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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Mass tourism: Is it exploitation?
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The summer holiday season is well underway in Europe and North America, and with it images of congested airports and crowded beaches.
The tourism industry says it is world's largest growth sector, generating badly needed jobs and income in poorer countries.
But Pope John Paul II has branded mass tourism the new form of exploitation and dismissed tourist villages as places where visitors lack "any real contact with the culture of the place".
Others add that mass tourism has a negative impact on local cultures and environments and say the locals rarely benefit from the earnings.
Does tourism create exploitation? Or does it bring prosperity to much needed areas? Is responsible tourism possible? What effect has tourism had on the culture, economy and environment in your area?
Trisha Barnett from Tourism Concern joined Talking Point, the phone-in programme of BBC World Service and BBC News Online.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Tourism is not mass exploitation. I've been on both eco-tourism holidays and package tours. In both types of holiday, the local community benefits positively, and us tourists are happy.
Call me a cynic, but it's not the first time the Catholic church has suggested that people feel bad about doing something they enjoy doing.
Tyler, Surrey, Canada
Travel is great. Hopefully tourists respect the country and culture of the places they visit. The host country enjoys the opportunity of showing off their unique land and culture. Maybe out of this people can learn more about the world and get a good suntan at the same time.
Coming from Brighton and lived in a house that housed foreign students from many countries.
Tourism brings in jobs but it has to be remembered that it is also seasonal and often poorly paid.
Does England get many tourists in the winter? Does Switzerland get many tourists in the summer.
I feel this is what the pope was talking about.
It is important for 'developed country' people to mix with the other 5/6ths of the world who can't afford to come visit them. People might change the way they picture the world. Let's go visit Iran or North Korea and find out what it is like for ourselves; let's live a little. (Are you scared?)
The "natives" are not children or backward. They are adult people. Don't look down on them. By refraining from visiting their countries you could be condemning thousands of people to joblessness, poverty and real exploitation.
Indeed most countries are likely to depend on the invisible industry of tourism - if not why some countries may create new places to attract visitors after some time? It is so significant that most people visit their country - because it means they can earn more. So tourism is positive to a community. It also provides more job opportunities and brings benefit to our society. If not, why is our government so eager to obtain the contract for Disney World construction?
Considering most tourists will never discover the 'real' country they visit or just want sand, sea and sun, even the experiences of the tourists are very shallow and insubstantial and could not possibly be worth the damage caused to the locals in all but a few cases.
Thankfully, in the part of Spain where I have family, the tourists stay in the tourist areas such as Benidorm.
What is the point of going to Spain if you are going to drink British beer in a British looking pub and eat British food? They might as well go to Blackpool
(No offence to Blackpool of course).
Gay Bonnar, New Zealand
Here we go again! A bunch of leftist wackos want to restrict the ability of people to travel freely in the world. I can't believe that the question is being asked. Some wackos actually believe that offering people choices to travel and enjoy the wonders of the world is "exploitation and a threat to the environment"! In the USA it's quite the opposite, thank God.
I agree with the person who said that tourism exploits the tourists. But if they are stupid enough to come, let them come, spend their money and think they are seeing culture.
Simon Cameron, London, UK
I have been to England and Scotland. When I was there I kept thinking am I really here where the history of the country played out? I felt like I was in a dream. I looked forward to seeing it all for so long. I was a tourist but I wanted to see the history of the country
Alpha M. Schram, Oakland, USA
The problem with tourism is that the money people bring into the area probably never leaves the hotel complex. So many tourists stay within the hotel, and why should they wish to leave when everything is there and included in the price paid for the holiday. I don't think tourism is a problem and indeed is a valuable source of income. I believe it is the style of tourism that should change. People going abroad should get out of the hotel and discover the country in question.
