The sad faces keeping a billion tourists happy

Servicing the huge tourism industry leads to the exploitation of the world's most vulnerable.

The dark side of tourism

The global tourism industry is worth around $10 trillion a year, but money isn’t the only commodity being churned: for those who work in the sector, their way of life is not far from a living hell.

Exploitation of human resources to service the holiday industry doesn’t just happen in Third World countries. Australia is among the 10 nations named for hosting substandard working conditions in the sector, according to Tourism Concern.

This British-based advocacy organisation which campaigns for better ethics in tourism recently uncovered the shocking living conditions that hotel workers in Thailand endure. It isn’t the locals who are disadvantaged, but immigrant workers from poorer countries such as Burma.

In one report, a Burmese cleaner at a luxury resort spoke of not making enough money to afford accommodation with its own bathroom. Instead, the woman lived in a perpetually flooded tin shed where she had to share the single toilet with 50 other workers from abroad.

Even in a First World country such as Iceland, mass tourism is being blamed for blighting the lives of local renters. Landlords are evicting tenants to let the accommodation as AirBnB-style rooms to tourists with well-lined pockets.

With nearly a billion people having travelled overseas last year – an eighth of the world’s population –­ locals in many besieged tourist hot spots are voicing their discontent. In cities such as Barcelona, graffiti is springing up warning “Tourists Go Home” and last year, passengers in a parked tourist bus feared for their lives as masked men attacked the vehicle and slashed its tyres.

The saddest victims of a booming tourism economy are children from impoverished families who are exploited for a variety of  ‘jobs’, from sex slavery to making souvenirs for barely any pay.

An international paper into child exploitation reported in 2016: “While tourism development can bring enormous financial gains to countries, the private sector and local communities, evidence gathered for the Global Study suggests that the rush for tourist dollars poses a threat to children in the absence of measures to ensure their protection.”

In Ethiopia, for instance, “orphanage tourism” has become popular with well-meaning tourists believing that they are making a difference to children’s lives. But as Tourism Concern says: “These good intentions are unwittingly feeding an industry that dupes poor parents into sending their children to bogus orphanages in order to extract money from well-meaning foreigners. It is a business model built on a double deception: the exploitation of poor families in rural Ethiopia and the manipulation of wealthy foreigners. In the worst cases, tourists may be unwittingly complicit in child trafficking.

However, there are many tourist operators and sightseeing opportunities where good ethics and sustainable practices are upheld. Tourism Concern is a good starting point to explore the possibility of guilt-free holidays.

Responsible tourism is at the heart of tourist operator G Adventures’ holidays. Its trips are structured so as not to trample on the rights of children, Indigenous people, animals or the environment. It also helps to develop tourism projects in rural communities ignored by the travel industry.

“Today, we continue to seek out opportunities for community tourism projects wherever possible to help our travellers put their travel dollars where they belong: within the communities that need them,” according to the operator.

Would you consider the ethics of a tour operator before you booked your holiday? Have you ever been on an “ethical” vacation?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    17th Feb 2018
    I have been having a look at the tourism concern's web site, but couldn't find any reference to Australia or any poor conditions for tourism workers, can you supply a link to the relevant site that makes the assertion Australia is involved and name and shame the companies involved,
    20th Feb 2018
    Hi Jim: Olga G. here. I believe I read it in one of their publications under the heading REPORTS. Ive just gone onto the site myself and cannot find the original source, sorry. And it was just a passing reference to Australia. It didnt list examples of exploitation.
    Thanks for taking an interest.
    17th Feb 2018
    Ethics in Australia?

    Look at the large numbers of young Asian prostitutes working in Australia. These women are essentially kidnapped or conned and then forced into servitude. Legal rape! and our governments look the other way because it is 'business'.

    Please tell me about the dark side and about Australia being a decent country. As if most of us don't know what is going on!
    17th Feb 2018
    The tourism industry runs on part time labour which is ok if all you want is a few hours but your chances of getting a home loan without someone having a full time job would be pretty low. Australia is split up between those with full time jobs mostly tradesmen and those with degrees and those with part time jobs. The have and have nots.
    11th May 2019
    Why the ugly picture?

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles