The U.S. Is In Danger Of Killing Our Tourism Golden Goose

Readers of this blog, or who work in the travel and tourism industry, already know that global tourism today is driven by the outbound Chinese travel market. At more than 130 million strong and rapidly growing, Chinese travelers are the world’s largest visitor group and the biggest spenders (averaging $6,000 per visitor per stay) when traveling abroad. The good news is that the US ranks 6th among all nations as the destination of choice among our Chinese visitors, following nearby Thailand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. China is forecast to become our #1 visitor source to the US by 2021, leapfrogging both Canada and Mexico.

Based on US Commerce Department data, in 2016, the US travel and tourism industry was responsible for 11% of all US exports and 33% of service exports. With one out of every 18 Americans employed – either directly or indirectly – in tourism-related jobs, the industry currently accounts for 2.7% of the US GDP. International travelers produce a disproportionate share of travel-related spending, totaling $244.7 billion and yielding an $83.9 billion trade surplus for our economy last year.

And no international visitors to the US are as productive as those from China.

China’s nearly three million US visitors last year spent more than any visitor group in this country, outspending our Canadian and Mexican visitors by more than $10 billion and spending more than our British and Japanese visitors COMBINED. The importance of China to our tourism exports is also highlighted by the fact that last year seven out of ten of our tourism source markets saw a decline in spending while spending by our Chinese visitors increased 9%.

Last year, tourism spending in California injected a record $126 billion into the state’s economy, accounted for $10.3 billion in state and local taxes and generated 1.1 million jobs. Spending by all international visitors in California equaled the combined value of the state’s top four product exports – civilian aircraft, computer parts, non-industrial diamonds and voice/image/data equipment.

California’s “star” international visitors were the Chinese – the 1.3 million Chinese nationals, a significant number of which came here as members of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) groups, a segment of the market that has registered double-digit growth year after year. Bottom line: these visitors spent more than $2.9 billion on their travels in my home state.

The code that travellers need to learn

We reached Trolltunga after seven hours, 13.5km and 1,000m of elevation gain. The fog rolled in as a line of 35 people waited to take their picture on the iconic cliff. Translating to ‘Troll’s Tongue’, Trolltunga juts out of a steep mountainside 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet near Odda in south-western Norway. Formed 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age when a glacier frozen to the mountain broke off, it has in recent years become one of Norway’s most famous geological sites – and one of its most controversial.

Deciding we’d wait until the next morning to have our picture taken on the rock, my hiking partner Jacqueline and I were shown to our tent by our day guide. The only ones in our group to stay overnight, we tossed our rucksacks in the already-pitched tent about 500m from the cliff edge and took a nap. A few hours later, our overnight guide Erlend Indrearne arrived with a young couple from China who would camp with us. It was raining, so we all took shelter in the small emergency cabin next to our tents to cook meatballs over a single burner and drink cups of Solboer Sirip (a redcurrant juice) mixed with chilled water. Wind blew in through the cabin’s broken window, and the wooden floors creaked with every shift in bodyweight as we tried to get comfortable.

Trolltunga, which translates to ‘Troll’s Tongue’, juts out 700m above Norway's Lake Ringedalsvatnet (Credit: Credit: Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images)

Trolltunga, which translates to ‘Troll’s Tongue’, juts out 700m above Norway’s Lake Ringedalsvatnet (Credit: Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images)

“How many hikers usually have to turn around?” I asked, laying a damp sleeping bag from the storage room across mine and Jacqueline’s laps. I thought back to the beginning of the hike when two people out of our group of 20 turned back after 45 minutes of steep hiking.

“At least one or two in every group.” Indrearne replied, dishing the warm meatballs onto five plates. “Many of them come unprepared and don’t understand the intensity of nature here. Or they come with no respect and leave their garbage scattered everywhere.”

“Is it just tourists who leave behind rubbish?” I asked. “Or Norwegians too?”

“It’s really the tourists who take advantage of allemansratten,” he said. “Norwegians know better. We were raised on fjellvettreglene.”

Norway visitors often take advantage of allemansratten, an ancient 'right to roam' (Credit: Credit: Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images)

Norway visitors often take advantage of allemansratten, an ancient ‘right to roam’ (Credit: Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images)

Although a traditional right from ancient times, allemansratten has been part of the Outdoor Recreation Act since 1957. The rules are simple: you can sleep anywhere as long as you stay at least 150m away from the nearest residency, and if you sleep more than two nights in the same place, you must ask the landowner’s permission. Most important, though, is that those who practice allemansratten should have respect for nature, the wildlife and the locals.

