Tourists, bless ‘em. It would be hypocritical of me to rant too much about them, having just gotten back from a stint acting as one, but man, they’re a pain in the ass.

It’s always rankled me that New Zealand is so heavily dependent (in mindset at least) on tourism. While the thought of big fat wallets landing in Auckland just waiting to be fleeced is an appealling one to many, I find the thought sets off warning bells.

This isn’t just because of the number of tourists who conform to the stereotype of “socially fat”, obnoxious assholes, but because of the way in which you need to shape your society, and economy, to pander to them. More often than not once you have large numbers of tourists turning up in your town then services will appear to satisfy the visitors. And concomitent to service is the local being servile.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if service was an equal relationship, but service in tourism is frequently not. Instead, for some reason tourists all too often exhibit a belief that bringing their money to a place entitles them to some kind special or preferential treatment, an attitude that can only be described as a perversion of the customer-client agreement.

I’m inclined to thing that this is a product of the social background of the tourist themself. People who travel frequently are (in my experience) more likely to treat service workers with dignity, while those who do not, do not. Less frequent tourists seem to want to make their trip or experience ‘special’ in some way, and that makes them many times more demanding than their more wealthy colleagues.

What Rarotonga seems to be experiencing is something I witnessed in Mount Maunganui in the 1980s. Increasing numbers of people visiting your shores leads to most locals being employed to pander to tourist needs, more pressure on local resources (good luck finding shellfish or molluscs anywhere anymore…), and more people laying claim your home-town as “their special place” (even though they’ve only visited twice, for two weeks, over the course of a few years), and consequently demanding rights and space.

Then there’s the economic divide caused by pressures on accommodation and a two-tiered service industry (read: food), one for visitors, one for locals.

It looks a lot like Rarotonga is losing its soul in this particular battle. Second Chef and I got to listen to lots of visitors whinging about how services and ‘stuff’ wasn’t up to their expectation, and how the locals wouldn’t jump through hoops enough for them. And it was, quite frankly, appalling. Further, most of the money being spent by tourists seemed to be heading to the pockets of ex-pats of various descriptions.

Certainly makes me glad to be working in a city that doesn’t depend on these people. You sure as hell won’t get me living in Queenstown or Taupo any time soon.

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