Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chapter 3 Sustainable Tourism by David Weaver Relational Summary

Sustainable Tourism, by David Weaver
Chapter 3 Relational Summary
Lecture by Dr. Thomas H. Culhane
Patel College of Global Sustainability
Chapter 3: Alternative Tourism
I remember kneeling  in front of a Macadamia tree, the source of one of my very favorite foods, celebrating its presence in front of the backpackers  hostel in a remote part of Australia,  picking up the hard opaque brown marble shaped nutballs that fell from clusters on the branches, and then wondering ‘how in the hell am I going to get this open?”  With pistachios or almonds it is fairly simple. With a macadamia?  I tried throwing it on the pavement as hard as I could  but it just bounced away, I tried pounding it with a rock but the perfect sphere maintained its shape.  Finally a friendly local  came by with a special nutcracker and showed me the “secret white dot” that indicated the natural fracture line joining the dot to the stem point. It is a piece of indigenous knowledge they didn’t have in the guide book. And so I became a temporary hunter gatherer: I cracked and I gathered and I cracked  and I feasted.
The nuts are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, and are a rich source of protein, vitamin A, iron, B vitamins, antioxidants, calcium, and micronutrients. I didn’t even need to go to a restaurant any more, I was told by health conscious and budget conscious fellow travelers,  just fill my backpack with free and abundant macadamias, normally one of the most expensive nuts in the world, and go travelling. One could live off them for quite a while, like the Aboriginals did on walkabout.  And that was my introduction to backpacker culture.

Backpacker culture is a form of alternative tourism that has been quite contentious, called by Weaver (p. 48) more “controversial” than any other forms of alternative tourism. Some even question whether it even qualifies as alternative tourism, given that the backpackers even describe themselves as “anti-tourist”  and many in the tourism industry simply consider it “undesirable”. Only a few destinations, notably Australia, through its National Backpacker Tourism Strategy, have “deliberately cultivated this market in recognition of its substantial economic impact.” Other countries try to discourage it because they feel it doesn’t make a serious contribution to the economy.  Part of this is due to its informality and ironically to the fact that the backpackers “adhere to many core tenets of alternative tourism, such as the preference for small-scale, locally owned accommodations, independent travel arrangements and a desire to interact with local residents.” P 47.
By staying in a backpacker’s lodge I got to meet some of the most interesting people I’d encountered on the planet, got the inside word on the most spectacular unspoiled attractions and felt I suddenly belonged to a global family of fairly sincere, , very friendly, trustworthy and open-minded travelers whom I could rely on and be friends with long after my trip down-under was over.  We felt like a tribe. And it was inexpensive. And the food was great.  Quite different from the usual packaged tour.
My introduction to backpacker culture put me in touch with hostel culture, a world wide network of low-budget but high sustainability concept minded  individuals who share enthusiasms for hiking and biking, riding public transit, living off the grid, eating healthy local food, appreciating cultures not their own and sharing stories and song and dance that celebrate and  empower both the traveler and the local people. Backpackers by and large form possible the most sustainable form of tourism from a social equity and environmental perspective.
Not everybody appreciates their social aspect however.
 Weaver reports, “In other destinations, and Third World ones in particular (e.g. Bhutan, Maldives and the Indian state of Goa), some residents and decision makers continue to decry backpackers as ‘hippies’ who produce few economic benefits to compensate for behavior that is perceived as antisocial and harmful to local communities.  Hence their tendency has been to discourage or ‘demarket’ this segment.”

Reasons cited are the usual  “promiscuity and drug taking”, and that does exist, but the ultraliberal counterculture travelers of the 60’s and 70’s has been “sanitized” and most backpackers are now ‘post-hippie’ and many refuse to smoke anything, refuse to drink alcohol and won’t by junk food, much less throw the packing and wrappers on the beach. In fact many will voluntarily remove trash and broken beer bottles from attractive wilderness areas to keep them pristine.  That actually makes them fine stewards of our environments, but lousy consumers for businesses seeking to push more potato chips and coca cola into tourists mouths.   More to the point, it is their perceived frugality and disdain for commercial tour operators that gives todays sustainability minded backpackers and other alternative tourists  a bad reputation in countries where, unlike Australia, a volume generating infrastructure and culture has not been encouraged to capture economic benefits from a form of tourism that is low expenditure but typically long stay.
 Hampton (1998) and Scheyvens (2002), among others, “argue that backpackers can be highly beneficial to developing countries. One positive effect for local residents is the willingness of backpackers to purchase non-luxury goods and services from informal sector businesses whose access to conventional tourists is often deliberately curtailed by government and /or the formal tourism industry. “ (p. 48).  And because the capital and skill requirements for serving this clientele are less restrictive and often more creative, “new informal sector businesses can be created”   creating greater chances for social equity. For example, on one low-budget trip to Belize, I bought “bitters” off of a local Guarafuna woman (local healing herbs that you can make teas out of) and she called my attention to a “cola drink” that was locally manufactured from real cola nuts, was not carbonated,  and was actually good for you and encouraged the growth of rainforest cola nut trees.  Coca cola doesn’t use real cola nuts anymore! Now that is quite an alternative.