Any good thing can be abused and tourism is no exception. I just returned from a wonderful European tour with my husband and 8 other members of his family. We went with one of the major international tour companies. The experience was mind-blowing for the two of us, because we had already studied European history, literature, art, music and some language. For our tour companions, who had no background, or active desire to learn, the same tour was little more than a shopping expedition.
Stephen Baker, Columbus, Ohio, USA
I live in Brisbane and if I was to drive for 45 mins to the Gold Coast I feel like an outsider. Signs are in Japanese and I do not speak the language so therefore it does not even feel like my country, it feels more like a part of Asia.
From an Australian point of view, tourism is more than just others coming to our country for a holiday. It gives us a chance to show off our country and its beauty, and diversity. It shows the rest of the world our culture as well as providing some much needed revenue for local businesses.
Shirley Lam, Hong Kong
The sad part of mass tourism is that those who benefit are just a handful of business people and government officials, not to mention travel agencies form developing countries.
Tourist should not be kept in some kind of man-made "paradise" in a hotel resort away form the locals.
Having said that I am for mass tourism but it should be closely monitored and should help those involved to get exposure to the culture and the plight of the locals.
The prime reason for the tourism industry is not to exploit people. On the contrary it is there to support the ordinary person trying to make a living in an honest way. It is helping local businesses not to mention the massive contribution it makes to the economy.
Ken Parcell, Southampton, England
It is interesting to keep in mind that nations and groups that severely limit tourist contact with local peoples tend to be despotic dictatorships and have a lot to conceal about their political behaviour towards their own people.
In my opinion, mass tourism is brainwashing people. There is, very understandably, so many stereotypes and generalisations about the countries or people living there, which have been created by travel agents, magazines, media, publications, and most importantly, those who have been "mass tourists".
Gail Devine, Perth, Australia
I grew up in what the British called a hill station, which, in the past half century has transformed itself into a tourist resort, visited by wealthy Indians and the even more affluent from abroad. During the short summer season, with the heavy influx of tourists, the price of essential commodities shoot up, rendering them beyond the reach of most of the permanent residents on fixed income. The only ones with a smile on their faces during the holiday season are the commercial interests, the hotelwalahs and the taxiwalahs - whose income, it must be said, shrinks to next to nothing in the rest of the year.
Mass tourism is a bother. It is often associated with overcrowding, unsightly development, pollution, displaced locals and loss of true culture, distorted economies etc.
I think the basic problem is that so many people live in poor, boring, unsightly and dirty overcrowded areas - of course they would like to escape. Perhaps if we looked after our local environment better, had good planning laws and spent a proportion of the money we presently spend on tourism in improving the beauty of our immediate urban environment instead, then the urge to travel would be less.
Mark, Middlesbrough, UK
Tourism puts money into both rich and poor countries. The difference is that developed nations find it easier to cope with the serious problems associated with mass tourism. Nepal is one country which benefits financially but at the cost of shocking environmental and cultural destruction.
Love of travel at holiday time is derived from a completely human desire for a change of environment and a desire to explore. But more and more, its most important motive is, at least for us Americans, an attempt to escape stressful, crowded, ugly, polluted, car jammed cities and towns, and suburbs better described as "suburban sprawl".
In so far as our mass tourism is an escape from a responsibility to build workable, beautiful home environments we US citizens find so boring or harmful, we desperately desire to escape from them at any season of the year. This tourism is certainly a kind of exploitation of the places and peoples we impose ourselves on.
How much better the entire world would be if all nations concentrated on cutting back on travel and tourism, and focused instead on investing in beautifying their own human settlements.
Marcus Cotton, Chitwan, Nepal
I live near what was once a nice seaside fishing town but which has now been ruined by visitors. The shops are either surf shops, or pasty shops with a few gift and fudge ones thrown in but hardly anything for the locals. The jobs last only for a few short months. After that it is nearly impossible to get work. The Government knows this yet does nothing. If it was not for the tourists they would have to get factories and call centres to open up down here and be like the rest of the country.
