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Saturday, 23 June, 2001, 00:27 GMT 01:27 UK
Pope condemns mass tourism
Holiday crowds in Spain
This is not the path to paradise, says the pope
By Frances Kennedy in Rome

As the summer holiday season looms in Western Europe, a warning by Pope John Paul II about tourism as a new form of exploitation has stirred up debate about just what holidays are for.

In a letter to mark the World Day of Tourism, to be held in September, the Pope has written that modern mass tourism and people's desire for exoticism have created "a kind of sub-culture" that spawned "the intolerable scandal" of sex tourism that exploits women and children.

No one took exception to this legitimate condemnation.

Costa del Sol
Harsh words for holiday villages
However, the Pontiff went on to dismiss tourist villages as places where people seek superficial exoticism and lack "any real contact with the culture of the place".

The globetrotting Pope, who next month departs for his summer holidays in the mountains near France, said a certain type of tourism can transform "culture, religious ceremonies and ethnic festivities into consumer goods".

Chorus of approval

While a chorus of secular Italian newspapers exalted the speech as an endorsement of more politically correct "green tourism", no one queried whether the Pope should or should not be telling people how to spend their leisure time.

Let no one succumb to the temptation of making free time a period of rest from values

Pope John Paul II
Only the Italian travel industry felt obliged to react.

The industry association FIAVET maintained that these centres bring an "indirect economic effect to the host country, often representing the main source of income".

"Our tourist villages hire almost all local staff and in the poorer areas of the planet are like little factories, that is important income sources for these people," said spokesmen for two big tour operators, Alpitour and Franco Rosso.

Paradise, or not

More impudent was the Club Mediterranee of Caprera, in Sardinia, which replied that their village was an earthly paradise.

"Our clients... seek a paradise without cars, to recover their strength afrer months amid the city chaos."

In his address, the Pope also implied that frivolous let-your-hair-down behaviour on holiday was inappropriate.

St Peters Basilica
The Vatican draws millions of tourists each year
"Let no one succumb to the temptation of making free time a period of rest from values," said the Pontiff.

Critics pointed out that the Vatican City itself attracts millions of tourists a year and makes millions of dollars from museums and merchandising.

Pilgrimages are one of the oldest existing forms of tourism - millions of Catholics from around the world came to Rome for last year's Jubilee celebrations - and if you wanted to widen the definition, it could take in the medieval crusades.

The Pope's words have been heartily welcomed by the Italian Association for Sustainable Tourism (AIRT) and promoters of "ecotourism", environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism.

"Most tourist villages in developing countries were built in the rampant 1980s and from an ecological point of view are devastating; they build without rules, use precious water resources and upset delicate marine habitats with pollution," said AIRT president Alfredo Somoza.

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