You see, alternative tourism is supposed to be an alternative, and if mass tourism is defined by out-of-destination booking agents, package deals and multi-national corporate hotel and service chains and the food and beverage corporations that serve them, then the overt ‘anti-tourism’ identity cultivated by this distinctive subculture, which actively seeks to avoid interacting with mass tourism’s travelers and services and products should actually be the most celebrated form of alternative tourism we have. And that is why, despite its controversial elements, I start with it in this chapter’s relational summary.
At the other end of the spectrum is a form of alternative tourism that I also spend a lot of my time engaged in which so far has garnered almost  no controversy at all.  This is what we now call “Voluntourism” aka “Volunteer Tourism”.

Under this heading comes a diverse array of “experiences and settings that involve tourists who receive no financial compensation while undertaking various forms of, usually, organized, social and/or environmental work in the destination (Wearing, 2001). It is explicitly associated with enhancement sustainability , notably not just from the destination perspective, but also in terms of the personal development of the participating tourist.” P. 45

I have engaged in voluntourism activities with environmental, religious and social-non-profit groups.  My first experiences were with Baptist missionaries in Borneo and then with the international organization Earthwatch that involves tourists in rigorous scientific work with university professors.
 I chose to do rain forest insect surveys in Australia and the sultanate of Brunei.  In graduate school I volunteered with environmental groups at the Eco-Escuela in the Peten rainforest region of Guatemala (I have a thing for rainforests!) and for the past decade I have been running my own voluntourism experiences through my NGO “Solar CITIES, taking students, interns and visitors into urban slums and impoverished villages in Africa and the Middle East to learn how to build functional solar hot water and biogas systems with communities in need.
Where conventional tourisms benefits are “usually quantified in terms of direct tourist revenues that eventuate in economic growth and lifestyle enhancement of residents with the destination... volunteer tourism, in contrast, entails a more immediate connection between tourist activity (i.e. the volunteer work) and tangible benefits for residents, (e.g. improved housing, education and medical care of the natural environment”. (p. 45) Examples cited by the book  are volunteers for Conservation Volunteers Australia who logged 45000 days  of work, valued at AU$5 million. 
Weaver says “there is as yet no overt criticism of volunteer tourism, in part because little research has been undertaken, but also because its laudable character and outcomes may render it more resistant to critical scrutiny.” P. 46
From a sociocultural standpoint there is always the “danger” that some tourists may try to use the opportunity to proselytize and evangelize and affect the beliefs and attitudes of the people they are helping (certainly this is what the Baptist missionaries I visited and volunteered with were doing among the Dyak tribes of Borneo)  but this perspective is predicated on the assumption that the people in the destination country are somehow ignorant and vulnerable and can’t evaluate tourists motives on their own merits. This concern itself smacks of racist, classist undertones.

Another “danger” cited is that some volunteers may be driven by their own ego satisfaction and the status they gain from helping the disadvantaged, but my experience has been that the indigenous people experiencing the tangible benefits of this free labor and transfer of ideas and technology and the income generated, could really care less what the hidden motives of the tourists are as long as they are friendly and respectful and the job gets done.  To suggest that tourists coming to help at their own expense somehow robs 21st century, globally interconnected people-in-need of their agency is a stretch, and is itself patronizing and insulting.  Even on the “last mile” expedition with National Geographic that I went on to the most remote parts of Nepal a couple of years ago, people had smart phones and internet access and knew all about what was going on in so-called ‘civilization’.  The fact that we delivered and installed solar electric panels and hot water systems was what counted to them (they were things they had a great desire for but simply couldn’t afford or didn’t know how to create or install), and if I felt a glow of satisfaction and a bit of an ego kick watching women line up in the frigid morning to fill buckets with steaming hot water from a new vacuum tube solar system that I purchased and installed as a volunteer, eager to post pictures of my accomplishment to impress my friends on facebook, hooray for me. The people in the village were doing the same thing.  Almost everywhere in the world people have facebook. 
As with backpacking tourism allowing informal sector expansion whose revenues and benefits cannot easily be codified or captured by out-of-destination tourism operators, voluntourism actually reveals some of the cracks in the way tourism is conceived as a “center-periphery” form of hegemony.  Since tourism has its origins in leisure class travelers moving from the MDC countries to the “international pleasure periphery” (see p. 4 in the book again), with a legacy of colonialist era paradoxes skewing social and business relationships, outside entities profiting from exploitation of the low cost labor and services in LDCs tend to have a patronizing attitude toward the local population.  People who are not sensitive to the  post-colonial and racial  dialectic often can’t see this, but it becomes manifest to many of us who come from former colonies or exploited and marginalized cultural or racial groups when we ourselves engage in a volunteer tourism experience.
  For example, as an American of Irish and Iraqi heritage, when I travelled to economically depressed Ireland and war torn Iraq to help train people in the construction of food-waste-to-fuel-and-fertilizer biodigestion systems there was no sense of “white privilege” or the “othering” that political economist Edward Said eloquently describes in his classic book “Orientalism”.  I was actually seen mostly  as a returning son of Ireland and Iraq whose grandparents and great grandparents had sent their children to America precisely in the hopes that we would do well and one day return to bring those benefits back home. 
This mission of what mythologist/anthropologist Joseph Campbell called “return with the elixir” in his analysis of “The Heroe’s Journey”, is part of the hopeful narrative common to the diaspora of displaced peoples worldwide and continues through an intergenerational time and space horizon.  Ironically, this widened scope of engagement helps to create the very intergenerational equity that the sustainability indicators are seeking to measure and the WTO is trying to promote. You won’t find that in the strictly controlled and sanitized world of mass tourism!

