Response Blog 2: “On Homecoming and Wayfinding – Re-thinking Sustainable Tourism”

In her blog “On Homecoming and Wayfinding – Re-thinking Sustainable Tourism” Anna Pollock introduces the “Art of Wayfinding”, an idea which originated back during the times of  early Polynesian development, and how it can be applied by indigenous societies in order for them to preserve their unique settings and practice sustainable tourism .

Pollock talks about her “love-hate” relationship with tourism. The “love” side is easier to guess. The “hate” side is related to mass tourism and how it destroys valuable natural recourses, wipes out the cultural identities of unique destinations and becomes a reflection of pure commercialism.  Yes, tourism is a commercial industry but it can be developed and practiced in a way that does not harm the natural settings of the local communities.

She also mentions the “sickening” feeling she experienced when she visited the island of Bali after 16 years. The “sacredness” of the island had disappeared under the pressure of big investments and shiny resorts, gradually continuing to erase every sign of the Balinese culture and distinctiveness.

Unfortunately, this is the case with many other destinations where tourism the main source of income. Bulgaria, where I am originally from, is not an exception. I get the same sickening feeling when I think about, for example the Black Sea coast which is now teeming with large-scale developments and luxury hotels being built on previously existing greens areas, acres of marshlands have been destroyed. Almost every house is a hotel. And if there is no house, it is being built to become a hotel.

No wonder that the holiday season there has shrunk resulting in less revenues and lowering standards for hiring employees. No wonder that this landscape is turning tourists away. It makes me sad that nobody seems to care in a country, otherwise abundant in natural, historic, and architectural resources which could be promoted and exploited wisely.

What is the “Art of Wayfinding” and how can it be applied to promote sustainable tourism?

Just like Anna Pollock, I became very intrigued by the idea, and the skill of Polynesians to sail vast distances against the prevailing winds and find their ways with no navigational instruments. They learned how to read the sky, stars, currents, clouds and behavior of marine life to determine their position and direction. The “wayfinding” evolved into a metaphor, representing a way of thinking and how it can help each one of us and our communities to navigate throughout the duration our lives:

“You only know where you are by knowing precisely where you have been and how you got to where you are. One’s position at any one time is determined solely on the basis of distance and direction traveled since leaving the last known point. You don’t look up at the stars and know where you are, you need to know where you have come from by memorizing from where you have sailed. And, just as importantly, you need to see your destination clearly in your mind, if you ever wish to find it in an ocean as vast as the Pacific.”

A very powerful idea! In tourism it can be materialized if people found their way of developing new ways of practicing tourism, by having a clear idea of who they are, what  their values are and what they want tourists to value them for. This is sustainable tourism.

I wish I could tell whoever is responsible for this endless construction of the Black Sea coast  “Wake up! They don’t want to see your hotels and luxury. They want to see your way of life and your culture, they want to know you.”

On another hand, the idea of “wayfinding” made me think about how sometimes we think that we  haven’t achieved anything. And  it’s because we only look at the present without having a starting point. Now when I look back, for example two years ago, I realize the distance I have traveled, although sometimes it feels that I have gotten nowhere.


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