Globalisation - tourism the new imperialism

Today the tourist is a consumer. The raw material of the tourist industry is the flesh and blood of people and their cultures, thus its long-term effect on a country whose main income is derived from tourism can be devastating. Once a people or culture has been exploited and subverted to the needs of the tourist industry it can never be replaced. -- Cecil Rajendra, lawyer and human rights activist, Malaysia

I saw pregnant women struggling to lift their shovels while the soldiers laughed. -- refugee from the forced labour camps in Burma

Aside from war, tourism is the single most destructive global force unleashed by man. Tour companies, for their image, often claim to adhere to a code of conduct, on the ground they rarely even bother to pay lip service.

Tourism is the fastest growing global industry. In 1996 tourism revenue amounted to $423 billion, the number of tourist arrivals clocked in at 592 million. By the year 2000, if not before, tourism is expected to be the world's largest industry.

1 in 4 Brits now travel abroad on a package holiday. This is an industry that has grown from nothing not long after the Second World War. The early operators were viewed in the same light as second hand car dealers, the way the travelling public is still treated little has changed. The growth in the package holiday business has destroyed much of the Mediterranean and the tour operators are now looking further afield for places to despoil. Majorca, population 700,000, has 6 million tourists each year, 2 million of them Brits. It has brought in a lot of money and taken the local people on a journey to hell.

Tourism is having a massive global impact, not just on the global economy. Airports are seizing vast tracts of land. Residents living near airports are having their lives made a misery. Aircraft are rapidly becoming the number one global polluter, the effect is made all the more dramatic as the pollutants are emitted at high altitude where they have the maximum effect. Local cultures are being destroyed. In Tenerife local bars serve English beer and pander to English tourists, in Cyprus local Cypriot bars make way for karaoke nights and moronic English DJs. Hotels and tourist resorts need land and water. In Cyprus water is rationed to ensure a plentiful supply to hotel resorts. It is in the Third World that tourism is having the maximum impact.

Hotels, tourist resorts, the supporting infrastructure needs land.

In Akamas, an area of outstanding natural beauty in the West of Cyprus, there is pressure to open it up for development and tourism.

In Malaysia, 29 local shops were destroyed to make way for a tourist development project.

Tourists like to be on prime coastal sites. These sites are often important fishery grounds, places where turtles come ashore to lay eggs.

Tourist resorts need water.

The villagers of Sinquerim (Goa) were denied piped water and have to rely on a well. Water is piped through the village to the nearby Taj Holiday Village and Fort Aguada complex.

Golf courses consume vast tracts of land. 350 new golf courses every year. The golf courses demand large volumes of water for irrigation; the pesticide, fertiliser, and herbicide run-off effects local water courses bringing damage to fisheries, polluting drinking water.

In Thailand the health of many local people has been damaged through eating fish poisoned by pesticide run-off from golf courses.

In Bali local people were forced from their land to make way for a golf course and hotel complex by shutting off the water that irrigated their fields.

Not everywhere are local people compliant. In Vietnam when Daewoo (one of the biggest exploiters in Vietnam) planned a £93 million golf course near Hanoi local villagers set up barricades and refused to budge. They were offered a paltry £125 per family to move.

Tourism is destroying the environment.

Tenerife is rapidly becoming one big building site. The pleasant green Orotava valley in the north of Tenerife will soon have disappeared under concrete.

Inter-island high speed ferries are killing whales and dolphins. In the south of Tenerife the sheer mass of whale watching trips is harassing whales and dolphins to death.

UK tour companies have codes of conduct on protecting the environment. These same tour companies are promoting whale watching trips, inter-island day trips that use high speed ferries.

Tourist feet trample across sacred religious sites, showing no respect to the indigenous cultures. Native people are often expected to perform sacred rituals on demand.

In Peru, Yagua indians were forced from the remote Upper Amazon region to more accessible areas to enable tourists to see them perform their sacred rites. Viewing stations were built for the voyeurs.

In Hawaii many tourist complexes have been built on sites sacred to indigenous Hawaiians. Many burial grounds have been destroyed.

Tourism directly and indirectly supports and finances human rights violations.

