Lio Tourism Estate, a masterplanned luxurious development in El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan – owned by Ayala, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines, and operated by one of its many subsidiaries, Ten Knots Philippines Inc. (TKPI) – encompasses a large 325-hectare site. As well as high-end hotels the resort contains its own private airport, Lio Airport, owned and operated by TKPI for the exclusive use of its aircraft. As with most airports worldwide the response to Covid-19 led to Lio Airport reducing operations, but by March 2022 about 600 passengers were flying in and out each day. AirSwift Philippines operates flights between Lio Airport and Manila. There is also a jetty port for visitors to embark on island-hopping boat trips. The tourism project, on a former copra (coconut) farm, began with construction of the airport and seaport to provide access, followed by accommodation and retail facilities. Shown below are satellite imagery and a site development plan published by a property firm.
But the Tagbanua Tandulanen Indigenous People (IP) claim that the project encroaches on their ancestral lands. In April 2021 their attorneys requested that the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Local Government Unit of El Nido cancel, revoke or deny applications for building permits and licenses for more than seven Ayala-owned businesses and projects in El Nido, including Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport. The IP group claimed ‘rampant and widespread’ proliferation of illegal transfers and conversion of their ancestral domain. On 15th March 2022, following reports of projects and activities that did not comply with Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) requirements, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) intervened in the land dispute, issuing a cease-and-desist-order (CDO) ordering temporary halt of projects in Barangays Libertad and Pasadeña. After issuing four notices to comply with the CDO NCIP issued a show cause order to TKPI on 13th February 2022. In March Tagbanua Tandulanen IP’s legal counsel said the group been sending letters to TKPI for two years without receiving a serious response and urged NCIP to maintain the CDO.
Extending northwards of the tourism estate developed area and Lio Airport is a 4.2 kilometre stretch of white sand beach, also part of the resort. In September 2017 the management of Lio Tourism Estate dismissed accusations that its recently opened upscale resort had blocked access to the public beach in front of it for residents of Barangay Villa Libertad. The issue stemmed from a complaint to the Palawan Provincial Board’s Environment Committee. A month previously Board Member Winston Arzaga said they had been asked by local officials to help resolve the issue, saying “The cause of it all is the access of local fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds which the Ayala management had somehow restricted.” A Safeguards Due Diligence Report for El Nido tourism development, prepared by the Tourism Infrastructure and Economic Zone Authority (TIEZA) for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), published in May 2021, includes notes of a consultation on fisheries management concerns and livelihood projects with Barangay Officials of Villa Libertad, which covers Lio beach, part of Lio Tourism Estate. Dwindling fish catch was the major fisheries issue identified by informants, resulting from overfishing and a reduced fishing area. Declining fish catch and reduced access to fishing grounds was also mentioned in relation to three other Ayala resorts in El Nido, on the islands of Miniloc, Pangulasian and Lagen.
More information about the land dispute and issues with access to fishing grounds related to Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport
Construction of a major new airport on the Albanian coast, along with tourism development on adjoining sites, is imminent. A map of the Vlora Airport project plan shows an airport adjoined by several development areas – naturalistic area, sport area, winery area, hotel and resort area, new marina, residential and agricultural area, beach and wooded area. The project is opposed by many organizations, as outlined in a description of the case on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues.
A wide range of groups are concerned over damaging impacts on unique wildlife habitats. The site lies within the Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast, encompassing the Vjosa River (one of few remaining free-flowing rivers in Europe), Narta Lagoon and other wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches. The area designated for Vlora Airport and associated development is at the mouth of the Vjosa River, next to Narta Lagoon which is populated by many bird species, most notably flamingos and the endangered Dalmatian pelican. The coastline forms part of the ‘Adriatic Flyway’, a migration corridor which runs across the Balkans, the Adriatic and Southern Italy over to North Africa and is a followed by water birds of Central, Northern and Eastern Europe. During migration hundreds of thousands of birds forage and shelter in the area. Aeroplane flightpaths would be incompatible with flocks of flying birds, in particular large birds like flamingos, pelicans, herons and gulls. Birdstrikes, collisions with aircraft, might occur, placing both air passengers and birds at risk.