Norway is not the only country to practice this ‘right to roam’ law. Other countries include Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Latvia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. What separates Norway from the rest, however, is fjellvettreglene.

Fjellvettreglene taught us nature doesn’t care about our egos

Fjellvettreglene, known as Norway’s ‘mountain code’, was introduced after a several accidents occurred during Easter of 1950. After 15 people died in the elements during another Easter of 1967, the Norwegian Trekking Association and The Red Cross announced their campaign ‘Welcome to the mountains, but be responsible’. Fjellvettreglene, which encourages people to have a healthy and respectful relationship with nature, has since become a crucial part of Norwegian culture. It includes points such as planning your trip and reporting wherever you go, bringing necessary equipment to assist yourself and others, always knowing where you are, seeking shelter if necessary and feeling no shame in turning around.

“Fjellvettreglene taught us nature doesn’t care about our egos. We should show as much respect and take as much caution as possible. Take this hike, for example,” Indrearne explained. “For people who aren’t experienced hikers, this is considered extreme. Not many tourists realise that. For Norwegians, we’re hikers. We grew up with this nature. We know how powerful it can be.”

Foreign hikers are angering Norwegians by leaving behind garbage (Credit: Credit: Ingunn B. Haslekaas/Getty Images)

Foreign hikers are angering Norwegians by leaving behind garbage (Credit: Ingunn B. Haslekaas/Getty Images)

Fascination for the outdoors comes naturally to Norwegians because of friluftsliv. Coined in 1859, the philosophical concept of friluftsliv means ‘free-air life’ and is used to illustrate the raw dedication and passion Norwegians have for nature. It equates the sensation of going backpacking in the mountains or camping on the shore with the feeling of being home.

But while friluftsliv encourages people to practice allemansratten and allemansratten encourages the love for friluftsliv, fjellvettreglene is the education to preserve and protect nature.

Trolltunga saw 1,800 visitors in one 2017 day alone

“Since Trolltunga is becoming a brand-new bucket-list item, we’re trying to educate the rest of the world now, too.”

While Odda, the nearby town to Trolltunga, has been called the ‘rotten apple’ of the Hardanger region because of its industrialised look, today the town has become a popular tourist destination – and it’s primarily because of Trolltunga. From just 1,000 tourists in the whole of 2010, Trolltunga saw 1,800 visitors in one 2017 day alone.

Indrearne explained this surge of tourists coming to Trolltunga. “People want the same picture they see on Instagram and Facebook. A lot don’t care about the experience of the hike. They just want proof that they did it, and they’re ruining the nature up here with their garbage.”

Some regions of Norway have seen a 32% increase in tourism from 2015 to 2016

Some regions of Norway have seen a 32% increase in tourism from 2015 to 2016 (Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Nationally, Norway has experienced an 11% increase in tourism from 2015 to 2016, with some regions seeing as much as a 32% increase. But, while good for the economy, this tourism boom has become a threat to Norway’s ancient right to roam law.

“We’re proud of allemansratten here, but the truth is that it’s creating dangerous situations,” said Indrearne, shaking his head. “Norway has never had to regulate hikes before, but we believe Trolltunga may have to be one of the first. It’s become a big controversy.”

The amount of people up here takes hold of the nature

Used toilet paper, leftover barbeque grills, abandoned tents, sweet wrappers and plastic bottles can be found littered all around Trolltunga. Someone even wrote their name on the cliff in black pen. And with the high amount of people who come unprepared for such a strenuous hike, Norway’s leading hiking group, Friluftsliv, also has called for regulations on the number of tourists hiking to Trolltunga and other of the country’s threatened geological attractions. Lasse Heimdal, leader of the outdoor organisation, defended their stance by saying that it is “urgent that we now take measures to ensure that outdoor life is safeguarded.”

“The amount of people up here takes hold of the nature,” Indrearne continued. “On a busy day, you may have to wait in line for an hour and a half just to get a picture. To control this, we’d like to regulate how many people can hike in a day. As for camping, we believe passes should be a requirement and should be limited. Starting hike times should also have regulations so people don’t start too late and find themselves stuck up here. We also encourage people to do a guided hike. As guides, we’re trying to set examples for others to be respectful to the nature.”

