Is it possible to have a tourist economy that isn’t modeled on prostitution?

We had a natural disaster here in West Virginia on June 29th. Call it a “land hurricane.” Eleven days on, many thousands of families still don’t have electricity. In the Greenbrier Valley, when the storm came, we were set to host tens of thousands of people for a high-end golf event. Many folks were sure it would be cancelled, given the gas, water, and food shortages that developed quickly after the storm. It wasn’t. Thousands of visitors in Cadillacs and Lexus SUVs showed up to clog the roads and share the limited supplies of water, food, and fuel. Residents waited in 5-hour gas lines and lost public water service because of too much stress on the system. When they complained, Greenbrier owner Jim Justice said “This event is very important to our state. This didn’t take away from helping you — it has helped you.”

It occurs to me that this whole crisis brings the problems with a tourist economy into sharp focus. As it is, tourism is built on the prostitution model; the customer and the pimp (e.g., resort owner) have all the power in the relationship. The prostitute is responsible for making the customer happy no matter the circumstances, and the pimp is responsible for making as much money as possible no matter the circumstances. There is no mutual respect among customer, pimp, and prostitute. In fact, there is often mutual derision and disrespect.

I wonder if it’s possible to develop a form of tourism that works on the model of an old-fashioned host-guest relationship. A host-guest relationship is built on mutual respect: a host sacrifices for the comfort of a guest, and a guest respects and recognizes that sacrifice, bringing a gift as a token of appreciation. If a host is ill — or indisposed by a natural disaster — a polite guest will not hesitate to cancel visiting plans. How would a respectful, host-guest tourism work? Has anyone tried it? I’m curious.

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