Saturday July 20, 2024

Extractive tourism

By Vijay Kolinjivadi
February 19, 2021

The tourism industry, and the governments that welcome foreign revenue, thrive on the argument that local livelihoods depend on tourism and insinuate that millions of people will be reduced to abject poverty without it. But a closer examination of how large-scale tourism clusters function reveals who the true winners and losers of mass tourism are.

Like a gold rush to the latest discovery of untapped ores, a panoply of hotel chains, foreign tour operators, online booking agencies, airlines, real estate speculators and multinational construction companies quickly rush to capitalise on any curiosity that a visitor might have towards any site of historical or natural value.

Examples of attraction sites becoming mining pits for an extractive tourism industry abound. The historical centres of cities like Amsterdam, Marrakech, Barcelona, Krakow, Yogyakarta, Cusco and Kyoto have turned into giant open-air museums, overwhelmed by crowds of tourists flocking to kitsch souvenir shops, cheap hotels and fast-food restaurants. Many long-time residents of these cities have been forced out of their homes and urban communities due to rising property values and tourism-induced gentrification. Those who remain suffer from the enormous strain that the crowds of tourists put on the local infrastructure.

Elsewhere, rare and beautiful landscapes of natural or cultural heritage like the beaches of Thailand, wildlife hotspots like the Maasai Mara in Kenya, or the historical site of Machu Picchu in Peru are depopulated, fenced off through preservation laws, and repopulated with a globalised architecture of tour agencies, airline companies, and agribusiness-controlled supply chains and their local subsidiaries required to funnel people to the valued sites as quickly and as comfortably as possible.

Government officials acquiesce to mega-tourism projects due to large kickbacks and pass regulations to facilitate them under the promises of economic growth. These actions all too often supersede the sovereignty of communities in terms of their traditions and historical relations to sites of historical or natural significance. As a result, local people often lose control of their land and community development and see little benefit from employment in exploitative low-paying jobs with long hours and minimal or no provision of social benefits.

Instead, most of the wealth extracted from the tourist “mine site” flows into multinational conglomerates which own travel agencies, hotels, airlines, cruise ships and even local commercial retail shops and whose tentacles extend to major tourist hotspots across the world.

The more wealth and power large multinationals amass, the less accountability they face not only for labour exploitation, but also for the massive environmental damage they cause in the form of a high carbon footprint, water contamination and overuse, deforestation and coastal destruction. Tourism accounts for eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions or around 4.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

The pandemic has already triggered wide-ranging public conversation about Green New Deals, divestment from fossil fuels and just green transitions. It offers a rare and profound opportunity for rethinking whole sectors of the economy.

Excerpted: ‘It is time to end extractive tourism’