Globe-trotting at what cost?
British author and filmmaker Pamela Nowicka says tourism is bad. And, explains why
On the move For a cause
Tourism is bad — the kind where a bus-load of people jet across the planet to be in 11 places in 10 days. It's bad for the climate, worse for the resources of host countries and devastating for local livelihoods, says Pamela Nowicka, British author and film-maker.
Who'd have thought, uh? In her book “The No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism”, her documentary “Climate Change? No Thanks!” and during post-screening Q&A sessions, she takes readers / audiences on a journey that ends in establishing tourism's connection to global warming, climate change and exploitation. Pamela's documentary was filmed entirely in Tamil Nadu, features tourists from the U.K., Canada, Germany and Australia.
With one simple question — “Who really profits from tourism?” — Pamela scores off popular notions of the ‘benefits' of tourism.
“I was struck by its impact and was horrified,” she said just before the screening at IIT-Madras. During her research for the book, she found enough material to make a case that unbridled tourism depletes resources! More proof came during her travels.
“Geography departments in the U.K. and elsewhere are researching the anthropology of tourism,” she said.
These are her arguments: tourists have turned towns into recreational areas. It is where people let their hair down hair, take alcohol and drugs. Locals see this happening. You spends two weeks in Malawi or Kenya in total luxury, support for which comes from PR campaign subsidies and favourable land terms and easy loans.
Infrastructure for big hotels comes at a subsidy. Are local people trained to participate in these decisions?
Tourism is simply boom-and-bust for the poor, with its seven-month-long off-season. Are there provisions for alternative jobs? Where tourism facilities are built, vendors, local residents and others are shooed away. Where do they go? Are there provisions for alternative jobs?
Tourism is a mass exercise, expected to double in a decade; it works on a huge profit margin. Naturally, glossy image management lures you to a “paradise”, which must be a place that is not home. The push for tourism points to a huge profit margin.
Going abroad, eating out, sleeping in a strange bed, buying hideous trinkets, having ‘perfect moments' — we think it's a reward for our 24 x 7 workdays. But, do we think about the consequences? What we do is ecocide, planet death. People are in denial about tourism being a flag-bearer of Western modes of consumption, she says.
Of the amount we spend, only the ‘leakage' reaches the local economy.
And its effects are visible — of course, there's the visible effect of global warming — rising temperature, unpredictable monsoons, rising sea-levels, water shortage and increased risk of the likes of diseases like malaria and dengue.
Tourism is a volatile industry that depends on political and economic considerations.
“And, of the money earned, I'm astounded to find how much little money reaches the local economy,” she says.
Tourism brings neither education nor experience. It takes a lifetime to learn about a country, its culture, its people. Yes, places do live by tourism, but only where it's is carefully regulated to make it work for the people. Overall, tourism is unsustainable, she asserts.
Pamela's film attempts to highlight the two extremes — shortage of water as opposed to luxury. And it points to the hidden costs of enjoyment. As, Goutham, an activist, says in the film: “Jetting around the world does create problems; brings in climate change.” Many others in the film echo similar sentiments — tourism income is not enough for us, say the villagers. A boy says: “There are no glaciers in Kashmir, no water here for farmers. All these cars and bikes cause air pollution.” A woman says she has to stay home waiting for the water tankers. A farmer struggling with a 600-foot borewell says: “August is now a dry period; our wells do not fill up. Why don't you read about India in books, on the Internet? Why come here?”
Answering questions after the screening, Pamela said:
“We continue to increase consumption at a fast rate on a finite planet. There's no Harry Potter magic to set this right.” Find the paradise in your backyard, change your lifestyle, she suggests. “The change is with the tourist. Why don't we all make a difference?”
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