THE LAST TOURIST
THREE AND A HALF STARS The days of holiday makers urged to 'leave only a footprint' have long gone. For the sake of the planet, can we get them back?
DOCUMENTARY Canada English #THELASTTOURIST
Starring Bruce Poon Tip, Jane Goodall
This provocative documentary started life as a corporate communications piece for G-Adventures’ boss Bruce Poon Tip. The idea took hold, blossomed and grew into a feature length documentary during which time, to his likely frustration, he lost creative control. The story needed distance and perspective, and that’s what he gave it. What started in a pre-COVID world took on yet another dimension when editing commenced at the height of the pandemic. The result is a startling look at an over-touristed world, and the rare opportunity we suddenly had (still have?) to reset the industry. Who knows, we might even save the planet.
From ‘all inclusive’ horror holidays to the social, commercial and environmental damage inflicted by cruise companies, THE LAST TOURIST points a lens at mass tourism and the carnage left in its wake. You only have to look at Boracay Island (The Philippine’s government closed it indefinitely to help them recover from the distressing pressure of red light tourism) or Thailand's Maya Beach, a once a pristine bay until it featured in Alex Garland’s THE BEACH. Several million visitors later and it too is closed for ‘regeneration’. The list goes on; the Trevi Fountain, the Eiffel Tower, Machu Piccchu, Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Fuji, Mt Everest - each buried under queues of tourists lining up for their Insta-worthy moment.
But the problem is not just self-absorbed happy-snappers. There are questionable industries who respond to the demand generated by tourists - wildlife parks, orphanages, volunteer organisations for people who give up their holidays to help impoverished communities. The documentary draws a compelling line of distress between the two - would the ‘orphans' exist without the volunteer’s income?
Executive producer Poon Tip has a declared interest in keeping tourists touring otherwise his company would disappear. In fact, it very nearly did at the height of lockdowns. Unsurprisingly his solution to the problem is more pragmatic than ‘stay at home’. Instead he asks us to ‘think before we book’. Tourism can enrich the lives of visitors and the visited alike, both culturally and economically. But first you have to consider how and where you money is going. Will it reach and help impoverished communities, or stay with European-based cruise-ship consortiums while you drink another poolside cocktail in the Caribbean? For instance.
Fortunately THE LAST TOURIST keeps polemic under control as it presents the truly shocking impact of unfettered tourism. It shows an example, and offers a solution. At a wildlife show they ask a young man if he ever thought about how performing elephants are cared for? Pointing to a deranged mother in chains it says, that’s how, marking the last time that tourist spent money without thinking about consequences. Interviews with the likes of Jane Goodall and National Geographic’s Costa Christ strengthen the documentary’s case for a behavioural reset. Just think. Think about why and where you spend your money, and you can change the world.