Editorial: This pandemic brought to you by…, by Ian McKay

A fast-mutating virus, for sure. A global socio-economic system geared to capital accumulation at any price—including the global climate change and headlong deforestation and spread of industrial agriculture, all virtually guaranteed to propel deadly pathogens into human beings close by. Individualistic polities unable to grasp the need for, let alone implement, comprehensive plans protecting their people. Four long decades of neoliberal hegemony, which disabled social programs that might have mitigated the tragedy.

But over and over again, on a more basic level, this pandemic was brought to the world courtesy of global tourism, by many measures its largest industry, whose exponential growth since the 1970s has meant humankind is interconnected in ways we can now recognize as supremely dangerous. The megamachine of mass tourism has been revealed to be a supremely dangerous one, especially if left with minimal regulation. In countless cases, the virus arrived courtesy of travellers. In none did it swim between the continents. Without mass tourism, it’s hard to see how it could have instigated a world-changing pandemic.

“Nobody” by Gauthier Delacroix (CC BY 2.0).

It once seemed unbelievable that this tourism megamachine could ever be geared down, let alone virtually turned off. But, during the pandemic, border closures and the enforcement of safety rules, as well as tourists’ own caution, seemingly offer a pause in its relentless progress. From the perspective of many of mass tourism’s critics, it offered an unexpected chance to step back and take a close look at an industry that has rendered entire cities and  countries dependent on its fickle favour and brought lives of impoverishment and insecurity for its vast casual labour force.

It also allowed people in environments beset with mass tourism—the over-touristed cities of Barcelona, Venice and Lisbon; Mount Everest with its unbecoming traffic jams of earnest tourists struggling to reach the summit as proof of their individual excellence; many islands in the Caribbean, marketed to North Americans as so many interchangeable therapeutic spaces offering sea, sun and sex—a chance to reflect on its pitfalls. As Luc Renaud suggests in our interview with him, an industry promising to deliver prosperity has, in innumerable cases, simply delivered precarity.

As he tells us, tourism will return. Does it have to return in the same form? Having experienced a pandemic brought to us largely through the commodification of the planet, with mass tourism allowing the virus easy access to most of humanity, cannot humankind imagine a different, less dangerous form of interconnectedness? If we allow it to return in that form—with the argument that, after being cooped up for two years, we just have to have that European vacation, Caribbean cruise, or trek to Everest, for fear of never completing our personal bucket-list—do we not forfeit the right to complain when, predictably and tragically, the same reckless policies generate the same dire results?