My reasons for supporting change
in the tourism industry came about through my own personal experience.
I began to think about taking a vacation to Jamaica
several years ago.
I had heard about the island all of my life and looked forward
to going there. As a child, I watched home movies of my missionary
grandfather working in Jamaica. I particularly remember a film
where about twenty or so people were dancing outside under some
trees. What I always remember most from those films is the spirit
and joyousness the people projected.
My interest in Jamaica and Jamaican culture continued
to take various turns over the years. During the early 1970s
when I was living in a small town in northeastern Oklahoma,
some of my friends started a band and began singing the revolutionary
reggae songs of Bob Marley. At that time, I was growing up in
an economically depressed rural area and grappling with social
and cultural issues of my own. I could identify with the meaning
and message of struggle.
Over a decade later, with more experience behind me and enough
money to make the trip, I went to Jamaica to look, idealistically,
for a chance to better understand the meaning of the revolutionary
spirit. What I found was very different from what I had imagined.
I had not realized the depth of the realities of struggle, racism,
and oppression -- the sheer poverty that many Jamaicans live
with every day, the historical oppression and hardships the
culture had experienced. I had simply glossed over a lot of
it. I bought into the dream that I could go to Jamaica as a
package-deal tourist and have a profound experience with local
people. In fact, I did have a deeply profound experience, but
it was not the type for which I was searching.
The plane landed at Montego Bay and I was immediately besieged
by hawkers and hustlers, self-styled entrepreneurs in an economic
situation born directly out of the business of tourism. I didn't
even have time to look around as I downed my welcome-to-Jamaica-shot-of-rum
because I was so preoccupied with the hustlers: "Like a
beer for the ride, mon?" "Need some ganga, girl?"
"You need a man like John to show you around."
I stayed in a hotel arranged as part of a package deal with
an airline. The resort was advertised as set in a "historical
plantation in Old Jamaica," and was run by mostly British
and American expatriates; its fences and golf course still depicted
the continuing features of a colonialist plantation, strong
symbols of a time that never seemed to pass for some. It was
a beautiful beach resort, surrounded by imported comforts from
home, while local people were banned from the beach and lived
in a makeshift service village across the road. A sign near
the fence at the end of the hotel beach said it all: "NO
LOCALS ALLOWED." The tee-shirts and bikinis in the souvenir
shop were imported from the U.S. The restaurant staff explained
the food was also shipped in from Florida.
I didn't have much of an opportunity to meet many local people
on the "Old Plantation." Most of the locals were too
busy working in their service jobs. One morning, determined
to see a more realistic side of the island, I crossed the main
road and boarded the local bus into Montego Bay. The guards
at the gates of the hotel eyed me suspiciously. Some older women
waiting for the bus cast an amused glance. A dilapidated old
school bus pulled up and I boarded, along with the older women
and a young man holding a live chicken. A hand-painted sign
over the driver's seat reflected a contemporary social issue
for Jamaicans, "let us stay sober on our journey."
My whole experience that day was one of hustlers, drug dealers,
and more hustlers. I was unable walk around freely without an
offer for a "guide," to buy some "smoke,"
or to inspect the local wood carving shops. It was off-season
and the tourism-dependent economy was in its downswing, and
people were desperate. Shopkeepers even sent people out into
the streets to round up tourists to bring back to their shops.
One evening I went to Montego Bay to hear some reggae music.
After a considerable search, I finally found a small club for
locals. As we listened to the music, a bus load of tourists
stopped by. The tourists rushed in and immediately began to
complain to the deejay about the music. Soon, Michael Jackson,
Madonna, and Whitney Houston began to croon over the speakers
while the tourists danced. After an hour or so the bus load
of tourists left and the American pop tunes were put to rest
for the next round of tourists. The reggae and ska came back
on. "The tourists," explained the deejay, "they
like American music." The revolutionary songs of Bob Marley
had no voice in a carefree holiday market that depends upon
providing pleasure for wealthy foreigners.
