Source: Alba Sud
Tourism in Central America, Social conflict in a new setting Even though the impact of the tourism industry is becoming increasingly well known and local conflicts are breaking out across Central America, the capacity for global mobilization in the face of its expansion is still quite limited. In many of these local conflicts, the communities are quite isolated and the capacity to respond is very weak. [see more]
Travel and tourism is one of the world's largest industries, responsible for more than 10 per cent of global GDP. About 694 million international arrivals were registered in 2003, a figure estimated to double by 2020. Currently, developing countries receive about one third of the tourism trade, a number sharply rising. Ten per cent of export earnings in developing countries come from tourism. The industry is one of the biggest global employers with more than 250 million jobs depending directly or indirectly on tourism. Sixty-five per cent of those jobs are in developing countries.

Although tourism has a big impact on local economies, cultures and ecosystems, it is one of the least regulated industries in the world. The recent wave of trade liberalization further contributes to deregulation, thereby opening destination countries further to the influx of foreign capital. This trend favours international hotel chains and tour operators at the expense of local enterprises. Ever more, big travel corporations dominate the market, selling everything from the airline ticket to “local art” in the souvenir shop. It is estimated that currently up to 50 per cent of revenues from tourism leave the country through foreign-owned businesses, imported goods, and promotional spending. In particular, the popular “all-inclusive” packages and the cruise industry leave hardly any profits for destination countries.

Of the money that stays in the country a huge proportion goes to the already better-off: local hotel owners and tour operators who co-operate with international investors to attract tourists. The economic situation of the poor, in contrast, sometimes even deteriorates as the arrival of tourist money often causes local inflation. Even for the people working in the tourist industry the benefits come at high costs: long and irregular working hours, minimal job security or seasonal work, and comparably low wages characterize employment in this sector. Additionally, tourism is a very volatile industry, susceptible to political unrest, exchange rate fluctuations and natural disasters. This makes it a dangerous path to development, in particular, for the poorest of the community. Once a fisherman or a peasant has become a cook in a tourist restaurant or a housekeeper in a hotel – likely built on the land he previously has cultivated – he hardly can return to his old occupation if the tourists stay away. In this way, tourism may turn a low, but reasonably stable and independent lifestyle into an equally low, but unstable and dependent form of living.

While the economic consequences of tourism are mixed, the environmental balance seems to be clearly negative. Globally, for instance, the increasing transport of people, in particular air traffic, accelerates the destruction of the ozone layer and causes global warming. Locally, hotel complexes, leisure parks, golf courses and the like require huge amounts of water and energy. These resources are often scarce and used at the expense of the local population. The huge amount of rubbish produced by the industry can contribute to the spread of diseases, such as cholera, among the poorest. On the other hand, tourism is said to save the environment in many parts of the world which would otherwise not have the funds to protect local fauna and flora. Fees to national parks, for example, are an important source of income for poverty-stricken governments in the South and represent an incentive to protect rather than exploit natural resources. Frequently, however, indigenous people are driven off their native land for the creation of national parks and nature reserves with exclusive access for paying tourists.

Moreover, it is not only the economic and environmental impact of tourism that is debated. The exchange of values, which is encouraged by tourism, is generally seen as a positive trend. Tourist money can help sustain indigenous culture, language or religion. Nevertheless, its influence can just as easily contribute to the destruction of the same cultures. In many cases indigenous people are exposed to tourists without prior consent and at little or no economic benefit to them. On a more general level, the spread of tourists and their habits often creates needs that had not previously existed in destination societies, thereby undermining local traditions and triggering conflicts between various interests within the population.

Travel can also be a highly politicized issue. Human rights abuses in relation to tourism are not uncommon in some parts of the world. The military regime in Burma, for instance, used forced labor to build tourist infrastructure. As a result of a huge NGO campaign, the country is now boycotted by most tour operators and independent tourists.

As tourism spreads quickly around the world, always in search of new, untouched destinations, looking for a sustainable path to tourism becomes more urgent. Some tour operators realize that the industry relies on natural and cultural diversity as well as security of the destination to attract customers. Sustainable tourism, therefore, is crucial not only for the people and environment in destination countries, but for the survival of the industry itself. Initiatives by governments, civil society groups and the travel industry include eco-tours, community-based tourism, or pro-poor tourism. All these approaches are based on various definitions as well as standards and come with their own set of problems. Eco-tourism frequently opens up formerly untouched environments to tourists and is consequently destroying local flora and fauna. Community-based tourism exposes the local population even more to the tourists, for example, in the form of home-stays, which can lead to conflicts caused by misconceptions on both sides. Considering this, even the most responsible forms of tourism contribute to a deterioration of environmental and cultural habitats. The only sustainable solution however - people staying at home - is not a feasible alternative since in many developed countries holidaying is seen as a basic right rather than a privilege.
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Monday, August 30 2010
Tourism in Central America, Social conflict in a new setting
(Source: Alba Sud)
Tuesday, March 24 2009
Garífunas set sights on ecotourism
(Source: Tierramérica)
Tuesday, September 23 2008
Another tourism is possible
(Source: Tourism Watch)
more on this issue