Whatever the negative aspects of globalisation, it cannot be denied that mass tourism is one of the most useful outcomes of the phenomenon. It is a complete industry by itself, employing thousands of people and bringing in massive revenues to the government. In fact, some small nations like the Maldives and Nepal thrive on it. Moreover, it is having a tremendous positive cultural impact on this global world. With the mixing and exchange of cultural values, it is bringing in more acceptance of "foreign" and critical insight into "local". There's nothing like tourism. One must be a tourist to experience the bountiful joys and pleasure which it has to offer.
Rick Pettit, Rutland, Vermont, USA
Tourism is great for BC and I personally don't see the exploitation of our multicultural and diverse province. We welcome people from all countries. Our country is so young, our highways are huge and our malls to welcome overseas visitors. Canada has a great expanse of land so we don't feel overcrowded in Vancouver or Surrey as you possibly do in London.
Of course it's exploitation, but while tourists allow themselves to be exploited in this way I don't see why anyone should stop them.
Every country needs tourists. Look what's happening to the British economy with the foreign tourists staying away.
Em Needle, ENGLAND
Responsible tourism is possible. Perhaps everyone should, for the sake of economy, adopt a minimalist type of tourism (bike/tent/camp cooking). Or perhaps this principle of productivity should be kept in mind: Unless you are going to get something you cannot get at home, DON'T GO! Meeting new friends, photos/postcards, ethnic food recipes, souvenirs, language and cultural minutiae, time to rest, exercise and the like DON'T COUNT. You can be worldly while staying at home, thanks to the Net and immigrants. That would eliminate the need for 90% of travel, leaving business, making art (paintings, novels) or formal education as reasons for travel.
I agree with Bobbi Thackery that tourists get exploited as well!
Tourism is commercialism. "Do" London in two weeks; pack-in the sites. I've always travelled on the poor man's budget, so I've had to shop where locals shop and hang out, out of necessity. My friend Andre travels to observe the people and interact with them. To see what they take for granted. For Andre it's not about going and BUYING an experience. It's more respectful to observe the culture and customs of those one is visiting and to live as they would live. That way, the money I'm bringing from the US is still being injected into their LOCAL economy and not the TOURIST economy.
If anybody wants to get away from English people and only hear foreign languages, I suggest they simply go to London on any Sunday in summer.
Yes tourism can damage local landscapes... but only if the governments of the area allow the resorts/hotels/souvenir shops to be built/operated. The solution is simpleż don't build the facilities and the locust-type tourist won't bother to visit. To the poor person who lives in Weymouth and experiences difficulty in the summer... move. It's not rocket science: if you live in a resort town you're going to have those problems. Reminds me of the fools who buy a house next to a race track and then complain about the noise of race cars.
The fact is that tourism is a means of earning badly needed foreign hard cash for many areas. It is therefore a benefit in that regard. The fact is that the culture of an area is often reinvented for the tourists to make the place more entertaining. It is usual in my experience of other countries that all culture is an invention of some kind at some time or another and that the only enduring culture is that of morality. This of course is the problem. How much morality can you afford to ditch in order to attract the almighty dollar since the tourists are not interested in strait-laced partners and no booze? Thus morality does get affected but you try being moral on starvation wages or subsistence farming and see how long it is before you open a government sponsored "British Pub - selling fish and chips and Watneys Red Barrel and full of real British people with purulent white flesh and curry stains on their T-shirts.
Dave Tankard, UK
Richard, London, UK
Mass tourism damages places when development is undertaken at the expense of the locals. So many places have become over-dependent (or complacent) upon the fickle nature of tourism. In York much of the centre has been transformed into a tourist ghetto, totally ignoring the people who actually live and work there. The City of York Council is only interested in cramming as many tourists as possible into the city whilst pushing out all the locals and workers. You may as well just build a tourist theme park, where tourists can shuffle along streets lined with Ye Olde Souvenire Shoppe, etc.