During the rest of my stay in Jamaica I tried to meet some
local people without being inundated by a large population of
tourism entrepreneurs. I was taken to other all-inclusive resorts
around the island and to "beautiful local destinations"
like Dunns River Falls, where I climbed the waterfalls with
several bus loads of tourists and didn't see one local Jamaican
enjoying the area. What I did noticed were the social discrepancies
that distanced tourists from the local population. I noticed
the way the local people reacted to me as a wealthy tourist
with money to burn. I noticed the creation of a fantasy tourism
culture that by no means represented the real culture of Jamaica.
I noticed the almost entirely British and American management
at the hotels. I noticed the dying reefs just off the beaches,
polluted from unregulated waste from the resorts; the high price
of black coral, disappearing quickly because of the excessive
demand by tourists; the stench from piles of accumulated garbage
behind the beautiful artificial resorts; pristine lands being
converted into more tourist accommodations; and the fences that
blocked the local people from the beach.
On my last day in Jamaica, I walked down the road to a horse
stable where I met Joseph, a guide. While we rode around the
hillside through some villages, which were conspicuously different
from the hotel paradises I had been a part of, just outside
of Montego Bay, Joseph related some of his story. He had grown
up in Jamaica and spent four years traveling, as a worker on
cruise and fishing boats, throughout the Caribbean and to ports
in Europe. Joseph was interested in people. In fact, he said
it was this interest that motivated him to work on the boats
and was why he was currently employed as a guide at the stables.
He wanted to see the world, especially the United States.
In the United States., Joseph said, "people have more
opportunities, a better way of life. There people do not have
to live in poverty. In the U.S., people have good jobs and a
good way of life that is better than here in Jamaica."
A devastating blow occurred, he said, when he was laid off his
job on a cruise ship just before he was scheduled to go on a
trip to the United States. The trip was something he had anticipated
for years and his disappointment was still visible. His interest
in the U.S. had nonetheless continued to grow since then. As
we rode our horses through a shantytown, Joseph made a remark
about his missed opportunity that struck me, "Oh well,"
he said, "I will prepare myself so that I will understand
more when I go there."
As I recall my whole "tourist trip" to the island,
my time with Joseph is one of the best memories: it was a human
connection. Unfortunately, our unequal tourist-guide relationship
prevented a real friendship from developing. I believe we both
had stereotyped images of each other. I had gone to his country
ignorant of his very real situation, looking for a highly idealized
culture. I also believe that the very nature of tourism created
idealized images of our respective cultures: my image of was
one happy revolutionaries and his image was one of wealthy vacationers
with no responsibilities at home. The tourism industry enforced
and encouraged the distance between tourists and locals. It
reinforced a negative self-image for Joseph. No mechanisms were
offered, nor had I initiated any, for fostering friendship or
gaining more insight. I wanted to tell Joseph that the U.S.
wasn't as ideal as he thought it might be, but who was I to
talk? Since then I have thought about Joseph's wise words many
times. I decided to prepare myself for the realities of another
culture and country and to find ways to represent myself more
Although I believe I continue to learn from my experience,
I went to Jamaica completely ignorant of the cultural, economic,
political, environmental and social realities. The manufactured
tourism that the industry sold me was very different from the
social messages I saw on the bus and the warnings posted to
the hotel fence. The shantytowns I rode through on my horse,
where small children peered out of windowless homes with no
electricity, was very different from the smiling Jamaicans I
had seen on tourist brochures. I found myself an uneasy voyeur
in a country with which I had no real connection.
Since my Jamaican trip I have visited many other countries
and traveled extensively throughout the United States and other
countries. I've noticed how tourist information does not depict
the economic, social and environmental realities in most destination
communities. Nor does it depict the negative impacts created
by the tourism industry itself. I've also met people who are
working for changes in tourism in their communities.
