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The No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism

NN Guide to TourismThe world is changing. Can you keep up? Globalization, climate change, terrorism, fair trade, human rights, health, poverty... The No-Nonsense Guides help make sense of these vast and complex issues, all in under 150 pages - providing a concise, 'no-nonsense' view that you can read anywhere. Over the coming weeks, we'll be highlighting each No-Nonsense Guide in our series with blog posts from the authors concerning the subject of each book. Chapter 1 and the Table of Contents are available for the No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism on our website. 

Whose Paradise?

by Pamela Nowicka

Sitting in the murk and grey of a rich world city, surfing hundreds of TV channels under the watchful eyes of two cats, I'm bombarded by ads for holiday heaven. But Indian documentary channel NDTV shows a different point of view.

It's the tail end of a programme on rising sea levels in Tamil Nadu, where I shot my documentary 'Climate Change? No Thanks!' Locals from coastal areas of the state describe how the sea is encroaching on the shore, in some places by several hundred metres in a few decades. People are worried, but according to travel-promoters, this area of 'Incredible India' boasts many 'paradise' holiday locations.

Browsing an online publication, I discover that a supermodel is going to 'paradise'. Closer reading reveals that she is, in fact, traveling to Thailand - 'Land of Smiles'. An interesting designation for a country which has been struggling for years with mass public demonstration of unrest about the current political situation.

Ros, who's screening 'Climate Change? No Thanks!' in London next week snorts in disbelief when I suggest that locals here might like to create 'paradise' in their own neighbourhood instead of flying thousands of miles to discover the paradise in the holiday brochures. Paradise, it seems, is never home.

When I researched The No Nonsense Guide to Tourism, I was fascinated by the way the concept of 'paradise' was created by the tourism industry and the way we bought into it, hook, line and sinker. Our holiday paradise is a must-have consumer accessory, an expression of our unique individualism. And Rich World people are outraged by any challenge to their view that their holidays are creating anything other than jobs, prosperity and some kind of multi-cultural melting pot of globalised goodness.   

The tourists in south India in my documentary, were similarly sanguine about their positive impacts. Locals disagree. Their voices are rarely heard.

There are many questions we can ask about a designated paradise. What constitutes a 'paradise'? Where is it? Who lives there?

But perhaps the biggest question is: who names the paradise? And why we can't find it at home, in the murk and grey of a rich world city, surfing hundreds of TV channels under the watchful eyes of two purring cats?

'Climate Change? No Thanks!' will be screened by Transition Leytonstone at Leytonstone Library on Wednesday 12th January at  6:30 pm with a director Q&A and panel discussion. More information is available on Facebook.

The view from on high

Mamallapuram, India – 10 Oct 2007

The view from the Shanti Café is, undeniably, spectacular. Beach, fishing boats, distant Shore Temples rising from the spray of the turquoise sea. And as the café is one floor up, there are additional advantages to the view, as the European owner points out: 'It's better up here where you don't have to be watched by poor people looking at your food as you eat.' Being one storey up means that customers are inaccessible to the women plying the scorching sands trying to sell bedsheets, or the men determinedly trying to interest tourists in stone carved elephants.

The next morning at the Bob Marley café, serenaded by a Boney M greatest hits compilation, a couple of young western women determinedly ignore a ten-year-old tribal girl for half an hour. The girl, sweet faced and with rows of beaded necklaces round her arm, even provides tips on the correct way to bargain. 'I say twenty rupees, you say ten rupees,' she clarifies.

The stoney-faced gappers refuse to comply. And who can blame them? All those poor people, hassling us to buy trinkets we just don't want. Why are they so annoyingly persistent? We're here to have a good time, we have a right to be left in peace, don't we?

After all, we all know that tourism is a force for good, building – according to the industry lobbying arm, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) – 'world peace, and human bridges of cross cultural understanding'. And we love travelling, so it must be OK.

The consensus among the rich countries and people, is that travel is a 'good thing' – but an increasing number of voices are being raised which question this apparent no-brainer.

September 27 was designated World Tourism Day by the UNWTO. Unreported in the UK press, the Indian media carried reports of demonstrations against tourism and the UNWTO slogan, 'Tourism opens doors for women'.

Well, actually no, say NGOs and activists from organisations like the Federation of Indigenous Peoples. They have made representations to Tourism Minister, Ambika Soni, asserting that tourism increases sex tourism and paedophilia, and that it only benefits well-off women.

Poor women and their communities, are increasingly marginalized because of the pressure put on natural and other resources like beaches, open ground and water. NGOs insist that tourism development has negative impacts on most women's lives and makes no allowances for the different social roles of women.

Marginalized communities such as fisherfolk, Dalits and Adivasis (tribals) are, according to the Indian Express, 'harassed and tortured by the authorities and hoteliers who consider them a nuicance...' Last year, Action Aid India worked with a fishing community whose women had been beaten up by police following false allegations by staff from a nearby five-star hotel that the fishermen had exposed themselves to female guests.

