Do I dare dip my toes into the world of travel blogger trolling?
Because trolling is what it seems like to me. The general outcry and back and forth about TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) hosting their next conference for travel industry professionals in Zimbabwe has led to a back and forth amongst multiple travel bloggers. It seems to be trying to get at a bigger picture but that picture is being lost in a storm of criticism, mostly involved around privilege – white privilege, economic privilege, etc.
Some bloggers oppose the conference because they feel TBEX is incorrect in choosing to work with a government whose leadership and politics is a point of concern for many leaders and citizens around the world. However, they seem to be encouraging people to travel to Zimbabwe all the same, just not with this conference. Meanwhile others feel that it’s a great move because it will be bringing tourism and attention to Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole, as well as serve as a great opportunity for bloggers to network.
Accusations and criticisms fly between TBEX and travel bloggers; collaborating with corrupt governments, not checking your white privilege, speaking up about Zimbabwe but not previously having said anything about police violence against blacks in the United States. I wonder if we are forgetting the deeper and true meaning of travel and what it is that unites us all.
During the Cold War, a Buddhist Japanese leader named Daisaku Ikeda visited the Soviet Union, in spite of tensions between the two countries and the fear of military confrontation between the Soviet Union and China. He met with Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin and other leaders intending to build and foster relations with them. In face of the criticism he said, “I am going to the Soviet Union because there are people there.”
Those of us who are privileged enough to travel at all -white, black, Hispanic, etc.- should be coming together to send a positive message to those who read our blogs instead of criticizing each other about privilege or for not speaking up about other atrocities that are happening around the world, including on our home soil.
What I find hopeful and encouraging in the midst of the arguments is that each side is coming from a place of concern and global citizenship. It is impossible to speak up and protest every crime against humanity that is happening in our shared world, but the important thing is that we are aware of them and speaking up when we can.
I don’t know enough about the political situation in Zimbabwe or the agreement between TBEX and the government to say who is right or wrong when it comes to how to visit. But the bigger questions I have in mind are these: Do we not travel to learn and connect to the people and world around us? Isn’t that why we get on the plane and share the stories of our experiences in the first place?
While the reality is that politics can impede us from traveling to certain countries and our safety and well-being should always be top priority, if there is an opportunity to visit a part of this world to establish connections, learn about others and share our experiences with our audiences, then go, in whatever manner you think is best and safest for you and the country you are visiting.
During your time there connect. And after your visit? Share. Share what you have learned, share the stories you have heard, share about the connections you have made. Because that is where our focus needs to be: our shared humanity.
Would you travel to a country where there is political tension? Or that morally or culturally goes against your principles and beliefs?