Visitors can give something back

Mark Watson

People would enjoy their holidays more if they knew no one had been displaced from their land to allow them to view wildlife or that local people weren’t being exploited for their benefit.

Global travel is breaking all records. This year, the number of international tourists is set to reach one billion, and last year tourism receipts exceeded $1 trillion for the first time. As a key development driver in the global South, tourism is the main foreign exchange earner for 65 of 69 developing countries. Tourism is now said to be the biggest industry in the world, and it affects the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Tourism can be a force for good and has the potential to generate jobs and create wealth. However, all too often, tourism’s benefits are not equally shared. In fact, tourism development frequently violates peo­ple’s human rights, particularly poor and vulnerable communities in de­veloping countries, exacerbating poverty and trapping people in cycles of deprivation. Such rights abuses include: forced evictions from homes and lands to make way for tourism developments; loss of livelihoods; environmental damage and loss of access to natural resources, such as grazing land, coastal areas and fresh water; exploitation of indigenous peoples; and poor pay and working conditions for tourism employees.

Tourism Concern, which campaigns for ethical and fairly traded tourism, believes that tourists would enjoy their holiday much more if they knew that no one had been displaced from their land to al­low them to view wildlife, that local people weren’t suffering water shortages while they swam in their hotel pool, or that the money they spent benefited local people directly. As ethical tourists, we should exploit no one, take nothing, and ensure that we give something back to the destinations that have hosted our holiday.

There are many examples of abuses and exploitation commit­ted in the name of tourism. Porters carrying trekkers’ heavy equip­ment up steep mountain paths in the Himalayas, on the Inca Trail or on Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, frequently do so without adequate clothing or shoes. When they fall ill with altitude sick­ness or lose fingers and toes from frostbite, their employers often give them little or no medical help. As a result of our campaigns, over half of UK trekking tour operators have adopted our code of conduct for improved working conditions for mountain porters.

Indigenous people are regularly exposed to tourism with no pre­paredness or education on how to deal with the industry. Tour op­erators often include visits to groups considered exotic, which can have negative impacts on the communities. We are therefore devel­oping an Indigenous Peoples’ Code of Conduct for tour operators that will provide guidance on the right for indigenous people to decide whether to engage in tourism activities.

One of the most severe effects of tourism development is the forced displacement of people from their homes. Our campaigning efforts have focused on the Maasai and other tribal people of East Africa who were evicted from their land to make way for game reserves. Homes were razed to the ground and livestock rounded up and sold by the government to pay for the evictions. Tourism Concern has held meetings with the tour operators to encourage them to operate tours in consultation with the Maasai and other tribal groups, and to involve them in the business of tourism.

But it is not just land that the tourist industry can take. Access to water is one of the most fundamental human rights, and yet, in some tourism destinations, local communities struggle to meet their daily water needs. For example, in Bali, some villagers have to travel 4 km to reach a well to draw water – while the island’s golf courses use 3 million litres of water every day.

New research from Goa, The Gambia and Zanzibar has found that in many instances, poorly planned and regulated tourism develop­ment, combined with weak water governance, is rapidly depleting and polluting groundwater and waterways. Tourism Concern recognises that this is a complex issue that demands a coordinated effort by all those involved, and recently published a full set of recommendations.

A new phenomenon is the rise of ‘slum tourism’ – organised excur­sions to informal settlements, or ‘slums’. These are sold as an alterna­tive to traditional tourism and a more realistic form of experiencing a country. Proponents argue that this is a legitimate way to fight poverty, while opponents say it’s exploitative of poor people. Of course, the re­ality is more complex. For example, if the tours are community based, where negative stereotypes are challenged and local residents have control over and benefit from tourism activities, then this could bring real and lasting benefits to some of the poorest communities. Tourism Concern is currently undertaking research in Cape Town and the Ro-cinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, the biggest and most visited in Brazil, to get local residents’ perspective on this controversial form of tourism.

Tourism Concern also promotes forms of tourism that give something back to local people. There is no single model, but the idea is simple: tourism that involves and benefits local communities. We are developing an online interactive map to help tourists make ethical decisions about tourism by giving them up-to-date information on their destinations.

Tourism is a huge global industry. At one end of the holiday spectrum are the all-inclusive hotels where holidaymakers stay behind compound walls and need spend no money locally. At the other end of the spectrum are local people who are developing their own opportunities so that they can directly welcome tourists into their communities. At Tourism Concern, we aim to give a voice to local people, campaign against exploitation and help tourists make informed choices.

About the author:

Mark Watson is Executive Director of Tourism Concern, www.


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