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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Mass tourism: Is it exploitation?

Pope John Paul II has branded mass tourism the new form of exploitation.

The most widely travelled pontiff in history dismissed 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".

Does tourism create exploitation? Or does eco-tourism bring prosperity to much needed areas? What effect has tourism had on the culture, economy and environment in your area?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


I would like to see a more wholesome tourism

Reudon Eversley, Bridgetown Barbados
The Pope is bang on. As a resident of the Caribbean, I daily see the detrimental effects of tourism on our societies. In the name of tourism, Caribbean people are becoming second class citizens in their own countries. Tourism is very much the new plantation for the Caribbean. Yet I'll admit that as small economies with not many development options, tourism is an important industry both from the standpoints of employment and export earnings. I would like to see a more wholesome tourism in the Caribbean, a tourism which does not exploit local people through paying low wages, promoting prostitution, etc, but which is based on fairness and respect for our people.
Reudon Eversley, Bridgetown, Barbados

The Pope is right to speak out. The tourist industry is guilty of trying to crystallise the disparate and complicated cultures of the world into bite-sized, palatable and 'quaint' chunks for the public to devour hungrily. It's creating a dull, flat homogeny where the world is typified by patronising symbols such as whitewashed buildings in Greece and sangria in Spain. There is more to the world than this!
Richard West, Birmingham, UK

The Pope is absolutely right. Commercialised tourism didn't exist for thousands of years and yet the 'third world' didn't starve to death then. Maybe western countries insisting that these countries should 'modernise' and thus destroy perfectly sustainable forms of existence caused the current problems. More western exploitation and interference through tourism is not going to help!
David Slater, York, England

What about all the communities that rely on tourism? How will they cope if people don't travel?
Jay, South Wales


The people in the industry turn a blind eye

Rohan, Colombo, Sri Lanka
I fully agree with the Pope. I was born in a little town on the south coast where we used to go sea bathing and roam around freely. Today, the beaches are dotted with exclusive "foreigners only" resorts, we are afraid to let our young sons and daughters go to these beaches. A large percentage of local boys and sex workers are said to be infected with AIDS. A predominantly Buddhist country now sees half- clad westerners roaming around in holy cities and posing next to sacred statues! The people in the industry turn a blind eye as they want the dollars.
Rohan, Colombo, Sri Lanka


When did the Pope become involved in travel guidelines?

Heather Mclaughlin, Washington, DC
Is this the only thing that the Pope "really" has to worry about? Aren't there more important things happening in this world that deserve our attention? Since when did the Pope become involved in travel guidelines?
Heather Mclaughlin, Washington, DC

I have travelled all over the world and, I must say, some of the most beautiful places are in dirt poor countries. I am guilty of not taking in the local culture in these places. But a culture can't feed its people, is riddled with corruption, has no civic pride, and is generally an economic basket case, has no value. I see no need to spend more than a nanosecond observing it.
Mark M Newdick, USA/UK


Unfortunately, some tourists fail to respect the culture of places which they visit

Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda
I'm grateful the Pope has said the whole idea of tourism has been hijacked by selfish capitalists. The people today who for example come to safari tours of Africa are not interested in learning the cultures at all but to splash money in posh hotels and beaches, exploit the local population. It is common practice to find hotels and campsites priced in dollars benefiting the rich Westerners and depriving the local population. Who then benefit are the capitalists who also happen to come from the Western world.
Byaruhanga Aloysius, Kampala, Uganda

People go to various tourist spots for many reasons: to know more about the places they visit, to have a break from the monotonous life and to have some relaxation, to learn something new, etc. It is good to visit tourist spots. Unfortunately, some tourists fail to respect the culture of places which they visit. For example, some Westerners who visit the beaches in Goa think that they are in a "nude" world and go nakedly on the beaches, ask young girls/boys to give massage to them and take delight in breaking all norms. Some who visit religious places do not want to learn how they should behave.
Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda (Indian)

Tourism has destroyed a way of here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We were once home to the largest Amish/Mennonite population in the USA, but because of mass tourism we have lost over 40% of the original Amish/Mennonite population and over 65% of what was once their land is now gone to development. It deeply sickens me how much the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) has been exploited to the extent that prediction models have suggested that by the year 2020 not only will Amish/Mennonite farms as we know them all but disappear from Lancaster county - but so will their language and their way of life.
Volker Kohlhaus, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA


What's the point of travelling if all you're going to do is stay locked up in some "tourist village"?