Erlend Indrearne: “We grew up with this nature. We know how powerful it can be” (Credit: Credit: Morten Falch Sortland/Getty Images)

Erlend Indrearne: “We grew up with this nature. We know how powerful it can be” (Credit: Morten Falch Sortland/Getty Images)

The next morning, Jacqueline and I began the 13.5km descent. A rescue helicopter hummed low to the ground searching for a hiker. We walked past the long line of exhausted people waiting to take their picture on the cliff, some wearing sneakers wrapped in plastic bags and others in short sleeves shivering in the 5C wind. We stood in the back of the line, waiting to get our picture taken by Indrearne; the only way to get the iconic picture of the rock jutting upwards is by going on a guided hike where your guide suspends upside down 10 to 12m to take your photograph.

The tiny island traded for Manhattan

We sailed out of the Arafura Sea, through the Timor Sea and into the Savu Sea. Soon we’d be in the Flores Sea and then the Banda Sea – home of the Banda, or Spice Islands, a cluster of 11 lush islands in eastern Indonesia. In the early days of sail exploration, these seas were known by Arabic traders as the Seven Seas, those enchanting waters on the other side of the world where spice was in the wind. To sail them meant you had sailed as far from staid, grey Europe as you could. According to the old sea charts, you’d reached the mystical ‘land of dragons’.

We sailed to a place where history meets legend

For the record, there are more than seven seas; it’s more like 100. But these waters did feel different. It wasn’t just the clove-scented breeze, the long, slow swells, or the high-bowed fishing boats that swooped close to look at us. We’d sailed to a place where history meets legend, a place where traditional ships still sail past live volcanoes to a forgotten island that once changed the world.

From our vantage at anchor, we watched colourful sailing canoes glide by on the water as competing calls of three muezzin summoned people to prayer in the mosques on shore. Two fishermen paddled up in a small wooden dugout and said good morning while handing us bananas. After the niceties (what are our names, where are we from, where have we been and where are we going?), their eyes turned to our boat’s details. My husband Evan did his best to explain how our 12m catamaran was built and what materials we used. But most of their answers were found by studying the shape of the hull.

Banda Run is one of 11 lush Banda Islands, or Spice Islands, in the Banda Sea (Credit: Credit: NNehring/Getty Images)

Banda Run is one of 11 lush Banda Islands, or Spice Islands, in the Banda Sea (Credit: NNehring/Getty Images)

Perhaps it’s similar to the way an architect or builder approaches a new building; looking for details that explain how people adapt structures to a location’s weather, landscape and culture. Sailors and fisherman build our vessels to suit a place, and we have a language all our own.

In Indonesia, where the ocean has long been the highway between the more than 17,000 islands, boats offer a myriad of clues about the seas and the people. The dugouts are obvious – they’re limited by the size of trees and never travel far from home. Long, narrow-hulled fishing boats are perfect for launching from a beach, and cut through the swell nicely.

But it’s the big schooners, called phinisi in Indonesian, that tell the most intriguing story. Like most of the boats we’d seen, much of the construction is traditional: hand-carved beams; wooden dowels instead of nails; and seams caulked with cotton. But the twist is that these two-masted ships borrowed both design details (originally part cargo ship, part warship) and the source of their name from Dutch pinnaces, vessels that first found their way to the Banda Sea in the spring of 1599.

Phinisi is a traditionally carved boat with details borrowed from the Dutch vessels that dominated the seas centuries before (Credit: Credit: Diane Selkirk)

Phinisi is a traditionally carved boat with details borrowed from the Dutch vessels that dominated the seas centuries before (Credit: Diane Selkirk)

The Dutch, along with the Portuguese, English and Spanish, had been in a ferocious race to find the elusive Spice Islands and gain control of the spice trade. There were fortunes to be made in cloves and nutmeg, and everyone was eager to knock out the middleman – the Asian and Arab traders who kept the islands’ location a secret.

When the Dutch finally found the islands, they protected their investment by forming the Dutch East India Company (VOC). With a horrific brutality that included slaying much of the local Bandanese population, they gained control of the plantations of evergreen nutmeg trees; the spice they produced not only flavoured food but was thought to cure illness including the bubonic plague.

A 350th anniversary celebration

Head to Run Island from 11 October–11 November 2017 to celebrate its exchange with Manhattan Island. The Banda Festival marks the 350th anniversary of the Breda Treaty and the trade that changed the world.