Burma is one of the world's most repressive regimes. In scenes reminiscent of the Japanese occupation, forced labour is being used to prepare infrastructure and resort complexes. On one railway project alone, it has been estimated that 200-300 people have died through illness and exhaustion. On other similar projects the death rates are reported as averaging one a day. 30,000 forced labourers helped to construct the new airport at Bassein, when cholera broke out they received no medical care. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and lands to make way for tourist projects.

Like Burma, Turkey is another country with an appalling human rights record. Tourists who rarely venture beyond their air-conditioned hotel complexes fail to see the squalor or abuses. Hard currency earned from the tourists is used to buy military hardware to continue the repression against the Kurds and the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus.

Sexploitation is a growing sector of the tourist trade, with many tour companies offering special package tours to the best sex spots. Favoured destinations are Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, with Eastern Europe rapidly developing its sex market - all perversions well catered for. Many children are forced to work as prostitutes in brothels. In Sri Lanka a survey showed that 86% of children had their first sexual experience with a foreign tourist, for the majority of the children they were aged between 12 and 13 years old at the time.

There is no such thing as a cheap holiday. The price is bought on the back of some one else's pain.

Tourism is often offered as a model to Third World countries as a means to earn hard foreign currency. Like many other models forced on the Third World, it tightens the shackles, for which only the West has the keys.

Third World countries are encouraged to build their tourist sector as a means of earning hard foreign currency. The reality is somewhat different. The holiday will be run by a foreign tour company, foreigners build, own and manage the tourist complexes, food and capital equipment is imported. What little is paid to local people will be marginally higher than the local wage rate thus ensuring the destruction of local industry. The few crumbs that trickle down to a handful of local people do not make up for the destruction of their environment and culture.

Zanzibar has a fragile eco- and social system dependent upon agriculture and fishing. Villagers are being evicted from their coastal villages and placed in compounds, their beautiful coral cottages left to rack and ruin. All inclusive tourist compounds surrounded by razor wire and protected by armed guards are built on the vacated land. Fish bought from local fisherman for the tourist compounds drives up the price reducing local people to a diet of boiled rice.

In Cuba dollar tourism is destroying the country its people and its culture. Two internal markets are developing - the dollar market and the pesos market. The real Cuba is discovered by visiting local people in their homes, not interacting with dollar prostitutes who work the tourist trade. Fidel Castro should hang his head in shame for turning his beautiful country into a dollar whore.

Air transport is the fastest growing transport sector, with a consequential effect on global pollution. Air travel is the most energy intensive, polluting mode of travel.

Air transport has been growing at a rate of about 10% a year. Emissions from aircraft account for about 3% of global emissions, but because these emissions take place at high altitudes their significance and impact on climate change is considerably higher than the figure would suggest (aircraft have more than half the global warming potential of road traffic). Aircraft emissions are currently exempt from the Kyoto protocol under the climate convention. The aviation industry enjoys many tax concessions, including duty free fuel. Within the EU alone, the externalised costs are estimated at 4.6% of EU GDP, 16.4 billion euros/year.

Knock on effects include large infrastructure demands, noise, generation of road traffic etc.

Web Resources


BBC, report on growth of package tour business, Consequences, Radio 4, BBC, 2 May 1999

BBC, Ethical Tourism, Itchy Feet, Radio 4, BBC, 7 February 2000

Simon Birch, Travelling right, Ethical Consumer, June/July 1999

FoEE, The Myths of Flying: Putting aviation's economic benefits into perspective, Friends of the Earth Europe, November 1998

Health Council of the Netherlands, Public health impact of large airports, Health Council of the Netherlands, September 1999

Ian Hunt, Costing the air, Guardian Education, 25 January 2000

Jerry Mander, Leaving the Earth: Space Colonies, Disney and Epcot [in George Sessions, Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, Shambhala, 1995]

Keith Parkins, Globalisation - the human cost, February 2000

Keith Parkins, Large-scale, long-distance transport infrastructure - the arteries of globalisation, to be published

John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998

Ton Sledsens, Sustainable Aviation, European Federation for Transport and the Environment, March 1998

Gaia index ~ transport costs ~ worker exploitation
(c) Keith Parkins 2000 -- March 2000 rev 1