Peter Nelson, Boston
I think that people should show a little respect for the man representing Jesus on Earth and maybe lose some of the arrogance they have and listen to this wonderful man
Rob Nelson, England

I've travelled all over the world and I always make a point of studying the history and culture of the places I'm visiting. I also try to learn the local language, meet the local people and become familiar with the politics and other current issues of the country. What's the point of travelling if all you're going to do is stay locked up in some "tourist village", or stay in a Holiday Inn and eat at MacDonald's??
Peter Nelson, Boston, USA

The blanket statement that the Pope condemns mass tourism is specious. The substance of the message seemed to address the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The Pope has always been a fervent defender of the Third World. And the statements he made were meant to draw attention to the plight of the downtrodden - "Don't feign ignorance of your brothers plight". If you asked the Pope, I would bet that he encourages tourism and contact between humans, what he was condemning way some resorts insulate tourist from the surrounding squalor. "Get to know your brother and lend him a hand" seemed to be the underlying message. Ooh, let's hate the Pope, a spiritual-leader, for trying to raise the world's consciousness.

And I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and I haven't seen hide nor hair of a Catholic theme park. Unless Alan Davison of the U.K. has taken to calling churches, theme parks.
Edward Nemil, Washington D.C., US

I look forward to the Pope demonstrating the sincerity of his comments by closing all the tacky souvenir shops to be found at the great Catholic tourist attractions of the world (Lourdes, Vatican, cathedrals, etc).
Gary Dale, Leominster, England

Travel more Pope!
William Hall, Singapore

Exploitation? Changing cultures? Umm! Missionaries? Enough said. Think about it.
Manuel , USA/Mexico

Eco-tourism is an oxymoron and in the commercial world no such thing exists: all tourism activity, whether air travel, bus travel, car rental, even whale watching is environmentally destructive insofar as it increases global warming and brings closer the total destruction of the planet.
Kevin Moore, Australia

Mass tourism, I love it. Hordes of people being catered for in small isolated tourist villages that have little or nothing to do with the local culture. Eating familiar food, getting drunk, having noise at painful volumes. It's great, then I can have a holiday, somewhere else, local food, local culture, few of my fellow countrymen if any. In the certain knowledge that the mass tourists will be somewhere else!
Simon Mallett, UK

Has the Catholic Church not just opened a multi-million dollar theme park in Washington DC... To attract tourists?
Alan Davison, UK

As the most widely travelled person in any mainstream religion, let alone Catholicism, in recorded history one would think that the Pope should stay silent on the subject of tourism.
Len, Perth Australia


Eco-tourism is an oxymoron

Kevin Moore, Australia
It certainly has downsides. An example: Hill walking and rock-climbing took off in the UK in the early 1990s. Monied individuals with far less commitment to the activities than those already taking part go through the following Road to Damascus: 1. They have an accident due to inexperience, naivety or bad luck. 2. Mountain rescue services start getting annoyed by the unprepared nature of those who call them out. 3. Journalists then start attacking this 'death sport' on a weekly basis. 4.Responsible and experienced participants are then vilified by non-participants for their 'irresponsibility'. 5. The "something must be done (but not by us)" mantra begins to take over.

If tourism promotes the rights of dilettantes over committed participants, without demanding a price for personal responsibility, then tourism becomes a blight. But I guess the owners of guest houses, restaurants and pubs in Fort William would beg to disagree.
Rhys Jaggar, England

Sure it's exploitation and if anyone else said it, more people might agree. If I recall correctly, during the awful Foot-and-Mouth epidemic, the Blair government was presenting a totally different picture of the UK countryside, in a desperate effort to draw overseas visitors (including those of us in the US) to the UK and thereby generate tourism related income. I couldn't believe the advertisements I saw over here, telling us that the countryside was open and "come over". Not according to my family, who still live throughout the UK. The hypocrisy takes your breath away.
Di Stewart, USA

I think that the pope should stop trying to give his opinion to everyone. I personally do not care what he thinks about anything! He maybe a nice old boy in person, but he is the figurehead of the most eco-unfriendly organisation on the planet. Call the kettle black is an understatement. How many people need tourism to survive? I am not saying that is right of course, but that is the way that it is for many. If "God's man on Earth" (as if that isn't cosmic stuff for a start), thinks that he can change things by talking about them he is wrong. He needs to get some of them gold crosses off the altars, sell them and then give them to people who rely on tourism to survive. If he is not prepared to do that then he should keep quiet. Man, the hypocrisy of it all.
Alan Stivell, USA

