hidden europe 68

The dancing bears have gone: Moral issues in European travel

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: A gesture to history and terror or a remarkable piece of millennial narcissism? There’s much controversy around tourist behaviour at Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial (photo © Rittis / dreamstime.com).


A fortnight of sun, sea and sand beckons! Two weeks of freedom. But is that holiday really a chance to escape the political and moral dilemmas which occupy our minds for the other fifty weeks of the years? We consider some of the ethical issues around European travel.

There was a time when travellers to some parts of eastern Europe and the Balkans would encounter bears used in utterly inappropriate locations. Be it dancing bears in a market square or bears cruelly caged outside a restaurant in a bid to attract customers. Thankfully travellers these days are less likely to encounter such barbarities. The bears may have gone, but there are still moral edges to European travel.

Let’s leave to one side the knotty debates around animal rights (bullfights, foie gras and swimming with dolphins) and the passionate discussions around flying and climate change, the latter well rehearsed in the pages of hidden europe — see for example our article on the flyer’s dilemma published in 2020 in issue 60 of the magazine. Instead let’s focus on other ethical controversies which confront travellers. This is not just a matter of individual agency and personal decision making. For many travellers are ‘guided’ in their itineraries by third parties, such as tour operators or guidebook writers and editors.

For those who nudge travellers towards a particular place (or influence those travellers’ perception or understanding of a particular place) there is a special responsibility which must be confronted.

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