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Why tourism can be a force for good in the developing world, and why it isn’t

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Tourism can bring about positive change, but bad practices within the industry tend to make it part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Felipe Zalamea of Sumak Sustainable Travel explains why tourism could be a force of good in the developing world, but isn’t.

As one of the fastest growing industries in the world, tourism should be a strong contributor and driver of sustainable development and poverty alleviation in the developing world.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that international tourist arrivals have grown from 528 million in 1995 to 980 million in 2011; and its forecast is that 1.8 billion tourists a year will be travelling by 2030.

Gringo Trails from Pegi Vail (above via Vimeo) looks at the effect of the unplanned or mismanaged growth of the tourism industry in developing countries.

Tourism creates (indecent) jobs

The tourism industry is labour intensive, requiring many jobs to provide services to travellers. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2012 the industry’s direct contribution was 101m jobs.

In total, one in 11 jobs worldwide are directly or indirectly involved in tourism and travel. Yet, very few consider the quality of jobs that the industry creates, in particular in developing countries. Are local people owners, managers, marketers, lawyers and decision-makers? Or do they mostly get poorly paid jobs as waiters, porters, receptionists and cleaners?

It’s not that these jobs are unworthy, it’s that in many cases they are not decent work (as defined by the International Labour Organisation), but rather low-paid, involving seasonality and shift work, with little or no union representation.

Charity Tourism Concern is running several campaigns around these issues – see Porters’ Rights and All Inclusive Holidays: Excluding local people in tourist destinations (the campaign featured in the Guardian). The charity also talks about sun, sand, sea and sweatshops destinations.

And what about sex workers? Unfortunately, mass tourism brings about sexual exploitation, especially among children. It was a sad surprise that the overall winner of the World Responsible Travel Awards 2013 was a tour operator ‘raising awareness’ about child sex tourism in north-east Brazil. This shows how bad the situation is, and we look forward to seeing how the winners will eradicate child sex tourism during the World Cup this summer.

Tour operators are green(washing)

The number of tourists is rising, which is a great sign for the industry as a whole. However, some popular destinations are reaching a breaking point. The high volume affects local populations in positive but also negative ways. Many locals can find jobs or sell goods and services to improve their livelihoods, but waste of resources, land grabbing and environmental destruction increase, too.

In addition, destinations like the Dominican Republic, India or Thailand are suffering from higher crime rates, overcrowding and sex tourism. Tour operators have a key role to play, but greenwashing has become so normal that the word ‘ecotoursim’ has lost its meaning and travellers are now sceptical about it.

The best example is carbon offsetting, with companies making tourists feel guilty and pretending that by paying a few extra dollars per booking it will solve the problem of climate change and reduce emissions.

Non market-based and community-led solutions should be put forward instead. There is no need to give examples of greenwashing in the industry in general, but it is worrying that even leading tour operators are doing it, claiming that they are responsible because their tour groups are small (four to 20 people), or because they recycle paper in their UK offices.

I wonder if these courageous measures will reduce land grabbing and water inequality within the industry. How long it will take for tourists to also become sceptical of the words ‘responsible’ and ‘ethical’?

Tourism promotes (under)development

Tourism creates opportunities for local populations to engage and profit from the industry; however, the benefits tend not to trickle down to the local population.

Egypt and Cuba are good examples of this. They are two of the most touristic countries in the world, but only a very small proportion of the local population benefits from this. If you have been to one of these countries, you might agree with us when we say that it’s difficult to determine which impact is bigger: positive (jobs, income, infrastructure, etc) or negative (exploitation, over consumption of resources, environmental destruction, etc).

research project by the UN Environment Programme shows that the negative economic impacts in developing countries include leakages (in Thailand almost 70% of all money spent leaves the country), and increases in prices and demand for basic services in tourist areas.

It also creates dependency on a single industry, like in Gambia, where 30% of the population depends on tourism directly or indirectly. Many small island countries like the Maldives (where 83% of people depend on tourism), Seychelles or Jamaica, face a similar problem. Obviously, tourism is not the unique factor, but it’s certainly part of the problem.

Volunteer tourism (un)helps to alleviate poverty

Volunteering abroad can be seen as a chance to do good and to engage with local people all over the world. In the UK, voluntourism, or volunteer tourism, is becoming popular, and is probably the fastest-growing sector of the industry.

However, ‘responsible’ and expensive organisations may not be providing truly responsible or ethical volunteer opportunities, and recently a study by the University of Leeds showed that the more expensive voluntourism programmes are, the less responsible they are, too.

When we started two years ago, we decided not to offer ‘voluntourism’ experiences at all, even if our network includes lots of grassroot social and environmental projects. At the time, no one was talking loud about these issues, so we were glad to see Tourism Concern launch a brave campaign against orphanage tourism and ResponsibleTravel.com remove all the orphanage volunteering holidays from its website last year. Now it’s time to start looking at the poverty porn that some tour operators use to market their voluntourism or cultural tours.

Although it focuses on the negative impacts, this is not a blog against tourism. We truly believe tourism can be a force for good, and that’s why we specialise in community-based ecotourism, which is in practice a powerful tool for sustainable development.

If you are a traveller, please don’t feel guilty or stop travelling, but do start asking tough questions to the tour operators you book with. Ask them if the jobs they create are decent, if they have a proper responsible tourism policy and how they apply it on the ground. Ask if your money is going to the locals and if they are transparent in their operations.

If you are a tour operator, we hope that you are prepared to answer these questions.

Felipe Zalamea is a director at Sumak Sustainable Travel.

Further reading:

‘No tourism if you kill the environment’, Philippines ecotourism conference hears

Ecotourism helps reduce poverty, new study shows

Sustainable tourism: ‘going green’ doesn’t just mean a splash of colour

Top holiday tips for responsible tourists

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Features

Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands

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Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.

Small waste adds up over time

A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:

  • Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
  • Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
  • Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
  • Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.

Going electronic has significant benefits

If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.

Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:

  • Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
  • Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
  • Using financial software to manage your books
  • Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
  • Arranging digital feedback and review forms
  • Making the most of Google Docs

Going green can help you to make money too

Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.

Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.

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