Over the years I have continued to explore my reasons for going
to Jamaica. I was not able to contact much real Jamaican culture
because of the culture that tourism had imposed. Why did it
seem as though tourism controlled Jamaica, and Jamaica had no
control over tourism? I am disturbed by my own projections of
a culture and people that only exist as a commodity cooked up
and dished out by the travel industry and the media. How did
this happen? Did the colonial plantation-cum-resort I stayed
at represent something more controversial, something that is
still being perpetrated? It is an uncomfortable but essential
exercise to explore my own motivations. Although uncomfortable,
in retrospect, I am thankful for the seed planted in Jamaica
that started to grow into a larger sense of what tourism is
about and how broad and sometimes devastating its effects can
CHANGING THE INDUSTRY
My own participation as a tourist propelled me into a process
of critical analysis and a conscious effort to support change
within the industry. From this perspective, my goal is to demonstrate
how traditional tourism development, especially in countries
in the global South, has been unplanned, basically because it
follows a western model that is highly consumption-oriented,
often at the expense of the environment and culture. Tourism's
overwhelming growth has been destructive to both ecology and
people in host destinations. This book will also discuss the
roots of tourism in colonialism and the continuation of racism
and commodification of cultures that tourism perpetrates.
There is a desperate need for information and tools to create
change. My experience to Jamaica set into motion a journey of
learning and activism. I've learned to look past immediate tourism
issues for root causes -- issues such as world economics, the
media and technologies, development models, corporate control,
the continuation of colonization, racism, and other causes of
injustice. My exploration of tourism issues has been difficult,
alarming, and wonderful. Learning about the negative issues
has resulted in an effort to look for models and actions to
change, sometimes to challenge, and sometimes to completely
denounce it. It is important to undertake a critical analysis
to appreciate why there is a pressing need for change.
The book focuses on the global tourism industry, and considers
emerging consciousness about environment an important and booming
factor in the growth of ecotravel. Tourism inherently is about
our Earth. Vacations spent skiing, at the lake, camping, at
beach resorts, and in National Parks reflect the need for human
beings to spend time in nature. It's obvious that the global
tourism industry has an enormous impact on the environment,
and in most cases, sells nature as part of the tourist product.
We cannot simply buy into the "eco" jargon and have
it represent every tourism activity undertaken in nature. What
is really needed is an overview of tourism, which acknowledges
that "green" travel, or ecotravel, is a mere part
of the larger impacts of the industry and that there is an urgent
to need look at the broad issues related to tourism's impacts
upon the Earth. However, the basic premise of the book considers
our planet, nature, and people to be intimately linked and the
"green" gloss is an emphasis on consuming natural
areas that maybe better off without increasing numbers of tourists.
There is increasing resistance to tourism. Some of it has simply
been to "greenwash" tourism and promote it as a sustainable
development strategy or to promote it as a "cultural heritage"
site which monumentalizes culture and negates the current culture
taking place. Yet, over the past thirty years, local people
have joined with ecumenical groups, women, Indigenous peoples,
grassroots groups, environmentalists, and even tourists, to
respond to its negative impacts and create alternatives. These
groups are holding their own conferences to challenge and denounce
the negative impacts of global tourism and seek alternatives.
The international "responsible tourism" movement,
born in the 1970s in response to negative impacts of tourism
are campaigning and linking with a wide spectrum of community
groups and the public and private sectors. Growing numbers of
organizations that are outside of predominantly travel industry
are also re-thinking their role in tourism and creating strategies
for change. Farmers, women, indigenous Peoples, human rights,
activists, civil society, are organizing together to share common
concerns. Many of these global movements involve travel and
transit, financial transactions, and a reliance upon tourism
industry that are all ultimately targets of change. These individuals
and movements must recognize the role they play, the power they
have to demand changes, and design clever strategies to use
tourism as a catalyst for change. Some of these groups are organizing
solidarity tours to pressure oppressive governments and supports
each other at the grassroots, some are voluntarily linking with
each other on social justice issues. There is also growth in
nature travel and ecotourism, an area that immediately involves
local people and can be a catalyst.
