Friday, September 27, 2019

For Overlooked Countries: Eight Ways to Make Travel Easier

It’s not a common subject on this blog, but for a couple of decades I have been visiting places around the globe.  I have now set foot in 58 countries, in all of the continental groups except Antarctica – while my patterns are more frugal than most Americans, perhaps more akin to those of Europeans with more vacation time than money, they are common worldwide.  Travel is not a main source for writing on American employment, but it is related in that tourism has, during all of our lifetimes, been an ever-rising source of jobs; visitor appeal greatly controls how many are working in certain industries, and many more officials would prefer more outsiders coming in and spending money to fewer.  What relatively inexpensive things can destinations, especially but not exclusively the foreign ones which spurred my thinking here, do to get more of that?

First, consistently have and maintain street name signs.  When asked on an exit form what a small island country could do to make my experience better, I wrote “street signs” in capitals, underlined twice, and with three exclamation points.  Those of us who like to walk around can otherwise be blown off course remarkably easily.  And don’t they want them for the locals anyway?

Second, have some sort of competence test for cabdrivers.  It’s infuriating, as I did in this same place, after being pestered constantly by touts of “Taxi?” “Taxi?,” to finally get in one and find the driver, who seems to know English or the other language I’m speaking perfectly well, does not know locations of even the most popular tourist destinations.  If there is such an oversupply of cabs that drivers will often wait an hour or more for customers to finish their sightseeing so they can get another few dollars taking them elsewhere, then, say, a written exam on where things are would correct that as well.

Third, and this time I speak to the most developed places on the planet, have nothing for visitors requiring mobile phones.  I know, we can buy SIM cards, but using such technology also necessitates having such devices on hand, paying roaming charges, getting a clear signal, understanding dialing codes, and more.  With no country close to 100% cellphone saturation anyway, a modicum of pay phones, which have reached near or total nonexistence in some places, could also help travelers more.

Fourth, have more places of any kind to sit down.  To make the same points I made in academia last decade, populations are aging, people often need a few minutes to rest, and concrete benches can last for 50 years.  While loitering is a reasonable thing to discourage, the value to others will soon, if it hasn’t already, more than offset that.

Fifth, facilitate low-priced private room lodging.  Such offerings are nongovernmental-money decisions, but public policy, as shown in countries with few even rural options below maybe US$100 per night, can influence that.  And I’m not talking about Airbnb or other sharing options either, which can seem confusing and offer communication insufficient to many.

Sixth, accept cash everywhere.  Even in the United States, where customer needs have recently caused restaurants taking only electronic payments to change that, many erroneously assume that visitors will be as well-equipped as locals, who pay no credit card transaction fees and have any commonly used small-change-replacement systems (such as Hong Kong’s Octopus transit cards, extensively used in convenience stores).  I’m with a horde of people who use ATMs, themselves becoming less common at some destinations, and then spend as they go, not only getting lower fees but enjoying seeing the local money.  It would be sad to go to Australia and never see the kangaroos, platypus, echidna, and other designs on their everyday coins and notes.

Seventh, have free local maps available anywhere tourists might go.  Advertisements from their sponsors are fine, and are often actually helpful, but please keep them to scale, show what that scale is, and leave in streets or roads even if judged to be of no visitor interest.  Maps, especially in conjunction with good street signs, have no real substitute.

Eighth, and this is where our home country is the worst, have plenty of public toilets.  Walking around without frequent restaurant or museum stops brings this human need to the forefront.  These places need only be reasonably clean and open at all or almost all times.  If they want to, as many do, charge what is almost always a nominal amount, that is no problem (if they can make change!), though businesses, who see gains in sales when people can wander around longer, could pay for them.  One of the largest American portable toilet providers uses the name Comfort House for a reason.

Although some would need to come from changes in laws or company regulations, none of these improvements would be, in the long term, time-consuming or expensive.  All would boost tourism jobs and business income more efficiently than public relations campaigns.  Through online as well as in-person communication, word spreads more than ever before about the merits of Taiwan versus South Korea, or even, and especially, Fiji against Samoa.  Work and money are good things – when it’s relatively easy, let’s do what we can to get more of both.

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