IS TRAVEL A RIGHT? – THE CONCEPT OF RIGHT, & WHEN IT’S JUST WRONG
‘I know my rights’ is a well used phrase in the legal and commercial world, and it is now making regular appearances in discussions about tourism and, in particular, overtourism. When tourists are informed that damage to streets, parks, mountains, ancient sites or beaches are leading to a forced restriction on visitor numbers, or indeed a tourist tax, ‘we all have a right to travel’ is the most commonly used protest line. You can print it on as many holiday t-shirts as you like, but at Responsible Travel, we don’t completely agree.
Of course we value travel. We sell holidays, after all, but we are working hard to get our heads around this ‘rights’ issue. It is a complex concept; however, it is one that is worth exploring to understand this belief by many that we all have a right to travel. Certainly, the residents of Venice, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and cruise ship destinations from Santorini to Skye, don’t agree. They are understandably shouting “what about my rights?” as their streets get ruined, water resources usurped and air polluted by giant cruise liners with thousands of tourists arriving en masse.
Philosophers, theologians and politicians dating back to the Greeks and Romans have made an important differentiation between natural rights and legal rights. Natural rights are those that are not dependent on the laws of a culture, community or government. They are sometimes, therefore, described as universal or inalienable. Legal rights are those put in place by a legal system. In tourism, these two concepts can often be confused and also lead to conflict. The US government’s Executive Order in January 2017 ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ was probably the most shocking example of this.