Local NGO Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) researched the plans and raised awareness about threats posed to local ecosystems. EuroNatur called for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) meeting global standards. A broader alliance criticising the airport land developed. In March 2021 a letter to the European Commision and Parliament by a coalition of NGOs, calling for support in urging the Albanian government to reconsider plans for the airport and tourism resorts in order to protect Vjosa-Narta, was signed by more than 40 organisations. The concession to build Vlora Airport was awarded to a consortium led by Mabetex Group in March 2021, on very generous terms. If Vlora Airport’s passenger numbers and profits are not as high as expected the project could cost Albanian taxpayers EUR 138 million. Clauses in the contract state that taxpayers must pay up to this sum should the concession fail or be unprofitable.
Despite constant pressure from national and international NGOs, the Albanian government persists in supporting the Vlora Airport project. On 28th November 2021 President Edi Rama opened the construction site. When the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was published a preliminary anaysis by experts from Albanian environmental and scientific researchs organisations siad it was ‘baised’ and identified striking deficiencies. The most important aspects not addressed by the EIA were:
The designated area is in an internationally recognised nature reserve could result in sanctions under the provisions of the Bern convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats
Lack of involvement of international experts in the decision-making process
Risk of natural disasters such as floods, anticipated to increase due to climate change, not taken into account
Speaking in a TRT World video environmentalist Jon Vorpsi questioned the necessity of a new international airport with the country’s main airport located just an hour and a half away. Mirjan Topji of the Birds of Albania group said that Narta lagoon is vital for the survival of Dalmation pelicans and raised concerns over air safety should aircraft collide with birds. Owner of a nearby fish restaurant, Arsen Lambro, disagreed with government claims that the new airport will boost tourism, saying the destruction of ecosystems, flora and fauna would reduce the number of visitors. Yet construction of Vlora Airport is set to begin soon. In January 2022 local ornithologists said noise from trucks and excavators was already scaring pelicans and flamingos away.
Two tourism developments on the Red Sea coast, Amaala and the Red Sea Project, will not live up to claims of ecological sustainability. Both resorts will have dedicated airports, sending carbon emissions soaring and hardwiring fossil fuel dependency.
An aerotropolis of sorts, a tourism resort with its own dedicated airport, is emerging on the Red Sea coast of northwestern Saudi Arabia. Amaala is a planned tourism gigaproject covering 4,155 square kilometres of terrain on land and sea, with more than 2,500 hotel rooms and over 800 residential villas. On 26th June renderings for the terminal and control tower of a luxury airport to serve Amaala were unveiled by UK-based Foster + Partners.
Luxury and exclusivity characterise the three main components of Amaala: Triple Bay – a luxury wellness resort and sports facilities including golf, equestrian, polo and falconry; Coastal Development – a cultural district featuring a museum of contemporary arts, film and performance arts venue and a biennial park and The Island – one of the world’s ‘most exclusive enclaves’ featuring botanical gardens, artworks, sculptures and private residences surrounded by landscaping. Amaala aims to attract ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs), specifically targetting the very wealthiest, ‘the top 2.5 million ultra-high net worth individual luxury travellers’. This really is high-end tourism; Amaala’s target market segment is the wealthiest 0.03 per cent of the world’s total population of more than 7.8 billion. The resort will have its own ‘special regulatory structure’ to attract the super-rich.
Taking premium tourism to new heights, Amaala’s own dedicated airport will be as luxurious as the resort. Chief executive of Amaala, Nicholas Naples said: the ‘gateway to Amaala…will be a unique space that personifies luxury and marks the start of memorable experiences for the world’s most discerning guests’. Scheduled to open in 2023, coinciding with opening of the first phase of the resort, Amaala airport will initially serve private jets and charter flights, before expanding to accommodate commercial airlines. When fully complete, by 2028, Amaala Airport terminal, a ‘spacious light filled courtyard’, will have capacity for 1 million passengers per year.
Zero carbon (but what about the flights?)
Listing a mutlitude of ecological features – including an organic farm, utilising biodegradable materials, preventing plastic pollution, protecting iconic species, renewable energy including solar fields, recycling, treating wastewater for use in agriculture – Amaala claims it will ‘set an example for sustainability and eco-conservation in the region’. CEO Nicholas Naples, said ‘energy requirements will be met by using renewable sources, with the entire Amaala development having a zero-carbon footprint’. All these laudable ecological measures will be undermined by the impacts of travel to and from the resort. Amaala will be heavily dependent on aviation; an estimated 80 per cent of visitors will arrive by air. Flying is the most carbon intensive mode of transport and the carbon footprint of travelling by private jet is far higher than comparable journeys by commercial airliner; some estimates quantify the differential at 10 times the amount of carbon per passenger.
Foster + Partners’ design for Amaala Airport, a ‘sleek mirrored edifice’ inspired by ‘the optical illusion of a desert mirage‘, received a lot of publicity. The angular, shiny roof is indeed striking but its just an ostentatious example of superficial architectural flourishes that are typical of airport design, a fancy veneer disguising a functional concrete box. Gerard Evenden of Foster + Partners said: “The passenger experience through the entire building will be akin to a private members club … The design seeks to establish a new model for private terminals that provides a seamless experience from resort to airplane”. Passengers will be enclosed in a bubble sealed off from the real world. Damaging environmental impacts of emissions from private jets will be externalised, inflicted on other people, predominantly the poorest, living elsewhere and in the future. As less privileged people contend with extreme weather private jets owned by UHNWI’s parked at Amaala will be protected from the slightest climactic variation, in climate-controlled hangars.
Architects criticise Amaala Airport
In Architects Journal, Greg Pitcher queried whether Foster + Partners’ involvement with the Amaala airport project aligned with the firm’s carbon reduction pledges, in particular commitment under the Architects Declare banner to ‘evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown’. Sustainability expert and consultant Simon Sturgis said: ‘These sort of projects suggest that Foster + Partners is still engaged with 20th rather than 21st century thinking … This represents a climate betrayal’. Another consultant, Robert Franklin, weighed in on the Architects Declare movement, describing it as ‘a calculated, cynical insult to anyone who understands the lease nuanced interpretation of sustainable’.
Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) polled network members asking them about their thoughts on Foster + Partners’ involvement in Amaala Airport. A clear majority opposed the scheme and ACAN wrote an open letter to voice concerns, arguing that architecture practices working to expand aviation goes against pledges to ‘Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown’. ACAN also questioned how the airport project could be reconciled with Foster + Partners being a signatory of Architects Declare commitments recognising rapid decarbonisation as a global imperative.
Superyachts and luxury cruises
For those arriving at Amaala by sea there will be facilities for yachts, specifically ‘luxury yachting’. Naples spoke to Superyacht News about Amaala. Explaining that Amaala is part of a ‘yachting strategy for the Red Sea’ whilst acknowledging that while ‘yachting and environmentalism often aren’t seen to go hand-in-hand’ he was ‘confident that the project will be considerate to its surroundings’. Such confidence is unwarranted as travellers on superyachts, luxury vessels with price tags upwards of $100 million, leave ‘oversized personal carbon footprints‘ in their wake. The carbon footprint of one Superyacht, Venus, the result of 51,796 kilometres travelled in 2018, was estimated at 4,571 tonnes. This astonishingly massive figure is 279 times the average Australian citizen’s annual carbon footprint – for all their activities, not just transportation – and 594 times the average Chinese citizen’s carbon footprint.
Amaala will also be a calling point for boutique luxury cruises. Each passenger on board these boats will wield an even larger carbon footprint than the thousands of people crammed on board cheaper vast cruise ships that resemble floating cities. And Amaala’s facilities for arrivals by sea, marinas to accommodate international races and regattas, are likely to have negative environmental impacts on the pristine Red Sea coastal ecosystems. Large concrete structures and air and water pollution from boats could compromise biodiverse ecosystems that provide havens for whales, turtles and healthy coral reefs.
Neom megacity and the Red Sea Project
Amaala is situated between two other developments on the Red Sea coast: Neom megacity to the north and the Red Sea Project to the south. Vivian Nereim and Donna Abu-Nasr reported for Bloomberg on their visit to Neom in July 2019. They explored an eminently desirable setting for development, an area blessed with ‘stunning untouched shorelines with waves rippling in the turquoise water’ against a backdrop of purple volcanic mountains. Residents were uncertain and divided over whether benefits from Neom megacity would accrue to them: ‘Many of the locals who have lived there for years are looking forward to some prosperity, while others are concerned they will be removed and their homes bulldozed.’ Rumours swirled of large-scale resettlement to make way for luxury villas and office complexes and Neom stated that under current estimates more than 20,000 people would be moved. Megaprojects including a ‘huge port’ and a causeway to Egypt were in the works. A small airport serving Neom opened in June 2019.
The massive Red Sea tourism project, comprising resorts on 22 islands and six inland sites, will, like Amaala, be served by its own dedicated airport. In July 2020 infrastructure contracts for Red Sea International Airport were awarded to two Saudi firms: Nesma & Partners Contracting and Almabani General Contractors. And Foster + Partners is also involved in the airport. In July 2019 the firm was awarded the design contract. As with Amaala airport a whimsical architectural facade will evoke the surroundings, ‘the form of the roof shells is inspired by the desert dunes’.
Although not built for private jets the ‘design of the terminal aims to bring the experience of a private aircraft terminal to every traveller by providing smaller, intimate spaces that feel luxurious and personalised’. Visitors will be funnelled from the airport to the resort via ‘an immersive experience of the highlights at the resort’ in a Welcome Centre and ‘departure pods’ with spas and restaurants. Red Sea International Airport’s projected number of air passengers is identical to Amaala airport: 1 million per year. And the emphasis on environmental policies, such as zero waste-to-landfill and ban on single-use plastics, is similar to Amaala. Red Sea Project developers ‘want it to become one of the world’s most succussful sustainable tourist resorts’. Visitors will be given personal carbon footprint trackers to encourage them to think about sustainability. If these trackers were to include flights visitors would see their carbon emissions exceeding that of the majority of the worlds’ people who have never flown, before they even step off the plane into the luxury terminal.
A New Civil Engineer article, proclaiming the airport to be ‘eco-friendly‘, states that ‘the entire infrastructure of the Red Sea Project, including its transport network, will be powered by 100% renewable energy’. Conversion of transportation systems is one of the most difficult aspects of transition to renewable energy. Flights powered by renewable energy are not even remotely on the horizon. Much-hyped biofuels only provide a minute proportion of aviation fuel, just 0.01 per cent. Scaling up aviation biofuel production would destroy forests and other ecosystems and trigger land grabbing for plantations. Many airports have installed solar panels on unused land surrounding runways, providing a proportion of the power requirements for ground operations. But solar flight is a distant dream. The only solar-powered planes to successfully fly long distances, Solar Impulse 1 and 2, carry just one or two people at speeds rarely reaching 100 kilometres per hour.
Like Amaala, Neom and the Red Sea Project are supported by the Public Investment Fund KSA (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, and all three projects are part of the Saudi Vision 2030 programme. Spanning various sectors including tourism, real estate and entertainment Saudi Vision 2030 aims to diversify the economy away from dependency upon oil. Tourism is a prominent sectoral focus, anticipated to increase from the current 3 per cent of gross domestic product to 10 per cent by 2030. Yet Amaala and the Red Sea Project, flagship tourism developments, are heading in the opposite direction from reducing dependency on oil. Dedicated airports serving these two resorts might not draw upon Saudi Arabia’s depleting oil deposits. But both facilities will require prodigious amounts of oil extracted from somewhere.
A group of CSOs (civil society organizations) have taken action to help raise awareness of and influence the United Nations tourism agenda. The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017) to promote tourism’s role in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Civil society groups have long voiced concerns over tourism growth that, through its aviation dependency, is fossil fuel dependent, and is a key driver of land grabs displacing communities and destroying ecosystems. GAAM joined a number of CSOs in issuing a joint statement criticizing the current global tourism and development model. Entitled ‘Tourism, Urgent Appeal for Harm Avoidance’, the statement was issued on 22nd May, the International Day for Biodiversity which was marked this year on the theme of ‘sustainable tourism’. The statement was issued by: International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Investigation and Monitoring Team (Tim-Team), Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), Third World Network (TWN), Consumers Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia), and Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF).
