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Highgate Climate Action Network campaigner: ‘Tourism one of greatest threats to communities’

Guyonne James Green Tourism and Sustainability. Picture: Nigel Sutton Guyonne James Green Tourism and Sustainability. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
6:22 PM

Guyonne James, a member of Highgate’s Climate Action Network, speaks on the communities who have been forced to pay the price for tourism.

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In the village of Las Galletas, Tenerife, where I used to live, there was a series of fisherman huts huddled at the foot of the white, modern hotel buildings along the front.

These rough, earthy buildings contrasted starkly with the bright clean lines of the hotels that towered over them.

In the evenings, golden light would filter from the windows and you would hear muted sounds of conversation and laughter.

I was fascinated by what made them cling to this remnant of a life long superseded by the arrival of tourism.

Weren’t they better off in the bright modern apartments that the tourism dollar made possible for them?

We are told that tourism brings wealth and prosperity to communities, particularly where traditional economic activities are disappearing. And indeed tourism is a hugely important global industry, representing 9 per cent of world GDP and supporting 260 million jobs.

It is a favoured development tool by governments the world over and it continues to grow despite global recessions.

However, there is a dark underside to tourism, a price to pay, not by us, the tourist, but by local people living in the communities we visit.

Ever increasing numbers overwhelm vulnerable communities, undermine cultures and traditions and erode environments.

Tourism has been responsible for the forcible displacement of communities, the Maasai in Kenya, the San in Botswana to name but two.

Precious heritage sites are degraded. How close can we build a hotel on Machu Pichu? How many cruise ships can we fit around the pristine islands of the Galapagos?

Who doesn’t want to go to Burma these days? Yet the floating gardens and exotic temples of Inli Lake are already crumbling from the onslaught of the crowds.

Moreover, promised economic benefits often don’t materialise, as jobs for local people remain low paid, low status and with long hours.

Tourism inflation frequently wipes out any financial benefits, trapping people in poverty.

So, what can we do? We can choose the way we travel, use local hotels and services to ensure the local economy benefits.

We can avoid countries with fragile environments. This is all good.

However, what really needs to happen is for those who drive the tourism economy, multinational businesses and governments, to recognise the brutal inequality in the global trade in tourism services.

They, and only they, have the power to create policies, programmes and practices that ensure the people who host us when we travel actually benefit from our presence.

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