Official websites

World Tourism Organization

World Travel & Tourism Council

World Trade Organization: Tourism services

UNCTAD: Sustainable tourism for development

United Nations Environmental Programme: Tourism

Civil society

Namibia Community Based Tourism Association

Kathmandu Environmental Education Project

Pro-Poor Tourism Partnership


Initiatives for International Dialogue

Third World Network: Tourism

Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism

International Porter Protection Group

Porters Progress

Porteadores Inka Ñan - Inka Porter Project

Uganda Community Tourism Organization

Pro-Poor Tourism Pilots in Southern Africa

Asociación Ecuatoriana de Ecoturismo

Goa Foundation

ECPAT International: Preventing of child sex tourism

Indigenous Tourism Rights International

Partners in Responsible Tourism

Arbeitskreis Tourismus & Entwicklung

The International Ecotourism Society

Environmental destruction caused by tourism

Tourism feels the heat of global warming (Third World Network)

After the tsunami: rebuilding for tourists (Social Watch Report 2005)

Cruise control: A report on how cruise ships affect the marine environment (The Ocean Conservancy)

Goa's Bardez coastline under fire of tourism (Third World Network Features)

Flying off to a warmer climate (Choose Climate)

Tourism raised problems in Masai Mara National Park Narok, Kenya (Mountain Forum)

Tourism’s impact on coral reefs (United Nations Environmental Program)

Treading lightly?: ecotourism's impact on the environment (Looksmart)

Political implications of tourism

Slum tourism stirs controversy in Kenya (Environmental News Network)

Briefing paper for travelers to Tibet (Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy)

Support for a repressive regime or help the local poor? The debate on tourism in Burma (Choike)

Unsolved human/wildlife conflict in Kenya – The source of misery and poverty (

General information

National Geographic Sustainable Tourism Resource Center

The Global Development Research Center: Sustainable Tourism

The impact of the tourist industry

Tourism in Central America, Social conflict in a new setting (Alba Sud)

Is tourism helping to alleviate poverty in the poor southern hemisphere countries?

Tourism and sustainability in Brazil (SOMO/CICLO)

Our holidays: The global story (Tourism Concern)

Cruising – Out of control: The cruise industry, the environment, workers, and the Maritimes (Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives)

Tourism as an engine of growth: reflections on Cuba's new development strategy (Centre for Development Research)

GATS and sustainable tourism in developing countries (Berne Declaration)

Financial and tourism markets: unrestricted market (International Gender and Trade Network - IGTN)

The disturbing implications of privatization in the tourism trade (Third World Network Features)

Globalisation and tourism: Deadly mix for indigenous people (Third World Network)

Tourism in Goa (Anada Project)

Alternatives to conventional tourism

Garífunas set sights on ecotourism (Tierramérica)

Another tourism is possible (Tourism Watch)

Eco-tourism: An ecological and economic trap for Third World countries (Third World Network)

Community-based tourism: The sustainability challenge (Inter-American Development Bank)

Community-based tourism in the Asia-Pacific

Pro-poor tourism: harnessing the world's largest industry for the world's poor (Pro-Poor Tourism)

Tourism: A Viable Option for Pro-Poor Growth in Africa? (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa)

Harnessing tourism for poverty elimination: a blueprint from the Gambia (National Resources Institute)

Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism: case study of pro-poor tourism and SNV in Humla District, West Nepal (Pro Poor Tourism)

Ecotourism: Suicide or development (UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service: Voices from Africa)

New forms of tourism and their limits

Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (World Tourism Organization)

Traveling Light: New Paths for International Tourism (The Global Travel & Tourism Partnership)

Sustainable tourism - turning the tide (Earth Summit 2002)

Influencing consumer behavior toward sustainable tourism (European Christian Environmental Network)

Blueprint for new tourism (World Travel & Tourism Council)

Green Tragedy (Resurgence)

From Mumbai to Porto Alegre: Who really benefits from tourism? (Tourism Watch)

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