The quest for sustainable tourism

Tourism can have a negative effect on local communities and the environment Keystone

Tourism is one of the main pillars of the global economy, with some 200 million people employed in the sector worldwide.

This content was published on January 20, 2004 minutes

But while it generates wealth, tourism can have a devastating impact on local communities and the environment. This is one of the topics under discussion at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.

"Every tourist destination is someone's home. Respect it." This is the slogan adopted by the Swiss non-governmental organisation, Working Group on Tourism and Development (akte), for the activities it is helping to organise as part of the World Social Forum (WSF).

"Tourism is a very important industry," said akte’s Christine Plüss, "but in the anti-globalisation movement it is often underestimated and not considered to be a serious issue. It doesn't make the news like work in the mines or under-age prostitution."

"Tourism has become a huge opportunity for development," observed Plüss. "In reality though, it has a devastating impact on local communities in its liberalised form."

She says national resources such as beaches and forests are no longer controlled by local and state authorities. As a consequence, large tourism companies are rarely obliged to hire local staff, and local cultures are being trampled underfoot.

Impact on communities

As part of a large-scale conference on tourism within the WSF, David Ugarte, of the National Cultural Institute of Peru, cites the example of Macchu Pichu where tourism is controlled by a single company, which owns the railway line and airline that brings people to the Inca city.

The company now wants to build a funicular. But the mountains are sacred to the Indios. "It would be like building a funicular inside St Peter's in Rome," said an indignant Ugarte, who starts his presentation in Quechua, the language of the native people. "That would be an outright sacrilege."

Other speakers describe situations that are even more difficult. Adama Bah recalls the case of Gambia where the phenomenon of "all-in" tourist packages deprives the local communities of almost all the economic benefits originating from tourism.

Charm Tong from Myanmar highlights the problem of tourism in a country governed by a military dictatorship, where revenues are channelled into a regime that has committed grave violations of human rights.

"Think hard before travelling to Myanmar," she said.

swissinfo, Andrea Tognina in Mumbai


The World Social Forum in Mumbai is considering the devastating impact tourism can have on local communities and the environment.

The Swiss NGO Working Group on Tourism and Development (akte) is calling on tourists to respect the local communities in the places they visit.

Speakers from Peru, Myanmar and Gambia warned of the different dangers posed by tourism in their countries.

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