An article by Friends of the Earth International International Day for biological biodiversity: celebrate by protecting biodiversity, not promoting tourism critiques the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) for using the International Day for Biodiversity to promote tourism and mentioning the need to reduce its negative impacts, but failing to recognize that many so-called ‘sustainable tourism’ projects, fail host communities by denying them revenue generation and self-determination. In the worst cases indigenous peoples are evicted to make way for resorts. FOE calls for tourism policies that protect ecosystems and the rights of local communities, calling for celebration of International Biodiversity Day by challenging the dominant tourism business model.
Aviation is one of the most rapidly growing sources of climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions and a press release from the Global Forest Coalition Aviation Emissions Under Scrutiny On Sustainable Tourism Day raises the issue of proposals to offset these emissions, which were discussed at last week’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany. Instead of reducing its emissions the aviation industry seeks to offset them with monoculture tree plantations which are a threat to biodiversity and local communities. The plantations destroy natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them.
Tourism was on the agenda at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Cancun, Mexico in December 2016. The draft Cancun Declaration recognizes that tourism, a major sector in the global economy, is dependent upon biodiverse ecosystems. A Third World Network (TWN) briefing paper, ‘Tourism at the tipping point: Governance for future generations’, preparedby Alison M. Johnston, Director of the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Canada, urges a precautionary approach to tourism growth, challenging the institutionalization of the industry as a ‘pre-approved enterprise’ which facilitates its expansion into remote areas, often damaging rather than conserving ecosystems and biodiversity. The paper highlights the role of aviation, the tourism industry’s dependence upon the petroleum industry, the impacts on indigenous peoples and considerations for future generations.
The United Nations has proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, welcoming projected growth in tourism, already one of the world’s biggest industries, as bringing benefits of economic development and eradicating poverty. Yet tourism has multi-dimensional, serious, impacts on people and the environment. Most importantly, it is a major and growing source of climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to energy intensive transportation such as air travel. Even when proclaimed as ‘green tourism or ‘eco-tourism’, tourism often fails to meet the needs of host communities, resulting in widening inequalities, cultural erosion and damage to ecosystems. These social, economic and environmental downsides are examined in an article: ‘Tinkering with ‘sustainable or eco-tourism’ hides the real face of tourism‘.
A proposal for an airport near the town of Kaş has raised serious concerns over threats to the region’s heritage, agriculture and natural environment. Kaş is a popular tourism destination on the mountainous southernmost shore of Turkey, known as the ‘Turquoise Coast’ and one of least developed areas of the Mediterranean. The rugged coastline has beautiful bays, coves and beaches. Outdoor activities include kayaking, paragliding, mountain-biking and trekkers flock to the area as it is situated along the 509 kilometre Lycian Way. The proposed airport site is a few kilometres inland from Kaş in the Çomucak-Pınarbaşı-Çukurbağ-Ağullu area. It is thought that the proposed land area to be allocated for the airport is about 20 square kilometres. This is almost twice the 11.7 square kilometre area of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the busiest airport in Turkey, handling over 61 million passengers in 2015.
If the airport project goes ahead there will be negative impacts on historical and archeological sites, including Phellos, the largest ancient city in the area, on the outskirts of Kaş. Forested areas would be destroyed and the area is rich in native plants such as the endangered Lycian orchid. Fertile land that is cultivated, with agricultural plots, livestock grazing and beehives, would be lost, along with farming livelihoods. Parts of Pınarbaşı village are in the expropriation area, so people may face displacement. There are also concerns that residents of the Ağullu, Belenli, Çukurbağ, and Yeniköy neighbourhoods would be forced to relocate. Noise pollution from aircraft flying overhead would ruin the tranquillity of the villages. The Greek island of Kastellorizo is close to the coast so building the airport would require permission from Greece.
Kaş has a population of just 8,000 people and mass tourism would damage unique natural, cultural and historical assets. Major and international firms would take trade away from local tourism-based businesses. Campaigners warned that an airport in Kaş would lead to the area meeting the same fate as the coastal resort towns of Marmaris and Side, also on the Mediterranean coast, and Kuşadası on the western Aegean coast, their distinctiveness deteriorating due to large-scale tourism developments.