"Educated" tourism which is conducted with sensitivity towards the local environment and culture is good for developing countries. It's the "lager lout" culture of the tourists with no respect which is the real problem!
No doubt mass tourism can create a situation where local people are exploited, but it can have positive effects as well. In the Philippines, a country fairly new to tourism, the fishermen used to use explosives to catch fish, an act which savaged the beautiful coral reefs. Now international aid agencies have taught them that they can gain more money giving boat trips to visitors who wish to see the coral. So now they savage the bank accounts of the tourists rather than the coral.
If you really want to see the effects of mass tourism on local culture, then visit Goa. This idyllic town with its proud inhabitants has not only been stripped to the bone by marauding commercial tourism, but its way of life and even the basic needs of the people such as water and sanitation are under siege, owing to the enormous burdens the luxury hotels place on the ecosystem. As a resident of Goa I believe we must put a stop to mass tourism to Goa in order to preserve what is left of our beautiful city.
Mass tourism to some parts of the world is very damaging - mass tourism to places like southern Spain and coastal resorts at home provides much needed local income during the holiday season. The thing to remember is that, if the mass tourists are on the beaches, the rest of the countries and their intricate cultures are free for more adventurous and considerate tourists to discover.
What is the real difference between 'travelling' and 'tourism'? I think there is more than a little snobbishness - people 'travel' so they don't have to mix with the oiks. The backpacker trails are just as insular and culturally alien to their host nations as any amount of Spanish fish and chip restaurants, but the travellers are infinitely more smug about their superiority than the tourists, who at least admit that they are there to have fun.
Can you imagine a world without tourism? There will be very limited cross border interaction. Knowledge of other countries would be accessed mainly through the unreal world of books, radios, television and the internet. Without physical interaction, it will be difficult to achieve world peace and promote an understanding of secular problems such as environmental issues, security threats and poverty. Tourism is a way in which people from different countries can interact and understand each other's culture, language, religion and problems. Any attempt to exploit the tourists is modicum as they can always accept or refuse any services and/or facilities offered by the host countries. On balance, tourism must prevail.
Go to much of Spain and Greece and all you hear is Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land etc etc, followed by all the other football anthems. Not my cup of tea personally, but much as the locals don't like it, these holidaymakers (let's not call them tourists) do bring in needed money. Without tourist incomes these areas could collapse. Look what's happened to the Lake District due to foot and mouth - it got severely hit.
Robert del Valle, USA
The importance of tourism should be to expose people to the greater world. Mind you, when I visit other countries, I try to stay away from the tourist traps. I like to go where the locals hang out. It is when you experience the real culture of another country or region that you truly benefit from being a tourist.
I live in a seaside town - Weymouth in Dorset. At the moment it takes me 30 minutes to get to work (rather than the normal 5) and there is just no hope of trying to go to the bank during my lunch break as the whole of the town centre is too busy with tourists. There is no doubt that a huge number of the local residents get extremely fed up with having so many people invading their home town but, at the same time, the sensible ones realise that it is a necessary evil in order for the town to survive.
Christopher Laird, Tokyo, Japan
As someone who has worked in many of the tourist areas in Asia, I have been astonished by the attitude of many tourists who have no understanding of local sensitivities. Mass tourism is fine, but tourists have to respect local culture and customs.
Tourism really creates exploitation and distorts the local culture. Think of a remote tourist resort in rural Kenya, where the Masai people live. The resort is modern with all the facilities that go with modernity. But how many Masai people will be able to afford that kind of luxury? In that sense it does not benefit the local communities but exploits them. On the other hand it does bring in much needed forex.
Fred Barnes, Dallas, TX, USA
So if we all stop going to these places, then all will be well again, I suppose. It's true, not everyone in that area will benefit from tourism, but those who bother to get involved in that sector will. Personally, I think it's the tourists who visit these places and buy the food/drink/souvenirs that are being exploited!
Take away the tourist and you take away most of the money going into the tourist areas.
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