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WEAVING THE WEB

Globetrotting in the Natural and Online Worlds: A Conversation with Marcus Endicott
by Ron Mader

CONVERSATIONS

This conversation was conducted online in February 2007.

Marcus Endicott

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Marcus, what is your background in travel?

I've traveled all my life. I was born in Australia of U.S. parents while my father was a Fulbright scholar. I spent all my teenage years living in Switzerland and traveling frequently. Then I followed the hippie trail overland to India at the end of the 1970s, before settling on university in the Southern Appalachian mountains of Western North Carolina near Cherokee and the Great Smokies to study psychology and tourism for five years.

What is the history of Vagabond Globetrotting?

Prior to finishing university, I published the premier edition of Vagabond Globetrotting, which quickly gained nationwide Associated Press coverage in the United States. Following university, I traveled nearly constantly flogging my book all over the United States as well as back and fourth across the Atlantic, of course taking the occasional time out for romances. In 1989, I published the revised edition of Vagabond Globetrotting, then promptly set off on an extensive multi-year exploration of the Eastern part Europe during the softening of the Iron Curtain. In 1994, I published another book, The Electronic Traveler, which was the first book to appear about travel information on the Internet, which then took my career on a technological tangent into the dot-com boom and bust. The current 20th anniversary edition of Vagabond Globetrotting appeared in 2004, after nearly two years exploring Brazil and the Amazon over the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE2002).

You are enthusiastically working on the creation of artificial intelligence in virtual worlds. How does this dovetail with your work in tourism?

My father was a mathematician, worked for IBM something like 29 years, and was a professor of computer science. My mother studied psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. So, I naturally have an interest in the intersection of computer science and psychology, in this case AI. One of the things I find fascinating about the new 3D virtual worlds, such as Second Life, is their similarity to dreaming or visionary experience. We all know that tourism is about dreams. My feeling is that anthropomorphic AI bots will become the new robotic guidebooks or robot guides, in particular as convergence continues from mobile phones across to high-definition television and even PlayStation interfaces.

Do you see ways that AI can be used to facilitate poverty alleviation?


Is "synthetic" food better than no food? In some cases, yes. Is "synthetic" experience better than "natural" experience? Particularly in the current context of global warming and climate change, I would say in terms of physical travel and transportation yes, some "synthetic" experience may be preferable to unnatural travel. In general though, automation seems to displace as many jobs as it creates. Intercultural exchange, in this age of globalization, is still an art and not a science. No one really knows the right way to do it. I have worked my whole life toward bridging these divides and feel that more awareness, increased consciousness through communication and shared experience is the way forward. Smarter is better.

How are tourism technologies changing in relation to human migration?

Globalization is bringing in its wake undreamt of new tensions and conflicts as diverse peoples come into contact that have literally never been in contact before, and this may be only just beginning. As a result, we are seeing new immigration regimes tightening controls on movement internationally. This is not completely unlike the passport regimes instituted following the Great War, World War I. In the medium term, this may result in physical travel returning to an era of elitism, where people with antisocial records or without approved income may be prevented from traveling.

How do you use Wikipedia?

Right now, I'm involved documenting the recent history of travel technology, what I call the "Travel Technology History Project: 1991 - 2001", part of which is working on the Wikipedia travel technology entry as well as other entries interconnected with it.

How is green travel developing in Australia?

In terms of large countries, Australia is one of the most developed with regard to sustainable tourism. There is quite a bit of sustainable innovation happening in Australia that is not being adequately shared or marketed with the rest of the world, particularly the developing world who need it most. What we are talking about here is mostly cross-over from other fields of sustainability, practical things being implemented within the broader tourism sector. Permaculture is one system that was originally developed in Australia that is having an effect worldwide now.

What is the future of tourism?

Obvious trends include short haul airlines and the burgeoning economies of India and China. There is a general feeling that now is the time to strengthen sustainable tourism practices, before the impacts of increased tourism from Asia appear.

What is the history and future of the green-travel list?

I started green-travel at igc.apc.org (EcoNet & PeaceNet) in 1991 as a result of my bicycle trip to the then Soviet Union, which is documented in my ebook From the Balkans to the Baltics. During that trip, I visited green movements and Green Parties throughout Eastern Europe to discuss sustainable tourism and demonstrate Internet email with an early solar-powered laptop. It was actually my involvement starting the green-travel group that eventually lead to me writing The Electronic Traveler, the first book about travel information on the Internet in 1994. Having been online since 1985 and watching everything related to travel happening around me, as well as scurrying to get people involved in green-travel, suddenly placed me in the position to write that influential book at the dawning of the web. I call the green-travel group an information cooperative, no more and no less than the members want it to be. The Internet began as an alternate channel, and my vision for the green-travel group is to continue to provide that service as an alternate channel for cooperative information distribution indefinitely.

What sort of future do you see for Planeta.com?

I always felt the concentration of Planeta on opening the grassroots Spanish speaking world of Latin America and exposing it to the English speaking north was exceptional. I also admire the pioneering online service of Ron Mader in facilitating global communication events among diverse stakeholders, such as during the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE2002). Gisela Treichler, owner of the Travel Book Shop in Zurich, always tried to tell me that you can't sell the whole world to people. You can go broad and shallow, or narrow and deep. My feeling is that there is a lot of broad and shallow in the world today, and particularly from a green perspective what is needed is more narrow and deep.

Good point. I see Planeta.com going broad and deep with local partners. A final question: Do you accept financial donations?

Yes, gladly, as my father is fond of saying, "just send money!" He reckons I've invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into my online activities since 1985, and now it really makes my day whenever someone contributes even $25 to lend a hand with ongoing expenses. Donations are now accepted via paypal.com (Visa or MasterCard).


Marcus Endicott
Vagabond Globetrotting 3: The Electronic Traveler in the New Millennium, Lulu, 2004
The definitive how-to book for world travel, Vagabond Globetrotting introduces readers to a great collection of resources and indispensable tips. Author Marcus Endicott is one of the pioneers in sustainable tourism and has written a book that stimulates and educates.
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