If I had enough money, I would visit every country of the world. The fun of being in a different place is great fun. It is certainly more interesting then just visiting places in one's own country. It is not only getting drunk and eating one's own country's food, you enjoy colours, clothes, climate, atmosphere, sounds, faces, gestures, manners, art, women and men, and thousand other ways of doing things and having pleasure.
Agha Ata, USA

Is the Pope in real contact with ordinary people?
Tridiv Borah, India/Germany


All we can do is learn to be "good tourists"

Wendy, UK
The Pope has a good point, and it has already been made by Tourism Concern. Obviously there will be complaints that he shouldn't dictate to people how to spend their leisure time, but it doesn't alter the fact that ill planned tourism does little for the native economy, and may put even more pressure on stretched resources - e.g. water supplies. Ethical tourism is an ideal, but in the meantime no new spots should be opened up until the full impact of the development is assessed, not just the balance sheet of the tour operator/developer!
Kevin Street, UK

The Vatican makes money by tourism. Does GOD get royalties from that. Without GOD you can't purchase a piece of heaven.
Russ Black, Los Angeles, CA USA

It is horrific exploitation of the travellers. People who leave their country to go "somewhere hot and sunny" and then spend two weeks getting drunk and eating their own national food. What is the point? When I travel I want to see the country I visit, I don't want to eat English food in an English pub and speak English. Even if my command of the local language is embryonic I still like to see what the country is really like.
Karl Peters, UK

There's another loser: ourselves. Many people are ignorant of the beauty of the UK whilst holidaying frequently in foreign resorts. This corrodes our national identity and turns the UK into the place where you "have to be" and the rest of the world into the place you 'want to be'.
Michael, Scotland

I feel that the Pope is using his position, to speak out on many issues which are irrelevant to Catholicism at the moment. Take his recent visit to Syria, far too political for a Pontiff. I always respected him before that, although I am not Catholic, but my feelings are changing.
Dan, Scotland

And of course, the Pope and the Catholic Church have NEVER been guilty of exploiting ANYTHING have they, oh no, who would think such a thing.
Stuart Ford, UK


Is the Pope in real contact with ordinary people?

Tridiv Borah, India/Germany
Does that mean that he will staying in the Vatican from now on ? That can only be good news.
Manos Theocharopoulos, UK

Tourism is ingrained in our culture and as such is unstoppable. All we can do is learn to be "good tourists".
Wendy, UK

Who ever listens to this guy? A country can develop tourism for its own good in whatever way it chooses. The clever countries will see that preserving its own identity and beauty will win in the long run, rather than becoming a "Majorca".
Andy Brown, UK

Surely as the head of the Catholic Church the Pope cannot comment on tourism. How many millions of Lira does the Vatican City make from tourism. Also Lourdes and the various cathedrals around the world. I think he should speak to his accountants before making such a sweeping statement.
Mike Bean, Middlesbrough

Do I smell creeping hypocrisy here? The Pope complaining about mass tourism, and he the head of the richest organisation on the planet? Where millions of lira are raked in down at St Peter's square daily on all manner of religious schlock. Have mercy!
Amanda Bradley, Seattle, Washington


The real loser is the environment

Paul Bryant, Costa Rica
The tourists pay too much for everything they do, simply through ignorance as to the correct prices in the country they are in. This causes a huge imbalance in wealth in the local population. So the tourists are certainly exploited. The locals not involved in tourism lose out but aren't exploited (check the meaning of exploited in the dictionary!). The only winners are the locals involved with tourism and the real loser is the environment - that really is exploited by all. Besides, when has the church cared about anything that doesn't involve profit?
Paul Bryant, Costa Rica

What does the Pope know about business? There again, aren't pilgrimages, and Catholic things like Lourdes the most exploitative form of tourism?
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

Tourism, as opposed to travel, is nothing more than a scavenging of beauty. A man or woman who brings nothing to a foreign land - save money and garbage - has effectively negated whatever benefits might have been reaped from leaving home in the first place.
Robert del Valle, USA