Currently, thousands of communities around the world are attempting
some form of tourism development. While some communities are
creating strategies for resistance to tourism, many people in
communities where abrupt development transformations are taking
place have little information about the forces transforming
their lives. What is apparent, though, is that most of the communities
are going through almost entirely the same process -- fairly
defined cycles of expectations and disappointments. Yet, tourism
continues to grow haphazardly, often to the detriment of local
people, communities and the environment, with little long-term,
integrated planning. We have been following development paths
that promote unlimited economic growth. This westernized model
of growth have been applied, often believing, sometimes unwillingly,
and increasingly resistant, to other countries.
The multinational aid and financial institutions have followed
this path for more than fifty years, yet poverty has increased,
arable lands are shrinking and threatened, the socioeconomic
situation of most of the world is worse than ever. Our world
leaders are now organizing international meetings to discuss
the state of the world, to determine what to do about preserving
our global commons, the air we breath and the water we drink,
natural elements that cross borders -- and of which the safety
and health of these global commons is something we all depend
upon to survive on this planet. While in some cases there is
a growing interest in other cultures, there are also growing
backlashes about ethnic groups. At the same time, our ability
to learn about these issues and to work for change, across borders,
within our own communities, has never been more promising. It
is apparent that on an finite planet our precious natural resources
must be protected. We are at the same time looking at more energy
consumptive high technologies, while also examining more localized,
less consumptive strategies. Despite our access to global information,
these issues are complex, are not easily understood, and no
one clearly has the answers.
The effects of travel and tourism development have traditionally
been studied in bits and pieces, without linking these issues
together in an overall examination of the real impacts. For
instance, environmentalists have typically scrutinized the negative
effects of tourism development upon natural resources and have
focused primarily on conservation issues. Economists have concentrated
upon business, employment, trade and financial issues. Anthropologists
have documented changing tribal cultures, some on the brink
of vanishing. Academics have traditionally studied the hotel
and restaurant industries, although that has changed to include
many forms of alternative travel as well as the impacts of tourism.
In the United States, we have tended to study the global South
as a separate entity, although recently we have come to learn
that its survival is directly tied to survival of the global
North. In a global industry that carries over 415 million tourists
annually to destinations around the world, and with an infrastructure
valued at almost $3 trillion, it is imperative that we begin
to explore these complex and overlapping issues of tourism development
and its effects upon the earth and society through a more integrated
framework. Increasingly tourists are becoming concerned about
the impacts of their travel, and the impact and control of the
giant tourism industry, and are looking for information and
tools to assist them in becoming more responsible travelers
and affecting change within the industry. A vacation represents
a positive experience and alternative information has simply
not been available until very recently, and even those alternatives
need further exploration.
This book excludes large sectors of the travel industry --
such as business travel and conferences and travel to most urban
and developed areas. It focuses more on tourism activities and
decisions that affect predominantly areas where planned "development"
has had a short history. My concern is that global tourism is
a real and pressing threat to the world's biological and cultural
diversity -- the last remaining vestiges of "paradise."
In rural areas, on island ecosystems, and in pristine rain forests,
tourism is a huge and growing part of the current development
problem. It is a field that begs for study and change -- our
very lives depend on it. There are many tourism subjects that
are not addressed adequately in this book, such as specific
corporations involved in tourism and their affiliations, technologies,
agriculture, organized crime, and state policies. There is a
need to research these fields and I encourage anyone who reads
this to do so.
This book attempts to present these questions and offers a
challenge to conventional tourism. Analysis of the tourism industry
demands the exploration of issues in our growing global community.
This analysis can assist in understanding the role that the
tourism industry plays in globalization and "development."
It can challenge us to create and support new ways to live together,
as members of the human community and as members of the community
of nature, and to cultivate ideas for change. The next few chapters
deal with the negative impacts of tourism. However, there are
ways to effectively change these negative impacts and be involved.
Suggestions for change are listed in chapter Six. However, it
is necessary to understand why there is a need to change.
The issue of tourism growth, how much, how fast, what kind,
are crucial questions that surround the future of communities,
local lifestyles and cultures, and the natural environment.
