Does tourism come at a cost?

By Aleema Latif.

Travel and tourism, a means of leisure in many developed countries, has a great socio economic footprint in developing countries. When those on a higher footing (developed countries) benefit on an unlevelled field which disadvantages those on a lower footing (developing countries), it can be tagged as exploitation. Exploitation of developing countries can be identified on two grounds; the economic cost of tourism on the local population and the social cost on local culture.

The popular notion that the tourism industry generates foreign exchange for the domestic economy as well as jobs presents only a partial reality. While the industry does generate foreign exchange, it does not give a fiscal stimulus to the local populace. Most tourist accommodation spaces such as restaurants or hotels are owned by foreign corporations, and while they might generate jobs, most of these corporations utilise locals as cheap labour with very low wages. In Pakistan, home to an indigenous tribe called the Kalash, the areas previously consisting of local homes, are now surrounded by foreign chains of hotels. The economic cost of this is that it
does not bridge the overwhelming gap between poorer locals and hotel owners. This is worsened when additional demands by tourists such as imported food items, overshadow the local industry. These demands then project onto the supply chain, where the foreign exchange generated by the tourism industry is circulated back to accommodate tourists. Alongside this
burden, it also strips locals of selling local goods to tourists, hence, putting a great economic cost on them, which is grounds for exploitation.

Many underscore that with an increasing amount of communication through social media platforms, there is greater awareness about certain heritage and culture in developing countries.

From a critical lens. This dispersal of culture comes at the risk of appropriation. On an ethical ground, many tourists such as bloggers and influencers monitise from covering local culture.

They may attract more viewers and a greater amount of online engagement if they cover an indigenous or restricted area. This weighs heavy as a social cost when lines of cultural appropriation are crossed such as when travellers acquaint themselves with local language or culture, often using it improperly and misrepresenting it. The ethical issue of whether tourists
should be able to monetize on their visits without giving locals any compensation for their cooperation is a grave one. When tourism is used as grounds to misuse cultural heritage of locals rather than preserving it, it becomes a ground for exploitation and abuse of opportunity.

Many may disagree by stating that tourism by activists and journalists brings social benefit to locals by covering issues that may be dismissed by the government such as lacking social structures in health or hygiene. However, it is also true that unethical journalism brings more harm than the good ethical journalism brings. Media coverage in local communities may not only raise questions of privacy but also that of consent. When this coverage is dispersed through media with pictures of locals, it is difficult to navigate when these communities may not grasp the concept of consenting to this at all. For them, social media platforms are not in regular usage and hence, they may not know what consenting to a picture being posted on several platforms truly entails, in the scenario they are asked at all. This issue of consent is one that is increasingly difficult to recognise and hence, clear grounds of exploitation by foreign nationals of developed countries.
Hence, travel and tourism do provide grounds for developed countries to exploit developing countries even if they do give a false guise of ethical practices. While the growth of many countries has come with this industry, it has also brought great social and economic costs on the local economy, both of which create exploitive and volatile environments for the local
populace. Responsible tourism may be an alternative, but it is certainly not the reality.

Aleema is an intern at the Seeds of Education, Policy, Legal Awareness & Advocacy (SEPLAA) Think Tank.

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