A consortium of eight companies, DETUYAB, has applied to the Ministry of Transport and Communications to build the airport on the BOT (build-operate-transfer) model. DETUYAB is already heavily involved with mass tourism projects in the area. The consortium is developing a 115 hectare tourism zone in the coastal town of Demre, about 47 kilometres east of Kaş, including restaurants, villas, hotels with a total of 7,500 beds and a 700 berth marina. Demre has sandy beaches and, like Kaş, is surrounded by historic sites, cultivated land and important wildlife habitats.
Opposition to the airport plan is gathering momentum. A group of local organisations – including Kaş Tourism Association, Kaş Kalkan Patara Hoteliers Association, Kaş Underwater Association and Kaş Environment Platform – has submitted a seven-page report to local state bodies opposing construction of the airport, detailing the damage that would be caused to nature, communities and the local economy. An online petition, We don’t want an airport in Kaş, had already attracted nearly 19,000 signatures.
Can we still have hope that at the end of the United Nations climate conference (COP21) in Paris a good and fair agreement will be reached that works for people and not profits? The sad truth is that negotiators there act as if travel and tourism, which belong to the great contributors of greenhouse gases, do not exist.
With new research suggesting that emissions from global tourism and aviation are likely to increase by 300% by the end of the century, it is also highly ironic that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) celebrates an International Civil Aviation Day on 7 December to promote air travel as a mode of mass transport that is “safe, secure and sustainable”.
Please find below and in the attachment a Statement of the Tourism Action and Advocacy Forum (TAAF), which calls for the implementation of special measures in the aviation and tourism industries to protect today’s children and future generations. The Statement has been delivered to COP21 in Paris and we would like to ask you to share it widely.
AVIATION, TOURISM & CHILDREN’S RIGHTS:
A GLOBAL EMERGENCY
Statement of the Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF)
Prepared by the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which celebrates International Aviation Day on 7 December calls air transport “by far the safest mode of mass transportation”1. With climate change careening beyond acceptable limits, and the biosphere endangered by mass tourism, we must broaden our concepts of safety.
If we evaluate safety through an inter-generational lens, the airline business ranks among the most unsafe human enterprises. Promoting air travel elevates not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also consumer lifestyles, consumption patterns and relationships which are unsustainable.
Herein lies a major dilemma for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), and the Rio Conventions generally. Tourism, considered a sustainable industry and major contributor to a ‘green economy’ by the United Nations, is actually putting humanity on the Red List as endangered.
The precautionary principle must be applied to tourism. At the third United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (or Earth Summit) in 2012, tourism was endorsed without regard for local contexts of concern or the emerging global context of harm2. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is mandated to promote tourism, as a hub for unrestricted economic growth. This engenders mass tourism: in practice, exponential growth.
Globally, our binge spending on tourism is destabilizing the future of children. The mass mobility of consumers drives climate change. In turn, it amplifies biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, water shortages, social inequality, conflict (including domestic violence), forced migration, and often cultural vulnerabilities. Calling this set of behaviours ‘tourism’ masks its devastating consequences across generations.
Only a few decades ago tourism had a seasonality and geography which offered some room for regulation. Today, the tourism industry pushes all-season expansion, on a planetary scale. Tourism corridors now enwrap the Earth, expediting urbanization. Consumer society views aviation as a commute to global playgrounds and shopping outposts. This has normalized the practice of consumers grazing for excitement and deals worldwide. It raises complex moral questions about the underlying economic model3. Unchecked expansion of tourism has impinged on other peoples’, species’ and now generations’ flourishing and survival.
The aggregate impacts of “2.3 billion passengers a year on more than 26 million flights worldwide”4 is difficult to fathom. Tourism, being highly cross-sectoral, has a magnitude of harm beyond other industries. Although the assessment of impacts often is framed narrowly – without adequately bridging all involved economic sectors and affected community realms – recent research shows the correlations between tourism and risky outcomes across various ecological, social and cultural systems globally5. The composite of impacts is summarized in scientific literature as a crisis or even precipice for humanity6. This news brings increasing anxiety, distress, trauma and other threats to mental and emotional health, especially for children worldwide.
