Tourism fulfills a human need for rest and recreation. People normally set out to see other places and meet other people. Other people, meanwhile, extend their hospitality to their guests - a national trait worthy of praise.
But tourism also satisfies the thirst for profit. Big business, hungry for megabuck profits, resort to gross commercialism and imposes unsuitable development programs.
In the process, people get trampled upon, cultures erode and eco-systems deteriorate. Third World nations, main recipients of these ‘development programs,’ usually end up the losers.
Alternative Tourism, as a counter trend, seeks to right these abuses by challenging the profit structure and commercial premise of the tourism industry. Alternative Tourism works to redefine tourism back to its original spirit of exchange and solidarity among peoples.
A Billion Dollar Industry
Tourism has increased rapidly since the end of the Second World War as improved mass transportation provided people with cheaper and faster ways of getting to other places. It also enabled them to go to farther and farther destinations and meet more people.
From around 70 million people who spent a few billion dollars in 1960, the number of tourists rose to half a billion, spending some $324 billion, in 1993. With a yearly average increase of 7%, the number of international tourists is expected to reach 956 million by the end of 2000.
The tourism industry employs 74 million people and domestic and international tourism receipts account for 9.3% of GNP worldwide.
The hotel and airline industries control the bulk of the tourist business, as tourist spending goes mainly to the carrier and to accommodation. A good part of the earnings also goes to the tour and travel operators. These transnational companies, either affiliated with each other or subsidiaries of larger conglomerates, earn billions of dollars from the tourist money spent on holiday travel, rest and recreation, and even business and convention activities.
Transport industry suppliers such as the shipbuilding and train industries also rake in a good profit. The construction industry, likewise, profits from hotel and resort building contracts.
Tourism in the Third World
Many Third World nations in the early 1970s embraced tourism as a quick recipe for development. Staggering from high unemployment rates and heavy indebtedness, many governments saw tourism as a source of foreign exchange to fund balance of payments deficits and service their foreign debts. Tourism also promised a viable source of investments for their backward economies and a source of quick livelihood and employment for their unskilled workers.
With encouragement from the United Nations (UN) and the IMF-World Bank, this tourism-development strategy paved the way for the entry of TNCs and other investments in hotel and resort development, foreign-funded government infrastructure and other tourism-related projects and tourism programs. Bilateral and multilateral loans poured in to finance these projects.
Too poor to resist and not given much choice, many Third World countries soon adapted the strategy. Bilateral and multilateral loans poured in to finance these projects. Various aid organizations like the UNDP, WTO, ESCAP, JICA and the ADB lent their ‘expertise’ in supporting and promoting tourism or tourism-related projects in Southeast Asia, South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific islands. People from industrialized countries were treated to cheap, exotic and unspoiled destinations in the Third World.
In the process, the social, economic and cultural life of many third world countries were opened up to widescale tourism exploitation and their natural resources displayed for despoiling.
Whatever initial financial relief Third World countries had was eventually lost in the form of repatriated profits or debt service money.
Tourism’s negative impact on the third world countries and their peoples is staggering. Self-sufficient economies get smothered, social relations break, cultures eroded and environments are laid waste.
The list is long and well-documented: Self-sufficient agricultural economies giving way to tourism-reliant economies; women and children being forced into prostitution to service sex-tours and pedophiles; fishermen turning into waiters; and urban poor and indigenous communities domains giving way to golf courses and large hotels.
Alternative tourism emerged from the Third World as a reaction to the negative effects tourism heaped on its countries.
Alternative tourism came in different names and various models. All tried to stop the onslaught and improve the situation. Backyard tourism, for instance, sought ‘to preserve the original rural appeal’ of the tourist destination. It also relied on the services of small local enterprises while rejecting the development of modern resorts.
Endemic tourism, on the other hand, used the ‘special characteristics of individual communities which attracted tourists’ and the ‘great value of the cultural characteristics of communities’ as tourism assets.
Increasing global concerns for the environment, meanwhile, produced eco-tourism which tried to ‘shy away from commercial destinations and focused on environmental themes.’ Sustainable tourism is yet another new form of alternative tourism that is led by an ‘empowered and gender-sensitive community’ that ‘protects and enhance ecological resources.’
The Philippine Experience
The Philippine experience remains a classic case of what tourism has done to a third world country. Tourism’s impact on our society, culture, economy and environment already gives a perfect picture of what the Third World has gone through in its adoption of tourism-development.
