A Tourist is sipping a Piña Colada under a palm tree on a white sand beach, watching the blue blue sea. Another Tourist has just left the hotel to visit some great building. One more Tourist can’t wait to go to that awesome night club where beer is so indecently cheap.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, I thought, until I read Pamela Nowicka’s No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism. Trouble in paradise!
Tourism Concern (TC), the UK’s independent, non-industry based charity which fights exploitation in tourism, kindly agreed to answer some questions. Their answers were prepared with the assistance of Clara Handler, their campaigns volunteer.
UNWTO, United Nations World Tourism Organization, estimates that in 2009, international tourism generated $ 852 billion.
There were 880 million international arrivals (compare to 25 million in 1950).
Travel and tourism generate over 10% of global GDP and account for more than 200 million jobs.
Tourism is the primary source for foreign exchange in the world’s poorest countries.
“Modern mass tourism did not just spring fully formed out of the collective consciousness. Apart from its historical roots in trade, exploitation and colonization, its more recent enablers were the rise of consumerism as a way of life in the West, together with the promotion of individualistic gratification as a desirable lifestyle.” Pamela Nowicka
Who benefits? That’s the main question regarding tourism, Ms Nowicka wrote in her harsh critic of mainstream tourism. She urges us to recognize tourism for what it is, “part of a political process which benefits the most well-off, while, in many cases, making the lives of poor people more difficult.” And it’s about time to challenge the way the tourism industry operates.
So where is the devil hiding?
They start when a tourist arrives to an airport with the intention to leave it:
Enter the poor. The common assumption that tourism helps the poor is not exactly right. It might, but it usually doesn't. Up to 95% of money will leave the country it is spent in. This phenomenon, called leakage, means that from every dollar, only some cents will stay in the local community, after the airline, the hotel chain, the tour operator and the government take their share.
TC explained: “At present, Northern tour operators are in the powerful position of controlling both the demand and supply of tourism. Southern countries, on the other hand, bear the brunt in terms of social and environmental costs, while they see little economic benefit, as so much of mainstream tourism is foreign-owned.”
TC went on: “Additionally, while tourism may generate economic growth, often very little of this trickles down to reach the poorest. In fact, tourism often forces people into deeper poverty by displacing them from their land to make way for resort developments and blocking access to areas used for livelihood activities, such as fishing. Job opportunities in the tourism industry for local people in developing countries are often limited to the most menial, poorly paid roles, involving long hours without proper contracts.”
When “we” go to “their” homes to enjoy our “deserved break from work”, we might be surprised to know that often people serving our cocktails and cleaning our bed sheets only have 6 days a year of holidays. And no, they don’t tend to go to a far away land for a “deserved break”. Too expensive the trip and too humiliating the visa process.
The Sustainable Tourism Gateway explains how poorly controlled and profit-driven management of mass tourism damages the environment:
Water. Hotels use it, showering tourists use it, thirsty tourists use it, swimming pools use it, golf courses use it massively. Clean water is not infinite.
Local resources. Peak season puts huge pressure on local resources to meet high demands of tourists for energy, food, and raw materials.
Pollution. Planes, cars, cruise ships all add to air pollution. Little heavens on Earth will not be as heavenly for long.
Rubbish. Areas with high tourist concentration face enormous problems of waste management. An empty bottle here, a chocolate wrapping there, a “Coca Cola trail” in the mountains.
Sewage. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5* hotel construction leads to increased sewage pollution. Wastewater pollutes lakes and rivers in areas close to tourist attractions.
Biodiversity. Infrastructure needed to meet tourists’ demands threatens local ecosystems. Scuba diving, snorkeling, yachting and cruising can cause degradation of marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.
So that’s it, no more trips? No, but we need a change of direction. TC explained: “Too often, tourism causes exploitation and human rights abuses, especially in poor countries and the developing world. But staying at home is not a viable solution. Millions of people rely on tourism for their livelihoods, including many who are economically vulnerable. The point is not to stop tourism, but to change the way it’s developed and operated so it benefits local people in tourism destinations more.”
TC says the alternative to the exploitative mainstream tourism is community-based tourism. It directly involves and benefits local communities, socially and economically. It “typically includes and encourages opportunities for meaningful cultural exchange between guest and host. This allows guests to leave with a much richer understanding of the place and people they visited, while benefits stay with the local people.” Over 400 places like these in more than 70 countries are listed in TC’s Ethical Travel Guide.
The governments have to do their part, too. They “need to think more carefully about the kinds of tourist developments they approve – there is not much sense in trusting to the environmental and ethical good sense of the travel and tourism industry,” wrote Chris Brazier in New Internationalist in March 2008.
TC agrees: “Governments need to recognise that tourism is no “silver bullet” out of poverty for developing countries. Like most industries and processes of development, there are both winners and losers in the tourism game. Those most vulnerable to exploitation and to losing out to the sector (including future generations) must have their rights protected by governments and respected by the industry.” In addition, local communities have to have the right to say No to tourism if they wish so.
The challenge for the Tourist and another Tourist and one more Tourist is not to choose between a holiday and staying at home. The challenge is to acknowledge that one’s paradise adds to the other one’s poverty. Do I, a Tourist, really want to be part of this exploitation? How can I help change it?
Video by Plane Stupid, a network of grassroots groups which take non-violent direct action against aviation expansion