Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Tourism and the art of murder

Some states are now bending over backwards and rolling out the red carpet to the tourism sector. This is a scary thought and sends a shiver down the spine. The tourism industry is a leading expert in exploiting natural resources for personal short-term gains.This is always done at the cost of local interests.

For starters the industry is an expert at green washing. We fly people halfway around the world for an eco-holiday and completely ignore the fact that long haul flights are probably one of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution. We mow down a tract of pristine forest to construct a "luxury" camp-site so that a visitor can view wildlife through the comfort of an air-conditioned tent. We kick out the tribals from a core-zone in the name of conservation and macadamize roads inside forests in the name of infrastructure. To top it all off, we wear an armband that says we are “green”. Eco-tourism has become about as green as my car battery.

The tourism industry is one of the loudest proponents of neo-liberal policies. Crony capitalism has become an essential part of the industry. You can not succeed unless you have land. You do not have land unless you are well connected with folks in government (for e.g. forest officials). Once you are well connected you need to be willing to grease the wheels. If you succeed in doing so, land is yours for the grabbing. You can then be-rate all the small operators who work for “Indian” tourist.

It does not matter if the land belongs to tribals. It makes no difference at all that people were evicted to accommodate the dam that creates a reservoir where "water-sports" can be promoted. The words "eco-tourism", "adventure", "large-dams" and "Public-Private-Partnership" are now used in the same sentence to invite "investment". At who's cost are we doing this? Have 1000s of people not been evicted to build the dam that holds back a reservoir? Does the land in the valleys not belong to the tribals? Who gives a trans-national the greater right to this land? Who are we to waltz in and sign MoUs on hot-air balloons to declare that these national assets are for sale? Can we stop dancing on graves in the name of Incredible India!?

The Indian media loves the tourism industry. They have hours of programming and reams of supplements dedicated to the largest industry in the world. They will, as usual, not have the courage to upset their advertisers and launch into a critique of everything that is wrong with the industry. They will watch in silence as wild-life and experiential travel become a playground for the elite while locals suffer the burden of unwanted "guests".

Mining has been notorious for it's impact on locals. Maybe the PR guys in mining need to lift a page or two from the tourism industry. Their impacts are similar - environmental degradation, loss of local control over land and locals are never long-term beneficiaries. How does the tourism industry get away with it? I guess tourism goes where mining can't go.


  1. This is my first visit here.
    Very interesting.

  2. So what are the options you support in tourism? Informal person-to-person networks? Pilgrimages and grassroots-led initiatives? This could be a good follow-up post.

  3. @BK Chowla

    Thank you for your comments.


    Agree, there are a handfuld of models that have a potential of working.

    The little legilslation that exists in India is more like red-tape. And "policy" documents are nicely worded statements that can-not be enforced.

    The first step of cracking the tourism puzzle is to admit that land is the key asset and control is necessary.

    Will write the follow-up.

  4. Tourism is definetly going to bring in the big bucks to India. Ofcourse, the question then is - who profits from it?

    I think it's a game of "Who get's there first".

    It's going to be critical that local communities come together in the form of assosiations/groups and earn atleast some degree of control on what can or cannot happen in the name of tourism.

  5. @Ashwini

    Absolutely true about local community control. The problem is - that although the land is theirs they are finding difficult to exercise control over the industry. E.g. - Goa and Kerala.

    That said, the fact that tourism brings in the big bucks is a myth. It produces a tremendous amount of economic leakage that flows outside the country as well.