Since the U.N. prioritized sustainable development in 1992, there has been scant attention to reducing tourism. Worldwide, governments, financial institutions, multinational corporations and investors still advance a marketing narrative that tourism is benign, if not beneficial. Airport expansions and aerotropolis construction abound7. The aviation sector is pursuing growth, as if that is a lawful option under present biosphere constraints. Business proceeds as if there is no inter-generational context to international law or to fundamental human rights.
Globally, the persons with weakest citizenship are most vulnerable to this economic model. Children shoulder its costs more than any other population. This is evident in the global supply ‘chains’ of the tourism industry; for example, among oppressed populations and impoverished families of the global South, exploited in manufacturing tourism spaces, infrastructure, souvenirs and experiences. It also manifests in the biosphere crisis now endangering all children worldwide. While the net effect is to diminish children’s capabilities, such costs are little documented outside the research enclaves of child labour and child sex trafficking.
The ideology of economic growth now puts an entire generation of children at risk. Aviation, a mainstay of this ideology, is a primary cause of accruing ecological and social imbalances globally. This ‘big picture’ of aviation – especially its role as a key structural element of neoliberal economics – must be assessed, for us to comprehend the full spectrum of inter-generational costs associated with tourism growth.
Tourism prompts integration into the very economic model which causes widespread harm. Children of affluent societies are groomed to be consumers – the pinnacle being to become a tourist, with precocious stories of travel abroad. Children in impoverished destination areas experience dehumanizing and degrading exchanges through tourism. For both, childhood soon involves more transactions than rites of passage. Meanwhile, adult travellers valuing attachment with their own children often practice detachment as tourists: loading up child porters and waving away child vendors. The Asia-Pacific Child Rights Award for Television and other child-centred research initiatives raise awareness about such dynamics. As tourism displaces communities, disrupts in situ conservation, supercedes customary practice requiring mobility (such as shifting cultivation and pastoralism), and eclipses the mobility needs of refugee children, affected children are deprived of life essentials, safety, and cultural health and must adapt to life on the economic fringes.
We therefore appeal to COP21 to evaluate aviation and tourism in meaningful context, implementing special measures to safeguard today’s children and future generations, including:
* prioritizing inter-generational rights and responsibilities, in U.N. decision-making;
* foregrounding an ethic of care, to hasten implementation of the Rio Conventions;
* correcting the misleading narratives of tourism, to protect human rights
* setting limits for the aviation sector, which address its systemic impacts and the urgent need for degrowth of both tourism and other unnecessary travel;
* centring the well-being of children and future generations in evaluation frameworks;
* implementing the full framework of human rights of children, as per international law
* applying the capabilities approach to make children visible in benefit/cost equations and to remedy the inter-generational harms of gross domestic product (GDP) ideology;8
* identifying the mobility needs of children which are impeded or superceded by tourism, including their developmental needs and specific cultural rights to mobility.
A child-centred approach to managing climate change must be adhered to in the aviation and tourism industries.
1 International Civil Aviation Organization (2010). Message from the President of the Council of ICAO, Mr. Roberto Kobeh González, on the Occasion of International Civil Aviation Day. Montreal, Canada, December 3.
2.Johnston, Alison M. (2012). “Tourism: For Next Generations? Rethinking the Future We Want”. Third World Resurgence, Third World Network, Malaysia, No. 262, June: 35-38.
3. Brenner, Neil (2013). “Theses on Urbanization,” Public Culture, Vol. 25, No. 1: 85-113.
The September / October 2015 issue of Third World Resurgence magazine, published by the Third World Network, is a double issue with a special focus on tourism. The digital edition of the magazine is now available as a pdf file.
