Before you embark on your next adventure, take the time to view Gringo Trails. This feature-length documentary, directed and produced by American anthropologist Pegi Vail, sheds insight on the unanticipated impact of one of the world’s most powerful globalizing forces—tourism.
Gringo Trails illustrates three cautionary case studies that reveal the devastating effects tourism can have on local cultures and the environment: one deep in the Bolivian Amazon, another on the Salt Flats of Bolivia, and the third on Thailand’s small island, Ko Pha Ngan.The film flashes back to a 21 year old backpacker, Costas Christ. Eager to find a tourist-free island paradise, Costas travels off the “gringo trail” to the small island of Ko Pha Ngan. It is 1979 and during his month on Haad Rin Beach, Costas finds his paradise—authenticity. The film then jumps forward to 1999 showing Haad Rin Beach jam packed with over 10,000 people celebrating New Year’s Eve. This once pristine and secluded beach is now home to the famous Full Moon Festival, which attracts thousands of travels from across the world. Local businesses have flourished but socio-cultural and environmental aspects of Ko Pha Ngan are devastated.
As a local Thai admits, in Ko Pha Ngan, it is too late. Sustainable tourism development requires a thorough assessment. Context is key. This is why Solimar International stresses the importance of strategic planning, particularly destination assessments. Destination assessments provide in-depth analysis of the competitiveness of a region as a tourism destination and are key to identifying the next steps in sustainable tourism development.
Time and again throughout Gringo Trails, the viewer comes across tour operators, guides, and travelers who are not properly trained in sustainable tourism practices. The deterioration of the Salt Flats and the decreasing anaconda population in the Bolivian pampas, are partly due to a lack of professional training and education. Strategic planning can only be carried out to full potential if the destination has a trained workforce and educated travelers. Recognizing the instrumental role education has in cultivating sustainable tourism, Solimar works deeply to promote specialized training and education services geared toward sustainable tourism.
The case studies depicted in Gringo Trails demonstrate the importance and significance of sustainable tourism. Pegi Vail leaves the viewers with hope, as she takes us to a small indigenous village in South America where well-planned tourism development has proved to be a positive force in the village’s economic and social development as well as its environmental and cultural conservation. Gringo Trails truly is an eye-opener for the conscious traveler.
Gringo Trails made its theatrical release September 4-11 at Cinema Village in New York City. For a full list of screenings visit gringotrails.com/screenings.