6 September 2011

Exploring issues around the growing global phenomenon of tourism can lead to discussions about a range of other global issues such as trade, the environment and human rights.

Beach imageBackground

Holidays can be a wonderful chance to get to know new places and people. As well as learning about a location’s geography, history, literature and language, visiting a new place can help break down stereotypes and misconceptions. Tourism can also benefit the communities being visited; many areas rely on tourism as their main industry. A massive 231 million people are employed in the tourist business, and recently there has been a dramatic increase in the number of holidays taken, with more people going away more often. The rise of mass tourism obviously has an affect on popular destinations, from the Costa del Sol in Spain to the rainforests in South America. This article looks at the tourist industry today, and some ‘alternative’ holidays.

Mass tourism

The mass tourist industry can provide economic benefits for tour operators, resorts and transport companies. However, income generated by tourism may not support the local economy. If companies are owned by multinational corporations profits will go back to head office rather than being invested into the community. Mass tourism can also generate other problems associated with having a high number of people in a small space – there can be the loss of indigenous species, increases in pollution, fading of local culture and traditions, depletion of natural resources and decline in the aesthetic quality of the area. An influx of chain restaurants such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds, combined with resorts keeping to ‘Western’ menus, can even change local agricultural production.

Students can discuss why they think there has been such a rise in mass-tourism over the past few years and what people look for when they decide where to go on holiday.

Workers’ rights

Work is generally far from people’s minds when on vacation, but what about holidays for the people that make holidays happen? Workers within the tourist industry can be in such precarious conditions the only holidays they get involved with are other people’s. Local workers may not earn enough to educate their children and look after their family, while employees from rich countries doing the same job may get paid much more. People employed on a casual basis (such as maids) not only get a low wage, but are also not entitled to benefits such as sick leave or holiday. Hours can be long and physically exhausting, tourists can be disrespectful and if visitors suddenly leave (for example in Thailand following the Tsunami) people can quickly find themselves out of work.

Sustainable tourism

The principles behind sustainable tourism look to ensure tourism benefits future generations. By recognising that the natural, social and cultural environment has value, planning for the future can be done to ensure there is a balance between the costs and benefits of tourism development. Involving local communities in making decisions that will affect their local environment is one way of doing this.

Eco-lodge imageIs ‘eco-tourism’ just ‘greenwash’?

The concept of eco-tourism has gained momentum in the last few years. In theory, eco-tourism includes travelling to natural destinations, trying to minimise the impact of tourism, building environmental awareness, providing direct financial benefits for communities and conservation, respecting the local culture and respecting human rights and democratic movements. Eco-tourists are more likely to visit endangered environments, cross new and delicate eco systems and enter local communities. Although the principles are similar to sustainable tourism, it is still likely holidaymakers will change and effect the local environment, for better or for worse.

There is also the matter of how ‘green’ an eco-tourist is. The ‘light green’ tourist (most eco-tourists are this shade) may have an interest in reading about sustainability and reducing water consumption, but will ultimately put comfort over conservation. A ‘dark green’ tourist, however, would have a deep commitment to the environment and go out of their way to stick to their principles. They are likely to use specialist travel agencies committed to eco-principles, stay in the same region for long stretches of time and will try to make minimum impact on the environment in which they are staying.

In class you can discuss the different types of eco-tourism (light and dark green, and shades in between) and students can find examples of holidays that fall into the different categories.

Mutually beneficial tourism

Similar to the alternative tourism models above, mutually beneficial tourism looks at how both hosts and visitors can gain. It encourages tourists to become friends with locals, to learn about conservation efforts and problems, visit countries where human rights are respected, find accommodation and eateries that are locally owned, tipping and paying the asking price (rather than haggling) and buying items such as gifts and food from worker-owned cooperatives.

Students can look at the tourist industry in different locations and make a list of which elements are respectful and which elements are not. You can ask students if it is possible to be totally ethical when travelling. For example, as a stranger it is very difficult to know all the nuances of a new culture and what locals might see as disrespectful. Pupils can also think about tourists that come to their own town – do they get a true picture of what people are like? How does tourism impact on their local community?

Why teach about tourism?

Tourism is a global phenomenon and is a great entry point into looking at other issues such as trade, climate change, sustainable development, workers’ rights and human rights. It naturally fits into the Geography and Modern Foreign Languages curricula, and can be used as a starting point for work in other subjects such as looking at statistics in Maths or sustainable technologies in Design & Technology.

Teaching about tourism raises pupils’ perceptions of the impact they can have on holiday, and can influence their choice of behaviour both while on vacation and towards tourists in their home.

Teaching Resources

Browse through teaching resources about tourism >>

If you want to use tourism as a starting point to look at other issues, you can also browse through resources relating to the following topics: Climate change, Human rights, Sustainable development, Trade, etc.

Find out more…

Tourism Concern work to reduce the social and environmental problems connected to tourism and to increase local benefits. Their website provides information on current campaigns and the teaching resources available.
» Visit the Tourism Concern website

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