Rethink the Gringo Trails in a Globalized World

Director, Pegi Vail and Asia Society Film Curator, La Frances Hui spoke at Asia Society Hong Kong Center on December 6, 2013

HONG KONG, December 6, 2013 – Organized by the Center on US-China Relations in coordination with La Frances Hui, Asia Society Film Curator, a series of documentary films were presented named Green Docs Film Series: From Global to Local. Gringo Trails is the opening feature-length documentary of this series which shows the dramatic long-term impact of tourism over 30 years.

The director, Pegi Vail is an anthropologist and Associate Director of the Center for Media, Culture, and History at NYU. Her experience of travelling to over seventy countries around the world affords her the opportunity to raise awareness that tourism is one of the most powerful globalizing forces of our time. She began her initial shootings of Gringo Trails in the year of 1999 and it took her around a decade to finish the follow-up shootings and interviews. The film started with Yossi Ghinsberg’s story, a backpacker who got lost in his trip to the Bolivian Amazon for three weeks before he was rescued. His biography has brought a flood of adventurous visitors to the Amazon jungle, thus reducing the species diversity now.

Tourism is selling nature and cultural heritage. Ko Pha Ngan Island in South East Thailand was a remote place with a beautiful beach named Haad Rin. However, it is now a famous backpackers’ destination for its full moon beach party. In the year of 2010, 50,000 party goers came and produced tons of wastes on the beach and in the water. “They completely lack for respect for this land”, said a local resident.

Although nearly half of the residents leave the community in Bolivia Amazon because of the rapid growth of tourism, some people don’t want to leave the land and stay. In the last part of the film, Yossi Ghinsberg turned up again and mentioned that he was working for community-based tourism, showing a sign that maybe it’s not too late for us to get tourism back on track.

In the post screening Q&A, Pegi said that the film intended to provide a comprehensive approach to open the conversation in different formats. “No matter what is your budget, you need to know some dos and don’ts about the place, read some literature written by local communities if possible and get to know the place in a local perspective.” Pegi suggested that we can find a way to bring people who have a broad vision and people who are able to find financial resources together. We can actively think about how we can change things in the future.


Reported by Elaine Wong of Hong Kong Baptist University.