Marketeers and spin-doctors of the lucrative tourist business have become masters of their craft. Who can resist those brochures, those TV documentaries, those gorgeous photos of Australian beaches and rain-forests and their exotic, unique animals, as well as the marine life in sublime, living reefs of coral ? Cities like Rio, Paris, London but also countries like Malaysia, New Zealand, Switzerland ? The jungles of Central Africa and South America, the deserts of North Africa, the canyons of the United States, the ice-fields of Antarctica ?
The next tourist frontier will be space. Elon Musk is promising us the Moon and even Mars. The former is a round-trip; the latter is not. On both the scenery is, well, out of this world. But when you have oohed and aahed a few hundred times at the Blue Planet you left, frankly there’s not much to see out there. Why would anyone want to pay a fortune not only for the risky venture of space-travel, but also for the one-way trip to another planet of which we know so little ? Having seen what telescopes, fly-by space vehicles and that neat little car Curiosity have shown us of Mars, I am not specially tempted by either the challenge or the scenery, and wonder why, on earth …, anyone would want to go there even for a visit, if that were possible ?
If it were question of an exoplanet proven hospitable and with lush vegetation, a viable environment and unique tourist potential (little Green Men literally flying to meet your every need, for example), the trip may be somewhat more attractive, even if it were without a return ticket. The bigger problem, of course, is that not only have we no certitude such planets could compare or compete with life on earth (which ain’t really so bad, all things considered), but it is highly unlikely that science would ever make it possible for anyone to travel that far. It is, to offer an astronomical understatement, a long, long way to go.
We know Mars is a barren wasteland, worse than the Australian Outback (which at least has Uluru, Wave Rock and the Olgas) : a No Man’s Land, in the exact sense of the phrase. The unreachable stars, or rather the planets of other galaxies, are possibly habitable or even inhabited, but we’ll no doubt never know. However there is, according to religious believers all over the world, a land of beauty, somewhere over the rainbow, beyond our wildest imaginings, a place of perpetual peace and joy, which they dreamt of once in a lullaby. They are hooked on Heaven, though they have never seen a single promotional photo of it, nor read the testimony of people who have been there. The remarkable marketing which is religious propaganda is so effective that some people are prepared to give up everything, even their lives, to get there. Some are even impatient to die – a necessary pre-condition for a Green Card to get through the Pearly Gates. Such illusions, like the Utopia they promise, can only be called … way out.