It is time to end extractive tourism

It is time to end extractive tourism
In 2018, Thailand closed Maya Bay to tourists indefinitely until its ecosystem returns to its full condition [AP/Sakchai Lalit]

As we draw closer to the anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, many are hopeful that the vaccine roll-out will help us return to our pre-pandemic “normal”. For a certain privileged group of people, this would mean getting back the “freedom” to travel anywhere they want.

Indeed, their perceived “right” to holiday in far-away places where tourists are provided with all comforts and freedoms to do as they please has become almost sacrosanct. This has as much to do with privilege, as it has with the way capitalism exploits labour.

As wages remain stagnant, productivity demands increase and working hours get longer, capitalist societies are creating a middle class that sees tourism as a form of momentary escape from its stressful reality.

Capitalist forces have convinced the increasingly overworked middle-class labour force in the West and elsewhere that to “relax”, it needs a vacation abroad with all comforts provided. As a result, it is willing to pay significant sums of money to be mass transported south and east to enjoy a week of leisure at the expense of local communities who suffer from the abuse of their land and resources by tourism corporations and their local partners.

Quite literally, whole relationships between people, and between people and nature are shaped by the need to allow the paying tourist customer to do and be whatever they desire. It is a vicious circle where capitalist labour exploitation, consumerism and wealth extraction work to produce an incredibly destructive kind of mass tourism.

If there was ever a time to reconsider the tourism industry, it would be now. The COVID-19 pandemic offers us the unique opportunity to reflect on the ugly reality behind our exotic vacations and break the cycle of exploitation. This would take not only reforming the tourist industry but also overhauling our labour systems.

This is an excerpt from an article by Vijay Kolinjivadi, originally published by ALJAZEERA.

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