The tourism section of the magazine is introduced with an in-depth article by Anita Pleumarom, coordinator of the Bangkok based Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team) and member of the Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF) and includes the following articles:
Tourism – a driver of inequality and displacement – Anita Pleumarom
Tourism and the biosphere crisis: Provisions for inter-generational care – Alison M Johnston
Rise of the aerotropolis – Rose Bridger
Tourism for women’s rights? – Albertina Almeida
Maasai fight eviction from Tanzanian community land by US-based ecotourism company – Susanna Nordlund
The puputan struggle against the Benoa Bay reclamation project – Anton Muhajir
Tourism, the extractive industry and social conflict in Peru – Rodrigo Ruiz Rubio
Tourism and the consumption of Goa – Claude Alvares
The occidentalisation of the Everest – Vaishna Roy
The getthoisation of Palestine – tourism as a tool of oppression and resistance – Freya Higgins-Desbiolles
The bitter irony of ‘1 billion tourists – 1 billion opportunities’
The magazine critiques the assumption that expansion of the tourism industry is an economic panacea for poor countries – a passport to eradicating poverty, providing livelihoods for poor and marginalised communities. Massive expansion of tourism is championed by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which also proclaims broader social benefits of preserving cultural heritage and protection of precious ecosystems and biodiversity.
Yet research of the impact of tourism, over many decades, refutes these purported miraculous benefits. Only a minimal proportion of tourists’ expenditure remains in the host community. Most of the profits are siphoned off by transnational firms – tourism operators, airlines and hotel chains. Megatourism projects supported by governments follow neoliberal diktats of privatization, deregulation and financial liberalization, all of which benefit big business.
In spite of the wealth of evidence that tourism has a very poor record of lifting people out of poverty, vast amounts of aid funding – from foreign governments, international and multilateral aid agencies – is spent on luxury tourism facilities such as five star hotels, in the midst of impoverished communities lacking even basic housing and amenities. And, instead of protecting cultural heritage and ecosystems, mega tourism complexes – such as integrated resorts combining hotels and entertainment facilities like casinos, marinas for supersized yachts and islands devoted entirely to tourism that require large scale land reclamation – destroy vast swaths of these precious assets.
A proliferation of tourist developments that are supposedly ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘pro-poor’ fails to live up to these self-adopted labels. In the main such projects are still controlled by big business. Crucially, international tourism’s supposed sustainability and environmental credentials are seriously and fundamentally undermined by heavy dependence on highly carbon intensive aviation. This dependence is deepening with the widespread planning and construction of aerotropolis projects, highlighted as epitomising the ‘mindless, destructive development engendered by tourism’.
Global travel and tourism growth continues. The sector is forecast to grow by more than 3.5% in 2015, a growth rate over 1% higher than global GDP.
Check out the Tourism Critic Facebook page for regular updates about the negative impacts of unsustainable tourism on society and the natural environment, particularly in developing countries. Tourism Critic aims to mobilize people, groups and networks to help reshape debates around tourism in favour of narratives supporting human rights, social, ecological and climate justice, and equitable, sustainable development. For more information on the negative impacts of tourism growth in Southeast Asia and southern China see the Southeast Asia Tourism Monitor (sea-tm) bi-monthly newsletter.
‘Aerotropolis’ projects – commercial development around airports including facilities targeted at tourists such as hotels, retail, catering, entertainment and cultural centres – are proliferating around the world. These airport-centric developments are central to the growth of the tourism industry. In a press release to mark World Tourism Day (which has been celebrated on 27th September since 1980) the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of tourism, calls for further growth: World Tourism Day: Celebrating the billion opportunities brought about by the tourism sector. UNWTO advocates that we “work together to maximize the immense potential of tourism to drive inclusive economic growth, protect the environment and promote sustainable development and a life of dignity for all.”
In response to UNWTO’s press release the Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF), a founder member of the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), has released a statement, which draws attention to the sharp contrast between tourism’s benefits for the privileged, for whom the world is ever more easily accessible, and the plight of ‘irregular tourists’, people fleeing from war, poverty and persecution. Militarization of the world’s borders is infringing the rights of refugees and migrants. TAAF also criticizes UNWTO for hailing tourism a “transformative force” bringing livelihood opportunities and helping to alleviate poverty, failing to recognise that tourism can result in displacement and impoverishment, especially for people in developing countries. TAAF urges the UNWTO to “stop acting like a PR agency for the travel and tourism industry and genuinely work for the common good of humanity as deemed appropriate for a UN body”.