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ETHICAL TOURISM

Nowadays, many people decide to take holidays abroad, and increasingly they seek out more exotic places to spend them. Of the 35 million foreign holidays taken by British people each year, six million are to places other than Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, tourism could be very beneficial to the peoples of the countries visited in providing employment in hotels, restaurants and other amenities, but there are some ways in which tourism could be detrimental to local communities. Africa and Asia are becoming more accessible (Gambia and Nepal being particular favourites now) due to developments in transport and increased affluence in some sections of ‘western’ populations. However, increased tourism to these countries can lead to acute social and environmental problems.

A recent report produced by Voluntary Service Overseas and the campaign group, Tourist Concern, is critical of the way in which television holiday programmes present facts about other countries and available facilities. The report, ‘Tourism on Television: A Programme for Change’ , suggests that tourists often do not have sufficient cultural information. They suggest that giving sweets to poor children could encourage begging; that taking photographs of people may be regarded as offensive; and that an area’s environment may be damaged very easily, even by litter. Broadcasters have generally welcomed the report. The makers of the ITV programme, ‘Wish You Were Here’, in particular, have claimed that they recognise the need to encourage responsible behaviour by tourists.

One evil which may flourish as a consequence of the wrong kind of tourism is that of child prostitution. An organisation called ECPAT UK , which is the campaign to end child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, urges tourists not to turn a blind eye to child sex tourism. They suggest that if an overseas visitor sees a child whom they think is being used by a tourist for sex, they should report this to their tour representative or their hotel. If they don’t know what to do, then the matter should be reported to ECPAT.

There are millions of children being abused by sex tourists throughout the world. It has been estimated that there are 25,500 in the Dominican Republic, 250,000 in Thailand and 400,000 in India.

It is not only paedophiles who in indulge in this nefarious practice. Some sex tourists are businessmen or tourists who advance as a justification that it is acceptable in the country they are visiting or argue that they are helping the children financially.

The United Kingdom is one of 32 countries which are able to prosecute tourists on their return home for their abuse of children abroad.

The terms on which tourists reside in a country can have a powerful influence on the extent to which local people benefit from tourism. For example, if tourists stay in all-inclusive resorts, where board, meals and entertainment are included in the price and provided within the resort, it will be mainly the foreign companies which control them who will benefit. Local people would benefit more if tourists opted for half-board and so made more use of the services provided by local restaurants, bars, guides and taxi drivers.

It was because of these considerations that the Gambian government, for a time, banned all-inclusive arrangements. The ban was lifted, following external commercial and political pressure, but local people still prefer tourists to reject all-inclusive arrangements.

In the Caribbean, all-inclusive trips are unpopular for another reason. It results in certain beaches being reserved exclusively for tourists. Stretches of beach are fenced off and protected by security guards, with local people being denied access.

There are other ways in which local people may suffer as a consequence of the development of tourism. People may lose their land, which they depend on for their livelihood, for the building of hotels and golf courses or other tourist amenities. The price or compensation they receive may well be grossly inadequate.

The ability of national governments to regulate the growth of tourism in their countries may be threatened by the proposed General Agreement on Trade in Services. This would provide that, where there exists a market for services, private providers of such services could not be excluded. This agreement might well prevent national governments from ensuring that the local tourist industry adequately serves the interests of local people and protect them from the adverse consequences of tourism. The national governments could not, for example, insist on using local produce and local employment. Local people might be employed in unskilled menial work in the industry. However it would not be permitted to give priority to hiring and training local people for more skilled and responsible occupations. Furthermore this agreement will mean National Governments could not impose limits on the size of hotels, or impose conditions of profit repatriation. In addition, they could not grant subsidies or tax relief to their own companies without granting the same concessions to foreign firms.

Tourism may also have damaging consequences for local environments. The World Resources Institute has estimated that one third of the world’s coastline has been extensively altered or destroyed in order to build houses, industrial plants or tourist resorts.

A threat to the world environment posed by the growth of air travel (with the number of flights doubling every fifteen years) is the contribution which it makes to global warming. It is, however, possible for an air traveller to at least partially offset this effect by paying a voluntary flight tax into funds such as the Future Forests or Climate Care schemes which are used for environmental protection or improvement. It is possible to pay online or through tour operators who belong to such schemes. The premium may be built into their price.

It may also sometimes be considered right to completely boycott a country because visiting it would help to sustain an oppressive regime which is denying its people basic human rights. The best known example of this at present is Burma.

Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship under which hundreds of thousands of people, including young children, are condemned to serve as forced labourers. Opposition to the regime is suppressed and Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the party which won a free election, was denied power and placed under house arrest. Forced labour is used to build hotels and people have been evicted from their homes so that a new airport could be built at Mandalay. Tourist money is used to prop up this odious regime. For this reason, Aung San Suu Kyi has asked tourists to stay away from her country.

It is clear, then, that tourism is a mixed blessing for people who live in holiday destinations. However, tourists can take steps to ensure that local people can benefit when they visit these countries.

The question has been raised whether tourists are prepared to pay more for their holidays in order to ensure a better deal for local people. Many tour operators believe the answer to that question to be ‘no’. However, a survey by the Association of British Travel Agents, the tour operators’ own trade organisation, found that two thirds of all package tourists would be prepared to pay an extra £10 to £25 towards environmental or social improvements. This supports a survey carried out last year by the aid agency, Tearfund, which found that 59 percent of people were prepared to pay more for their holiday if this would ensure decent wages for local people and help protect the environment.


Written by: Peter Jones


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