At the heart of sustainable tourism is the subject of human rights. Sustainable and responsible tourism is all about helping people, and ensuring locals are benefiting (not being exploited) from your travel dollars. Traditionally speaking however, the tourism industry can have an adverse effect on locals, and worse yet, many of us may not even know it!
According to Tourism Concern, a British non-profit that fights exploitation in tourism, “working conditions in the tourism industry are notoriously exploitative”. They cite in a 2004 study titled Holidays from Hell, that in five popular holiday destinations – Bali, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, and the Canary Islands - that some form of exploitative conditions existed in each of the destinations. Some of the conditions they found included: an over-dependency on tips, long hours, unpaid overtime, stress, lack of contracts, poor training, and limited opportunities for promotions for locally employed persons.
The tourism industry can also have other adverse affects regarding human rights. For example, resorts and some hotels require an incredible amount of fresh water to accommodate visitor demands for hot water showers, running tap water, flushing toilets and daily laundry. This visitor demand for fresh water can be so intense that it may actually deplete local water supplies, depriving many locals from this precious resource.
Land dispossession is another huge impact the tourism industry can have on locals. In many parts of the world, indigenous communities, are being displaced in order to make way for resorts and other development initiatives. Minority Rights Group International reports that well over 50% of Kenya’s indigenous communities have experienced some form of land dispossession in the name of tourism.
So what does this all mean? It simply means that we as travellers must take the time to rethink how we travel and if our actions and decisions can be potentially harmful to the rights of local people. Does the hotel you’re staying at employ locals and pay them a fair wage? Are they using more than their fair share of natural resources? Are my decisions positively or negatively affecting local people? Sustainable tourism ultimately boils down to us asking these kinds of questions; and hopefully we’ll begin to see a shift to a more human-conscious mindset as we travel the world.