Do tourists act this way at home? |

Do tourists act this way at home?

Jonah M. Kessel
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Marc Schwartz, right, works with his other HERO -- Harrah's Employees Reaching Out members -- Saturday during Coastal Clean-up at Baldwin Beach.

One thousand five. One thousand six. One thousand seven. As South Lake Tahoe resident Annie Geratowski picked up the 1,008th cigarette butt from Ski Run Beach, a tourist walked by and asked her why she was picking up trash.

Geratowski told the visitor that she was participating in International Coastal Cleanup Day, an event in which volunteers all over the world pick up trash from coastal territories in an effort to create cleaner oceans and waterways.

The tourist responded that she would help if only she had a trash bag. Being the beach captain for the cleanup crew, Geratowski grabbed an extra trash bag and informed the tourist she had extra gloves.

“Oh, I’m sorry — I’m on vacation,” the tourist said as she quickly walked away.

While this visitor was under no obligation to pick up trash on her vacation, Geratowski’s experience on the Ski Run Beach raises interesting questions about the sociology of being on vacation. Would the tourist have helped if she were in her home town? Does people’s sense of responsibility change when they are on vacation?

Having lived in a variety of states and countries, including many tourist destination spots, a pattern in visitor behavior has become increasingly clear to me. Obviously not all tourists act the same; however, the rules and ethics that guide our everyday activities and actions seem to also go on vacation when people leave their home.

When I was living in Hawaii, tourists had the tendency to believe that since they were on a small island in the South Pacific, drinking and driving was OK. Laws didn’t apply to them because they were on an island. Living by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, tourists would swim about touching, hurting and sometimes killing coral reef that had taken hundreds of thousands of years to grow, even after they had been told not to. At home, surely these people wouldn’t do anything to deliberately hurt their property.

In New Orleans, tourists would consume more alcohol and take risks they would never take at home. While some of these actions are a form of release, and in fact, the reason people take vacation, other actions seem to fall into the double-standard category of ethics. It’s not OK to do “X” at home, but it is OK to do it when you’re “on vacation.” Do the words themselves subconsciously stimulate the mind into thinking questionable behavior is OK?

As Geratowski continued her mission of cleaning the beach, people filtered through on their way to the many tourist-oriented activities at the beach. While some smoked cigarettes and others drank from their to-go Starbucks cups, they all seemed to have one thing in common: What looked like a beautiful Sierra landscape to me, looked more like a trash can to them; and Geratowski was trying to clean it, as they continued to fill it up.

As the group finished up, two-year Coastal Cleanup veteran Ben Fish found a fortune from a cookie in the sand. The fortune read “Your efforts in a critical area will soon be rewarded.”

As the group debated the laws of karma, they packed up for the morning and began the drive home. However, they were first stopped by Steve Marsten, who identified himself as the parking lot manager for the Ski Run Beach/Marina, and who charged the volunteers $2.50 for parking. Apparently, today was not the day Fish’s good deed would be repaid. Thanks, Steve; you keep Tahoe green; the rest of us will try to keep Tahoe blue.

— Jonah M. Kessel is visual director of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at or (530) 542-8023.

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