The paradox of tourism in developing countries
Tour operators are selling dream holidays and paradises. People travel far away from home to discover other cultures and traditions, to contemplate beautiful landscapes. Holiday makers have in common a search for both rest and discovery, for entertainment and enlightenment, and holidays are a special time when one wants to forget daily lives difficulties and world’s endless crisis.
Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are beautiful countries which are indeed paradise for tourists but as they are going through steady development, and while they are enjoying significant economic growth, the most vulnerable populations are often left aside and may become victims getting poorer when development is conducted in an unsustainable manner. As a result numbers of travelers are met by unexpected stark contrasts while on holiday. The reality of poverty is sometimes overwhelming and can create irresistible emotions and an urge to take action to help alleviate.
Apart from already present issues in each country, tourism can also at times add to existing problems. Whereas tourism is a major contributor to the national GDP (6% in Thailand to nearly 15% in Cambodia), it has proven, particularly in developing countries where economic short term profits are a priority and democratic progress and social inclusion are weak, to negatively impact people livelihoods and destinations in several ways:
- Socially, by disturbing the socio-cultural balance of local communities, increasing prostitution, child exploitation as beggars, street vendors or sex preys.
- Culturally, with a rampant commoditization of local cultures, overcrowding of heritage sites, cultural clashes, lack of respect for local traditions.
- Environmentally, with increasing carbon footprint, depletion of water resources due to heavy consumption by hotels, golf courses, etc., wide spread lack of waste management, destruction of ecosystems and natural barriers (increasing impact of natural hazards such as the 2003 tsunami) to build resorts by the sea and within national parks.
- Economically, tourism in main tourism centers causes prices inflation, land speculation, and limits access to natural resources by the poorest whose livelihoods often depends on them.
Most of these are not directly visible and most only occur in the mid term but have great detrimental effect, increasing the vulnerability of the poorest and reducing their chance to make a living.
Tourism is like fire, it can cook the meal or, burn the house
This famous Asian saying underlines the fact tourism is indeed a double edged sword, and that tourism impacts highly depends how it is being developed, managed and consumed.
With the tourism sector (now one of the first world industry) recording exponential growth – over one billion international travelers, US$6.3 trillion contribution to Global Domestic Product (GDP), and 255 million jobs created, the industry represented 9% of the world GDP in 2011. Its negative impacts however are consequently becoming more tangible and the responsible travel movement started over 15 years ago is now gaining pace while increasingly recognized as the only way forward.
Essentially the idea of responsible tourism transcends conventional perceptions of travel, instead immersing clients in authentic experiences that mutually benefit both local people and the traveler.
The EXO Foundation fully endorses the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on responsible tourism and acknowledges the power of tourism to change and improve lives. Our choice for responsible travel is not to point at anyone’s guilt but to highlight the fact everyone has a role to play and can make a difference at their own level; tour operators, travel agents, governments and local administrations, transportation companies, accommodation sector, site managers, local populations and, tourists.
It is indeed the responsibility of each of us who travel the world to be conscientious about where we tread and the impact it has on the world around us. Traveling contributes towards raising the awareness of the value and importance of natural and cultural heritage and greatly helps conserving in particular cultural heritage such as French and Chinese colonial architecture in urban centers under threat of land speculation. It also contributes to the countries’ economy. But we trust with your help we can significantly increase this positive contribution and enhance travelers’ experience and travel businesses thanks to your choice of activities, hotels, donations and, attitude.
We believe responsible tourism is the future of travel,
bringing people closer together while offering a type of travel that is conducive
to making the world a better place.