Ethical tourism is strongly associated with ‘community empowerment’ and ‘local participation’. But how does this relate to the important debates raging about national democracy: populism, majoritarian democracy versus group rights, direct democracy versus representative democracy, the role of expertise, and so on?
As a site-specific industry, tourism’s environmental and cultural impact — positive and negative — is an important issue. When communities democratically choose to limit tourism, this should be respected. Some cities, historic towns, small islands, and villages have experienced what has been described as ‘overtourism’, and their elected representatives have sought to enact measures to mitigate congestion and other associated issues. Limits on, for example, AirBnB and similar space-sharing apps, in cities all over the world are often positive examples of democracy at work.
But democracy requires choice, which in turn requires alternative visions. A presentism — judging how things are now, without a future-oriented sense of how they could be — often limits vision. While local communities are sometimes, often understandably, seen as victims of tourism development projects, they are far less often seen as victims of no development at all. In this respect, whilst many communities are concerned with ‘overtourism’, undertourism can be a bigger problem for many others.
A stark illustration is provided by Worldwrite’s Thinking Big video wherein a young Ghanaian man dreams of the jobs and opportunities that could arise from major economic development. He imagines a now deserted seafront transformed into the sort of mass tourism development often pejoratively associated with large Spanish resorts. When I showed this to an academic audience at an international conference on tourism some years ago, there was an audible gasp; who could possibly argue that such developments could be a good thing? Well, the young man in the video did.
This is an excerpt from an article by Jim Butcher, originally published on The “Good Tourism” Blog.