Elizabeth Gorey sees undoubted benefits to tourism but also a growing number of drawbacks. How far would you agree with her observations, relating your arguments to your own experience and that of your society?

Elizabeth Gorey has made germane points with regards to the benefits of tourism, yet the drawbacks of tourism she puts forth are less relevant to Singapore.

I object firmly to Gorey when she says that it is a paradox that “the very thing that draws the crowds is changed and even endangered by these self-same crowds.” Hark! Singapore does not suffer from this problem, because majority of its tourist product can hardly be called “local or distinctive”. The great natural geographic features that typify the tourism industries of other countries such as Zhejiang National Forest Park or the Salt Lakes of Utah, are nowhere to be found in land scarce Singapore; neither does our nation’s youth allow us to possess ancient heritage sites like Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal. Instead, Singapore plays to her strengths – as a highly-developed nation, Singapore leads the region in medical tourism, drawing well-heeled medical tourists from the region seeking quality medical care. Singapore also hosts high profile events such as the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, the Singapore Grand Prix and numerous other MICE events in state of the art exhibition and convention centres. It must be understood that Singapore thrives on “a global monoculture of homogenous shops and outlets”; a prime example being Orchard Road, Singapore’s premier shopping district. There is nothing to lament about the erosion of traditions, customs or culture, because a young and nascent nation such as Singapore has only ever really known the Western consumerist culture. What draws tourists here are its modern facilities, not historical sites or traditions, which are pitiful compared to the longstanding ancient customs found elsewhere in the world. At most, one could say tourists were attracted by the eclectic mix of cuisines that resulted in novel fusion foods that could only have born here. Yet, these are but a niche group of gastronomists, who will bother to spend time in Singapore to slowly sample and appreciate local foods. To Singaporeans, the tourist industry is but a money-making machine that does not threaten our way of life.

In fact, I would venture to say that tourism industry benefits Singaporeans, not merely in the greater scheme of things as a driver of economic growth, but as an edifying, positive force on us.  I agree with Gorey’s argument that modern day students benefit from working on overseas projects in underprivileged communities. Many Singaporean students today, if they can afford it, travel abroad to less developed countries to serve. Typically, students teach schooling children rudimentary English, Math and other subjects, otherwise they contribute manpower to the construction of facilities such as water piping or schools. This affords the volunteers greater self-confidence, as they see the tangible results of their efforts. Of even greater value is the enhanced awareness of the wider world they gain. Students’ eyes are opened to the variegated lives of people of other cultures and nations, eroding unhealthy stereotypes and allowing them to acquire a more cosmopolitan outlook. With the experiences they amass, students become more objective in judgement and more accepting of others, (which is especially critical at this age, before prejudices are cemented in the adult brain), making for a more harmonious society.

Finally, Gorey maintains that that people are in “increasing danger of losing the ability to enjoy holidays”, and I concur. Tourism was borne out of Cook’s selfless wish for people to escape drudgery. Yet the very technological advancements that allowed us to slip away from the desk, have also enabled the work to follow after us. This is no fault of tourism, but an inexorable fact of life that, however unpalatable it may be, must be accepted. The average Singaporean is not a risk taker, and does not take sabbaticals or gap years, as they remain the preserve of the privileged. Thus, he continues to bear obligations to work, school, family, or whatever burden might be appropriate for the particular stage of life, and place great importance on said burden.

In conclusion, tourism cultivates the individual, and makes society more tolerant. It’s demerits are muted in Singapore, as tourism’s impact on the natural environment is trivial.