sword.

And what if Bob and Irma and Patti and Jimmy like it here.

What if they stay?

What if none of us like them?

We’ll be subjected to years of awkward conversation whenever we run into them.

What if Patti and Jimmy grow up to malcontents themselves and start rooting for Georgia Tech.

What then, neighbors? What then?
To be continued . . .

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