Tourism;Subject of the week;Development education

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Travel may be good for the soul, but it's not always healthy for the local community, writes Gillian Thomas

Sea, sunshine, scenery. Who doesn't enjoy being on holiday, especially in an exotic country where you can mix the excitement of the unknown with your suntan?

Tourism is an ever-growing industry, now worth about US$500 billion a year. So its role in globalisation has become as significant as less glamorous activities such as banking and technology.

In every country rising numbers of people are travelling, whether on business or for pleasure, creating jobs and profits.

British tour operators clap their hands each time a bad summer here prompts more of us to go abroad. Few would dispute the benefits of taking a holiday. Travel also has the potential to foster understanding. But at what cost to the world?

Even those who simply like to walk and cycle while abroad invariably use less sustainable means of transport to reach their destination. Aircraft are major polluters and car fumes get up everyone's noses. The impact of trampling feet can be damaging too, whether in the Lake District or the Galapagos Islands.

Because poor countries often lack the funds to develop tourism, many of their facilities are foreign-owned. As a result much of the money spent by visitors bypasses the local population. The eviction of people from their homes to make way for tourist developments has also become commonplace.

"Tourism is a trade like any export industry and the big players now exert huge control," says Patricia Barnett, director of the educational charity Tourism Concern. "Large 'integrated' travel companies with their own airlines and travel agencies are increasingly gobbling up small specialist ones.

"Particularly in developing countries, the mass-market holidays they offer are to the detriment of cultural and environmental diversity. For example sacred Hula dancing in Hawaii and Maasi ceremonies in Kenya are now performed as cabarets. And in the Caribbean, where hotels import potatoes to serve fish and chips, an Asian group is building a huge Malaysian-style resort complex.

"We are assessing how tourism can be more fairly traded - like coffee or tea. Communities need to have control over it as their own product to avoid being dictated to by multi-nationals concerned primarily with profits."

To help explain these issues, Tourism Concern has just issued a 20-minute video, Looking Beyond The Brochure. It shows holidays in The Gambia through the eyes of local people as well as visitors.

As Patricia Barnett points out, holidays are a subject with which children readily identify, either from having travelled themselves or through watching television programmes. "Studying tourism will help them understand development issues and the implications of globalisation," she says.

"Looking Beyond The Brochure"video available free to secondary schools from Tourism Concern, Stapleton House, 277-281 Holloway Road, London N7 8HN (tel: 0171 753 3330); teaching pack pound;10, teaching booklet pound;5


* 625 million tourists - including 15 million from Britain - visited a foreign country last year. They spent more than 10 times the amount needed to provide the whole world with health care, education and clean water.

* Half the tourists travelled to non-industrialised countries.

* Travel and tourism now provide 10 per cent of the world's jobs.

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