Sex-tourists and pedophiles walking hand-in-hand with women and children is a common site in the red-light districts of Manila, Cebu and Davao. Golf courses, hotels and large shopping malls are continually displacing peasants in CALABARZON and urban dwellers in the poor districts of Metro Manila. Indigenous tribes like the Mangyans and Igorots are turned into tourist attractions.
And who will forget the former US military bases in Subic and Pampanga. These monuments to tourism left thousands of Amerasians fatherless and hooked on drugs and prostitutes dying of AIDS while awaiting the promised return of his ‘sailor boy.’
Early attempts at alternative tourism in the country dates back to the mid-1970s when residents of Puerto Galera in Mindoro built cottages for ‘back pack’ tourists searching for the ambience of nature and warm smiles of the local people. The residents also employed family members to serve drinks and wash the clothes of these tourists.
These family-owned enterprises, soon to be known as backyard tourism, were at first modestly successful as they managed to do away with the expensive accommodations offered by hotels and the degrading work of serving foreign owners.
Foreign tour operators, however, learned to adjust to the negative image of tourism and soon began building their own cottages and not touching the natural ambience of the place. Soon backyard tourism became another adjunct of the mainstream tourism industry as foreigners took over management and ownership of the local cottages.
Other types of alternatives to tourism came out through the eighties and nineties still in reaction to the worsening negative effects of tourism. These models also tried to adjust to the failures and co-optation of the earlier models by working on broader concerns and action plans.
People’s organizations, cause-oriented groups and NGOs began promoting their own type of ‘exposure programs’ to interested and ‘concerned’ foreigners. These groups offered an alternative tourism hinged on a much broader nationalist program that directly challenged the profit motive of tourism and worked for a ‘real empowerment for the people as masters of their fate’ and ready to reject imposed development models on them.
PGX and Alternative Tourism
The People’s Global Exchange (PGX) is one of many NGOs that started alternative tourism programs in the mid-80s.
PGX has long been hosting foreigners active in the solidarity movement for the Philippines. Its Development-Education program served to deepen the circle of friends already familiar with Philippines realities and active in solidarity work by immersing them in the day-to-day lives and struggles of the different sectors.
Soon it was hosting ‘walk-ins’ and other visitors unfamiliar to Philippine realities, but who were otherwise interested to learn from an ‘exposure’ program and possibly do ‘concrete things’ upon return to their countries.
Working with a broad network of people’s organizations and organized communities, PGX began promoting alternative tourism as a new program and concept for the unfamiliar but interested people from industrialized nations.
A 1992 PGX paper says alternative tourism is ‘an educationally-oriented’ and ‘non-commercial’ program. It also ‘promotes a socially and ecologically responsible’ tourism that is ‘people-centered.’ Most important, it ‘creates a venue for initiating friendships and solidarity between peoples.’
Since the late 1980s, PGX has hosted more than a thousand visitors who came individually or in groups. It even managed to host boatloads of Japanese ‘tourists’ belonging to Peaceboat, a Japanese NGO also active in alternative tours, in 1991, 1992, 1997 and 1998. These exposurees numbered more than three-hundred per boat-load and were divided into groups of fifty or more people who then went to different communities.
With its partners, PGX offers a range of programs aimed at promoting sectoral issues as well as broader concerns. Sectoral issues range from peasant landlessness to poor working conditions in factories to demolitions of squatter families to evictions of tribal groups. Similarly, the accompanying struggle of said sectors are highlighted and their calls for solidarity extended to the visitors.
Broader concerns, notably ecological problems (poisoning of rivers and lakes), women issues (prostitution, wife battering), children (pedophiles, drugs) have gained increasing interest on the visitors’ part.
Exposure programs usually last from seven-day mini-exposures to 2-year internships. Visitors come from different groups: students, academics, factory workers, homemakers and even children.
These alternative programs seem to pay off as many exposurees, upon returning to their countries, have taken up Philippine issues and linked-up with Philippine support groups. Some have even influenced their families and friends to try the same exposure they have gone through. A few have formally joined and became active in solidarity groups.
Concerned groups and individuals have taken many alternatives and paths in facing the issues of tourism. Some proved effective for some time but eventually failed. Others were co-opted by big business interests who have learned to adjust to changing perceptions of tourism. Others remained and, in their own way, continued trying to change the system by testing new models.
More than three decades of experience suggests that true alternative tourism is one that is not subject to the profit motives of big business interests. Alternative tourism also work for an empowered community that can and will reject development impositions on their lives.
Only then can we really talk of having gone back to tourism’s original spirit - that of exchange and solidarity among peoples.
Source : Philippines International Review