Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

2 Feb, 2009

Civil Society Groups Rue Damage Done by Tourism

Social movements and tourism watchdog groups from around the world met in the Brazilian Amazon last week to discuss the damage done by “predatory neoliberal capitalism” and the proliferation of megaresorts and real estate developments along the coastlines of tropical poor countries.

Under the theme “Another Tourism is Possible”, dozens of tourism non-governmental organisations and social activists convened at the World Social Forum (WSF 2009) between 27 January to February 1 to help the travel & tourism industry learn from its mistakes and seek alternative pathways to sustainable tourism development.

A main theme of the WSF 2009 was the impact on indigenous peoples whose mobilisation was said to be the largest in the WSF history, according an announcement by the organisers.

“Around 27% of the Amazon territory across nine countries is composed of indigenous lands and 10% of the Latin America population (around 44 million people) is composed of 522 ‘original peoples’.”

Said the announcement, “They are children and adults that struggle and resist, that suffer irreversible losses caused by predatory neoliberal capitalism, pushed by the expansion of transnational corporation activities – mining, oil companies, hydroelectric power stations, wood extracting companies, soy agribusiness, tourism, among others – over the indigenous lands.

“This reality, as well as the world campaign in defense of planet Earth, is on indigenous peoples’ agenda” during the WSF, the statement said.

The venue of WSF 2009 was Belem, capital of the Brazilian state of Para, considered the most important gateway to northern Brazil. It is the biggest city in the Brazilian Amazon with about 1.5 million inhabitants.

Most of the tourism groups at the WSF 2009 came from Latin and South America. Among the Asian groups were the Bangalore-based Indian NGO Equations.

According to an announcement by Equations last week, “Although it is common to hear about the potential of tourism to generate employment, distribute income and improve the quality of life of the local populations, in many instances, the opposite may be verified: social and geographic segregation, concentration of income and other undesirable social and environmental impacts.”

The announcement noted that WSF movement originated in Brazil in 2001 and that tourism was first included in the WSF programme at the 2004 WSF in Mumbai “in order to contribute to a new orientation of tourism impacts in the developing countries.”

“National and foreign networks have been working on sustainable tourism for several years,” Equations said. “Issues covered (at the WSF) include community involvement in decision-making in tourism; community control over resources and benefits; community-based tourism initiatives; corporate and social accountability; local self-governance and democratization; international trade, globalisation and tourism; and fair trade in tourism.”

In Mumbai in 2004, an alliance of global tourism NGOs and social movements was established, namely the Global Tourism Interventions Group. Publications of the workshop proceedings included “reflections about inequalities, resistance struggles and alternatives in tourism development” (www.fboms.org.br).

This year’s WSF included some new features.

First, as the Forum was held in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, the focus was on environmental and tourism issues.

Secondly, said the Equations statement, “in order to update the contents of the debates on sustainable tourism, we identified new challenges posed by the international neoliberal system.

“One of the main challenges is the one posed by the proliferation of megaresorts and real estate developments of second residences for rich people from the developed countries all across along the coast in tropical poor countries, fruits of foreign investments with highly speculative capital and suspected money laundering, supported by national public funding subsidies (infrastructure and tax exemptions).

“This is not a new phenomenon, but the dimension it is acquiring is frightening, and some studies have already been made to assess the impact of this kind of enterprise on local and domestic economies, real estate speculation, social structures and natural resources.”

The panel on tourism, territory and real estate speculation was entitled, “Who really benefits from tourism?” It discussed case studies in Brazil, Spain, Peru and India.

Also on the agenda was the impact of climate change. Said the statement, “Climate change affects all countries, but the injustice is quite apparent. Carbon emissions of the developed countries are far higher per person than from the developing world.

“The impact of climate change due to emissions’ from global trade and tourism is far more visible in the South. Here, people live in more vulnerable settings, and experience greater devastation from the effects of global warming through rising sea levels, drying rivers, more intense storms, droughts, floods, extinction of biodiversity, and in other ways.

“It is estimated that global tourism contributes 9% to the greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, mainly the air travel industry. It is necessary to understand more about the linkages between consumption models of the mass tourism and climate change both from the point of view of impacts and mitigation and adaptation strategies.”

Comments are closed.