The festival will feature cultural performances as well as a spice and culinary festival, traditional music events, puppet theatre performances and an ancient map exhibition. Rumour has it that the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, will even make an appearance.

At the time, nutmeg only grew in the Banda Islands. A combination of the region’s isolation and the finicky nature of the nutmeg tree kept the price astronomical. Nutmeg will only grow in specific conditions: fertile, well-drained soil in a tropical climate that gets lots of rain. Even then the trees only fruit after seven to nine years, and the labour-intensive process of harvesting requires workers to handpick each fruit and remove the outer covering, before carefully peeling off the mace (a delicate, saffron-coloured spice), drying the seed and cracking off the hard shell.

With the local population subdued and enslaved as workers, the VOC monopoly of the spice trade was now hampered by just one thing. In 1616, the English had managed to gain control of a Banda Island called Run; a speck of island less than 2 miles long and just more than half a mile wide. It was here the English claimed their first colony and formed the English East India Company, and in doing so launched the British Empire.

When the Dutch found the Banda islands, they built forts to protect their investment (Credit: Credit: Doug Meikle Dreaming Track Images/Getty Images)

When the Dutch found the Banda islands, they built forts to protect their investment (Credit: Doug Meikle Dreaming Track Images/Getty Images)

The English East India Company was only able to defend Run against the Dutch for four years – but they didn’t give up their claim. In 1664, in retaliation, four English frigates were sent across the Atlantic Ocean to seize a Dutch holding called New Amsterdam. The seat of the colonial Dutch government at southern tip of Manhattan Island had a population of 2,000 people, but they quickly capitulated. In 1677, the two countries came to an agreement; both had refused to give up their claims on each other’s islands, so they made a trade. The Dutch gained control of Run and the English got New Amsterdam – a new colony they renamed New York.

These days, the Bandanese have regained control of their 11 islands and their nutmeg. Not many signs of the Dutch or English remain, other than the ruins from the VOC’s forts, the architectural style of the homes and the shape of the phinisi schooners that carry liveaboard divers around the islands. Ships like these were once Indonesia’s main form of transportation, carrying spices and cargo. Later they gained notoriety when the crews turned to piracy, using their skills to plunder European ships. These days, many of the traditional phinisi are outfitted with comfortable cabins and offer multiday voyages throughout Indonesia.

GettyImages-148640908.jpg (Credit: Credit: M. Gebicki/Getty Images)

These days, many traditional phinisi offer multiday voyages throughout Indonesia (Credit: M. Gebicki/Getty Images)

We came across our first phinisi schooner when it sailed into our isolated bay off Alor Island. Anchored beside us, it looked like it had travelled out of the region’s turbulent past – except for the passengers gearing up for a dive. Not long after the schooner’s guests dove into the water, we followed.

Swimming along a steep drop off, I admired the colour and diversity of the hard coral. Then a school of jacks caught my eye. Soon I was enthralled, in turn, by a turtle, Napoleon wrasse and a black tipped shark. I spent a while staring down a lobster before coming across the kind of traditional bamboo fish trap that wouldn’t have been out of place in an archaeological museum. When we surfaced to a view of fishermen in dugout canoes bobbing alongside the ancient-looking schooner, I thought it was our boat that had sailed through time.

That evening, as I watched the schooner bobbing in the swell at the base of a jungle-covered volcano, I wondered briefly what the world would have looked like if the English hadn’t traded Run for New York. But as the stars grew impossibly bright in the sky, I realised that perhaps it didn’t matter – in that moment, the world was as it should be.

Flights delayed, canceled after man breaches security at Illinois airport

A man was taken into custody for trying to ram an airport terminal in a stolen car, and then attempting to break into a police vehicle.

Several weekend flights were delayed or canceled at an Illinois airport after a man tried to use a stolen vehicle to ram the main terminal and breached security.

The Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport in central Illinois says in a news release that the man was taken into custody and to a hospital after the incident early Saturday. The airport was closed for a few hours.

Airport officials say the man used the car to try to ram the building but was unsuccessful. He then forced his way inside and spent several minutes in a secured area before trying to break into a police vehicle.

The man’s condition wasn’t immediately clear, nor whether he had been charged. The Associated Press couldn’t reach Peoria County sheriff’s officials Sunday.

Authorities believe the incident was isolated.