Catering to tourism is a natural economic activity - even during the Middle Ages the principal pilgrimage spots of the Church presented economic opportunities for local people. Taste, of course, is a matter of opinion, and people will tend to disagree on whether selling souvenirs in holy or historic places is appropriate.
Matt Simon, US

And what is wrong with people desiring consumer goods? Our cars, our TVs, our computers, our cereals, even the beds we sleep on all add quality to our lives and so does taking a holiday we enjoy. Are we now to be told that it is a sin to enjoy a vacation that gives us the rest, relaxation and recovery so many of us need from the stress of our daily working lives?
Keith Scott, USA / UK

A significant part of the price paid by the tourist from the affluent West goes to those organising the tours - located in and working from the wealthy West. What little of the tour price that finds its way to the developing world gets gobbled up by the local contacts of the tour companies. Precious little of the tour price ever benefits those whose land, resources are exploited to provide the tourist attractions to those from abroad. The local economy and society gets swamped by the cocooned tourist invasion.
Mohansingh, India


Dollar for dollar, tourism is the most earth friendly industry

L. Loukopoulos, USA
The Pope may speak about things celestial but ought to leave pedestrian tourism to travellers and tourists. In many countries tourism is the major export for individual elements of society in need of money. Dollar for dollar, tourism is the most earth friendly industry. Also, the vast majority of tourist dollars go directly to individuals rather than to a cabal of a few.

When tourists view the wonders of Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva, Merv, Ashgabat, Ephesus, Mycenae, etc, ordinary individuals - potters, artists, weavers, wood carvers, tour guides, musicians, translators, taxi and bus drivers, camel drivers, folk dancers, food caterers - all benefit directly instead of some government bureau.

On top of the money, people get to evaluate each other in various intimate ways in a manner whereby everyone benefits and no one loses. How then can tourism, by anybody's definition be something that is not good?
L. Loukopoulos, USA

The Pope is right, and in fact TV is very largely to blame, for showing us such interesting holiday and natural history programmes about places which hordes of us then want to go and see. I don't think we can stop it happening, but we can probably at least ensure that the money we spend is fairly distributed in the host country. In too many third world countries the benefits merely go to a few individuals.
Graham, UK


Is the Pope forgetting that it was pilgrimages to holy sites that started the package tour?

Paul Willson, Canada
Is the Pope forgetting that it was pilgrimages to holy sites that started the package tour? See Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Paul Willson, Canada

One could certainly argue that both the tourists and the local population are, to a certain extent, exploited by the tourism process, but since the tourist goes in full-well knowing what will happen to him I doubt that he has cause to complain. The local people may have a stronger case, but it is unlikely that the trade could exist without at least a certain level of complicity both ways.
George Milton, USA/Italy

If it wasn't for tourism, places like Thailand and Bali would suffer more due to the lack of added income. If you choose to label tourism as exploitation, then you can also refer to international trade and cultural festivals as the same. All promote and encourage globalisation. It has gone too far if tourism falls under negative criticism.
Suzanne McMillan, Japan/UK


Sexual exploitation and environmental impact need to be addressed separately

Peter, Netherlands
Tourism brings people into contact with other cultures, however superficially, and in so doing broadens people's experience and understanding. That, surely, is a good thing: for example, I am convinced that German mass tourism in the Netherlands has helped to reduce tensions between those two countries. Sexual exploitation and environmental impact are problems that need to be addressed separately. It may well be that in certain tourist spots the choices made have to be reconsidered. Incidentally, I will be visiting Rome this summer -- where the Pope lives -- for deliberate exposure to the local culture there.
Peter, Netherlands


The Pope is correct in speaking out against tourism that exploits

Allan Rankin, Canada
The Pope is correct in speaking out against tourism that exploits and subverts local culture and heritage. I live on a small Island called Prince Edward Island, which depends heavily on summer tourism to fuel its economy. Mass tourism can reduce a culture, turn its heritage and traditions into commodities, and alter the personality and social character of a place. Unfortunately, that is the price which Prince Edward Island has paid, in return for the low-paying summer employment and revenues that have come from tourism. We are in grave danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg!
Allan Rankin, Canada

I was shocked by Pope John Paul II labelling mass tourism a form of exploitation. He does not exhibit sound judgement about an industry fulfilling groundwork for people's aspiration for a higher quality of life and he renounces the irrefutable impact of this industry in fostering and nurturing peace and maintaining global understanding.
Mohammad Shir-Mohammadi, Iran

