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?

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Written by Olga Galacho

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