World Tourism and Power: The Paradoxes of the Biggest Job Creator

Tourists/Visitors Bring Jobs But Leave Footprints Credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm

Tourists/Visitors Bring Jobs But Leave Footprints Credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm

By David Porter,

Global tourism employs millions, generates huge revenues, but like many of man’s solutions, including creating power, ends up potentially costing the earth. According to shift happens, the world’s education systems are training young people for jobs that do not yet exist, to solve problems as yet unrecognised, as technology marches ever onwards, drawing on resources that are at best, finite. However, the world has to go as it is today, preparing for tomorrow as best it can .

Conservationist Mark Duchamp, pointed out that there are over 6 billion consumers currently on the planet, almost all of whom require large and regular supplies of food, water, energy. He believed more funds must switch into a hydrogen economy, more research done on renewable energies, there must be mass harnessing of solar and geo-thermal energies, higher taxes on energy-wasteful practices, more heat-power facilities.

What he believed the world doesn’t need is more nuclear power and more blots on landscapes caused by inefficient, unreliable wind-farms, that require other energies as backup, disfigure on/offshore horizons, endanger bird-life and don’t combat climate change. His view goes against the political consensus in most countries that supports and subsidises wind farming on an increasing scale.

The Tourism Blight

The fact is, that the world is consuming power at an insatiable rate, but the balance between acceptable and efficient, between affordable and environmentally sound is yet to be struck. Ironically, an industry that has grown around letting people rest, recuperate, explore the world and enjoy different climates, spaces and places is becoming part of the energy problem.

David Nicholson-Lord, writing in Resurgence Magazine, June 2002, acknowledges that estimates put tourism as the world’s biggest industry: in 1950 there were around 25 million international tourist visits. By 2020, it will be closer to 1.6 billion. The UN reckons that in 2009, international tourism generated US$852 billion in export earnings, a figure which is set to grow exponentially.

His thesis is that as it has grown, the destructive impact of it has become even greater than anybody could imagine: ‘along with television, tourism is one of the most potent agents of globalization, tourists are the shock troops of Western-style capitalism, distributing social and psychological viruses just as effectively as earlier colonists spread smallpox, measles and TB in their wake’.

The Paradoxes of Tourism

The UN designated 2002 International Year of Eco-Tourism, focussing on small-scale, nature based, environmentally friendly parts of the holiday industry. Nicholson-Lord pointed out in the absence of proper definition of the term, people simply cashed in on ‘green’ issues, such as a casino in Laos described as eco-tourism, because ‘it was sited in untouched countryside’.

Critics argue that eco-toursim as an alternative to mass tourism is not a clean path to development. No factories, but still despoliation to meet what Nicholson-Lord calls the demands of ‘Westernized appetites’. Revenue is not evenly spread in a local community, and while new jobs are created, they replace old ones in traditional industries like farming and fishing. The reach of the corporately-controlled global economy extends to previously undeveloped regions.

Another view of tourism which he believes is a paradox, is that the industry advertises large social benefits on the lines of ‘travel broadens the mind’ and incentives to world peace through different cultures intermingling. However, the reality is often that ‘tourism cruelly exposes the fault lines of economic inequality’, while draining resources, using power, polluting with long distance air travel.

People who seek localized or historical-cultural experiences/events, often turn them into performances. Historical authenticity gives way to homogenization, bite-size packages for the benefit of gaping, spending tourists rather than remaining celebrations of genuine history. At the same time, tourist footstep damage to ancient edifices like Egypt’s pyramids, Rome’s Colliseum or some Buddhist temples in Thailand raise concern about long-term survival of the attractions. Even hill-climbing and mountaineering wears out soil, causes litter pollution. As Nicholson-Lord said, ‘this industry devours its own resources’.

The Opposite View

There is another side to the debate about tourism, for instance, that tourist revenues in places like the Congo or Rwanda help support endangered species in their natural habitats. In the UK, Tourism Concern is a charitable campaigning group set up to ‘fight exploitation in tourism’. They say: ‘tourism generates huge wealth, and can be a force for good for millions living at destinations, but often they receive little’. They campaign to get money put into local pockets and give locals a voice: improving working conditions at holiday destinations, drawing attention to local injustices, like locals pushed off beaches, seas and land to make way for hotels and golf parks, and guaranteeing locals a share of resources like water.

Where these aims are realised and tourism is of a scale sufficient to avoid saturation , yet remain commercially viable, the benefits to local economies are tangible. Many communities across the world acknowledge they thrive on visitors; indeed, that they are communities only because of tourism in some form or another.

The World Travel Organization is a branch agency of the United Nations, serving as a global forum for tourism policy issues. Their aim is to promote development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism with focus on interests of developing countries.

They have a Global Code of Ethics for Tourism to maximize ‘positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimizing its negative social and environmental impacts’. It’s a worthy ambition, but can the whole world accept and implement a code of ethics?

The hard (political, cultural, economic) part is keeping everybody aware of what the biggest industry costs. One person’s vacation is another person’s job may be everybody’s environment, in the end.

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