The Pope is living in the past. The fact is, Tourism is essential for most countries as a source of income. I do agree that tourism should not spoil the natural beauty existing there before. But if tourism was abolished, the poorer countries would be "exploited" by the forces of starvation and poverty instead.
Thomas Yasin, UK


All industries exploit people

CJ Lum, Singapore

I fully agree that many countries depend mostly upon tourism for their livelihood. In fact, many countries in Asia are channelling much of their funds into developing tourist facilities. That is an industry, not a form of exploitation. However, we have to face the fact that all industries exploit people as well as the environment to a certain extent and it is up to us to keep the exploitation to the minimum.
CJ Lum, Singapore

Speaking from personal experience in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, I have to agree with the Pope.

As a member of the local 'middle class' I found it more and more difficult to go on holiday in my own country. Camp sites and hotels were priced for US dollar and Pound-toting tourists not for us citizens.

Ask a South African how difficult it is to get into the Kruger National Park. Ask a Zimbabwean (not a commercial farmer) if he can afford to go on a safari (at US$450/day I doubt it).

Africa is being turned into a playground for the Western elite. While a small number of locals are filling their foreign accounts with the proceeds, the majority of the population of these destinations receive no benefit at all.
Anthony Brooks, USA (ex-Zimbabwe)

I think he's hit the nail on the head with these statements; I'm not so certain that there's any alternative for some poorer countries but I'm glad that someone has said this. The idea of rich people's tourist resorts in places like Mexico, Sri Lanka etc is gross.
Greg, USA

The Pope is foolish to suggest that tourism is exploitation. Tourists bring much needed money into many poor areas around the world.
William Cooke, USA

The Pope is a spiritual leader - not an economic one. Try to understand what he is saying from a spiritual perspective. If we were more focused on the spiritual well-being of others, rather than on our own self-gratification, then maybe the Pope wouldn't be so worried about how we spend our leisure time. I'm sure he is well aware of the enormous problem of poverty throughout the world. He probably thinks that there are more positive ways of dealing with it than through mass tourism in its current form.
Burton, USA


I don't think its the Pope's place to tell us where to holiday

Richard, Canada
He may have a valid point, but fact is that most countries thrive on that so called exploitation, some even don't have a economy without tourism. . I don't think its his place to tell us where to holiday either.
Richard, Canada

Pope John Paul II branding tourism as the new form of exploitation, seems to a great extent correct. Tourism, on many occasions have been found creating exploitation . However, the eco-tourism may continue be bringing prosperity to much needed areas as well as a source of entertainment as and when the respective governments would take extra care to ensure that mass tourism does not create exploitation in that specific area .
A.R.Shams, Pakistan

The Catholic Church has been practicing exploitation of poor people and countries for centuries. Is tourism encroaching on that turf?
Nick, USA

I agree with the Pope in one sense. However I feel the head of the catholic church should be the last person to speak about the threat of changing cultures
Andy Jones, UK

Tourism certainly can be a form of exploitation, when it leads to exploitation of women and children for sex tourists, increase in STD's and AIDS, the proliferation of drugs in local communities, smuggling abroad of local treasures and antiques, and the debasement of local cultures and ceremonies when used out of context and packaged for tourists. It is ironic though, that the Pope should be concerned about tourism transforming "culture, religious ceremonies and ethnic festivities" since "tourists" of a different variety, namely Christian missionaries can be accused of the same.
Shiran Vyasa, Canada/Sri Lanka


The pope's view on tourism is true, but it is an elitist truth

Paaskynen, Finland
Look who's talking. I remember when this pope visited the Netherlands, he did everything to avoid immersion in the Dutch culture of liberal criticism and only agreed to meet his lap dogs. The pope's view on tourism is true, but it is an elitist truth, and the so-called eco-tourism is an elitist form of tourism. The sun-seeking mass tourists are not going to develop a genuine interest in different cultures overnight, so if they are satisfied with the charades performed for their entertainment, let them. If all of them suddenly would become eco-tourists, who could tell whether the eco-nomical benefits would be worth the eco-logical destruction that would be the result of mass eco-tourism.
Paaskynen, Finland

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23 Jun 01 | Europe
Pope condemns mass tourism


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