This book suggests that there are a variety of instabilities
and inequities associated with tourism growth. The ecological
problems of growth pose a fundamental challenge. If the social
costs of infinite growth (human consequences of ecological pollution,
centralized concentration of power, inequitable income distribution)
are as high as they appear to be, our current social systems
cannot support them indefinitely.
Is there any reason to work to change tourism, or should we
stop altogether? Resourceful ideas for reconstructing conventional
tourism are emerging from concerned individuals and organizations,
as well as from within communities -- the people who are most
effected. Concepts for alternative tourism projects, as well
as alternatives to tourism, reflect the growing awareness for
the importance of cultural preservation and ecological protection,
as well as decentralized political and economic issues. These
factors are critical, especially as we enter into an era of
exploitive free-trade and economic globalization. In the struggle
to return tourism to the hands of the local community, to empower
people, as tourists, we must increasingly scrutinize our motives
for traveling, whether we have the "right" as consumers
to buy other cultures and environments, and to support the development
of a responsible tourism. We must analyze "green"
strategies such as ecotourism and sustainable tourism to determine
whether we are simply being "greenwashed." In an age
where the media dominates and shapes our views of the world,
it is imperative to utilize tourism as a means to effectively
communicate with one another. In fact, there is no better way
to understand the global crisis that we face together than through
To learn about the world through first-hand, one-on-one meetings
with people from around the world is a valuable human experience.
If travelers' experiences were consistently negative, they would
not pursue their journeys enthusiastically and share their experiences
with others. We discover universal themes of human culture.
We become more aware that no matter where we live we are all
confronting similar situations as we ultimately become a global
community. Even nature travel, in many ways, is a reconnection
between post-industrialized society and Mother Earth.
Human contact is important as we work to create a just world.
We must critically explore our motivations and make conscious
decisions as we take an active part in constructive change.
Tourism still remains a passive, amusing luxury for thousands
of travelers. This must change in order for tourism to become
a sustainable approach to seeing new places and meeting new
people. The roots of tourism must be understood in a global
context or we may further dangerously support the capitalization
of the planet and a homogenization of our unique and vital cultures.
What is presented here is a starting point for rethinking a
phenomenal industry, one that is the largest in the world. The
next few chapters attempt to untangle the web of the giant global
tourism industry by describing the many factors involved, the
powers that control it, and the links between these crippling
issues. It also provides information about unique ideas and
tools for creating change. This book is an invitation to undertake
tourism-related studies and actions on issues such as agriculture,
technologies, exploitation of women and children, and the role
of transnational corporations are examples of areas that beg
for further investigation. Yet, I approach this project with
a fascination to understand as much as possible about the people
and organizations that are involved in investigating and changing
the global tourism industry.
I look forward to future works that will engage these issues
from other points of view and with different emphases. Indeed,
much of this book is a continual education in the missteps and
errors of global tourism, which have often fallen far short
of its goals of "paradise." At the same time, it is
also an undertaking that has increased my imagination and dedication
to so many people around the world who are working for change.
I have learned that it makes predictions difficult. Yet, the
purpose of writing is to encourage further investigation and
action on the part of you, the reader.
Where will tourists be traveling in the next century? Will
there be any places left to go? Or will our search for unspoiled
environments and cultures be in vain since they may be completely
replaced by manufactured cultures on reconstructed islands of
paradise? It is a frightening thought to consider manufactured,
replicated tourist centers with the same restaurants, shops,
ethnic dances, and short-excursion adventures into man-made
"Jurassic Parks?" Yet, if the mega mall, theme park
and cruise ship is any indication of our future, "super
tourists" who can afford it may pay to visit the last pristine
places on Earth: to view the history of the Indigenous Peoples
and organic agriculture, admire what use to be rainforests,
and watch cultural entertainment at "virtual" reality
centers. Perhaps they will be visiting private, enclosed "biospheres"
or even the moon. Of course, there will be plenty of souvenirs!