The fishermen said they had been trying to meet with hotel managers for over a year to negotiate where to dock their boats and dry their nets as they traditionally did this where the hotel had placed sun-loungers on the beach. No hotel staff were prosecuted.

But of course, that's not a story you ever see in the UK media. And certainly not in the travel pages of your favourite paper.

Crows are cawing in the coconut palms and the ocean stretches to a flat horizon. Traveller's tales of happy memories, colourful photos and sandy feet often ignore the lives of destitution and poverty they encounter.

The price of tourism

Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, South India 

Kumar takes a small plaster elephant from the rows displayed on the glass cabinet of his shop. He starts drawing lines on the floor with its foot. 'The government wants to turn this place into a second Taj Mahal.Straight roads everywhere so you can see the monuments.' We've been talking about the recent wholesale destruction of most of the street trees.

We're in Mamallapuram, a small former fishing village in Tamil Nadu, South India. In recent years it has become increasingly reliant on tourism. Visitors are attracted by the fantastic rock carvings illustrating Hindu mythology, seashore temples and temples carved from rock. It's the middle of the four-month long tourist season now. Groups of foreigners styled by local tailors in lightweight silks and designer hippy chic mingle on the streets with sari-clad women and men in lunghies.

A couple of weeks ago the bulldozers moved in to the half kilometre stretch of road leading to one of the main monument sites: the five Rathas. Before the bulldozers embarked on their wholesale destruction, the street was shady and lined with statues. Stone carvers worked slabs of granite into Hindu deities, elephants, Buddha heads and dancing girls. Small shops sold the carvings to tourists on their way to visit the monument. Coconut sellers, chai shops and fruit-sellers plied their business under the shade of spreading neem trees.

Then the bulldozers came.

According to Kumar, the bulldozers are implementing a tourism development plan conceived over twenty years ago. Integral to this plan is the removal of most of the street trees, along with the small shops which had encroached on government land earmarked for the road development.

Cycling to see a friend, I came across a scene of apocalyptic destruction - the sharp end of 'tourism development'. The length of Five Rathas Road was lined with uprooted trees, roots pointing like accusing fingers towards the sky. Small groups of people clambered over them, sawing branches into manageable sizes for firewood. The statues had been hoisted onto flatbed lorries and taken away.

The air was full of the acrid fragrance of neem.

A crowd had gathered around the last tree still standing. A majestic neem, the size of a mid-sized oak, with wide spreading foliage. Beside it, an earthmover was delivering a series of body blows to the trunk. Each impact sent shudders through the tree, shaking branches and scattering leaves down to join the green carpet on the tarmac.

The spectators were quiet, their faces intense. There was a sense of unease in the air, a feeling of subdued tension. One woman shook her fist and shouted. A couple of foreign tourists pleaded with the driver of the earthmover. One started to climb into the cabin and had to be pulled back by men from the crowd. Tears crept down more than one face.

It was a long time before the tree finally toppled. It was like watching murder.

Kumar saw it too. ‘These trees may be sixty years old. We can rebuild our business but who can replace the trees?'

According to Kumar, the Plan - only selected parts of which have been revealed to locals¬ - was conceived by the Indira Gandhi government as part of a grand vision to open up the sites of the ancient monuments to a lucrative paying public.

‘Before ASI (Archeological Survey of India) everything was open, free,' says Kumar. In the last three years, under the guise of 'protecting' the ancient monuments and temples, massive tracts of formerly common ground have been fenced off. Now only fee-paying visitors can see monuments which used to be open to everyone...and free.

‘They just want to make money, that's all,' asserts Kumar, rubbing his forefinger and thumb together.

This scene of environment, social and developmental carnage in Mamallapuram is in no way special or unusual. It is being re-enacted globally on a massive scale and is typical of the way in which so-called 'tourism development' is carried out. Local communities are rarely consulted and even more rarely have a say in whether or not development takes place. The results?

In Mamallapuram, formerly shady tree-lined streets are on the way to becoming a three lane highway. Small shops and vendors have gone and the trees and the habitat they provided for birds and palm nut squirrels have been destroyed. And this is in the name of tourism development; more coaches, more sightseers and more income.

Protaganists of the plan assert that this is a means of managing increasing amounts of vehicle traffic, including coaches, which jam the narrow streets most weekends of the season. However, the lessons learned in traffic management in Europe - that the more space given to road traffic, the more traffic is generated, have apparently not been researched by the powerful vested interests of the local road-building lobby. Rather than developing genuinely innovative schemes for transporting people the three kilometres between monuments, untested assumptions have been put into practice. ‘They don't want people - just visitors,' says Kumar.

The new tourists who draw up along the new boulevards in air-conditioned coaches and 4x4s will be blissfully unaware of the destruction carried out in their name. For the locals, however, it's a different story. ‘How will the people with no shoes walk?' asks Kumar. ‘All the natural beauty has been destroyed.'

Unlike the tourists, the locals will have to live with the consequences of this development for generations.