  Now that there is so much more LDC to LDC tourism, and LDC to MDC tourism is growing, the benefits of volunteer tourism are beginning to flow in a myriad of directions, with no clear center or periphery. 
As an extreme example, even as American ‘sunlust’ tourists are now beginning to flow again to Cuba to drink and frolic on the beaches, the opening of Cuba is allowing informal Cuban tourists to come to the US to share ideas of organic agriculture and communitarian viewpoints.   The pleasures derived from voluntourism are not merely conspicuous consumption pleasures, but Prosumption pleasures, where, to borrow the concept from futurist Alvin Toffler, “Production and Consumption are part of the same activitiy.”  Voluntourism in the post-modern and increasingly miscegenated world  is therefore not just an alternative form of tourism in the leisure sense, but increasingly a meaningful form of active knowledge and technology  transfer.
Guesthouse tourism, homestay tourism and farmhouse tourism are other forms of alternative  tourism that are growing as less powerful local individuals and groups begin to recognize the strengths of their own assets and experiences and wrest some control back from outside-country mass tourism operators and government entities that work in collusion with them.

   The irony is that these forms of tourism, particularly the farm based stays, are actually “the longest established forms of organized (and hence deliberate) alternative forms of tourism,” says Weaver on page 44, “having been in existence in Europe as a formal industry since the late 1800’s”.  They started because farmers needed ways to supplement and diversify their incomes.  Weaver points out that “critically, tourism typically accounts for only a small portion of a vacation farm’s total income, but this revenue is perceived by many operators… to constitute the difference between survival and failure.”

In each of these forms of tourism, the major beneficiaries have been women and so supporting these alternatives goes a long way toward meeting the gender equality improvements called for by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5). Whether it is a deliberately conceived guest house or a homestay or farmstay where tourists rent a room vacated by children who have left the nest, “the tourism component provides income and power for female adult household members who provide most of the relevant labor”. 
This is in stark contrast with the mass tourism industry which, like most corporate activities, is male dominated and where, even when women play a large role in operations, the benefits usually go to tour operators in tourist sending countries and to elites in tourist receiving countries.  Alternative tourism acts as a leveler of sorts, allowing more people entry into the sector. 

In Europe, which has the longest history of these types of tourism, they use the concept of “consortia to compensate for the disadvantages associated with small size”. They “pool member resources to pursue integrated marketing and product development strategies, more effectively represent the interests of members and provide access to relevant information and financing.”  The logic of this goes back to Proudhon’s concept of aggregation economies where small holders, through cooperatives, can have the same economies of scale experienced by more monolithic and vertically integrated operations.
Another great advantage of these forms of tourism is that they can offer home cooked meals, farm to table meals, local transportation and knowledgeable local guides, and access to sites “off the beaten path” that few people get to see, adding value through that intense local knowledge.  In my travels through Ireland, England and Germany and France and other parts of Europe I’ve been a frequent guest of all three of these forms and have found the hospitality and personal touch to be among the most enjoyable part of the stays.  Unlike mass tourism where you come back from an excursion merely to check into your hotel room, in the guest house, homestay and farmstay alternatives I found myself coming home to a family of fascinating people  and to an opportunity to share and discover that was as fun or more fun as that day’s  outside activity.   In fact, the farm or home or guest house is often the destination and attraction itself, offering fruit and berry picking, horse riding, livestock petting and milking, great walks, swimming in local ponds, history lessons and wonderful cooking experiences.
These types of tourism can usually be classified as either “Deliberate” or “Circumstantial”. They are deliberate when there is a regulatory framework that deliberately keeps it alternative, with ‘anti-market’ measures that are monitored by the local community  and “are intended to maintain .. the constellation of structural characteristics in the long-term interests of community well-being… restricting  visitor numbers and infrastructural  capacity, requiring accommodations to have majority local ownership, designating architectural standards and height limits and requiring that most goods and services be obtained from local sources.”

Circumstantial alternative tourism on the other hand, means that “the apparent adherence to alternative tourism simply reflects that the destination is experiencing ‘exploration’ or ‘involvement-type circumstances within the destination life cycle model”  that we described in chapter one with the famous Butler S-curve model.  If there is no regulatory framework in place, says Weaver,  “there is no insurance against the possibility that tourism will evolve into something more intensive and/or less benign” P. 43

The trick is to create an alternative tourism status quo that can compete successfully with the mass tourism status quo that most destinations end up replicating as population pressures and the desire of operators to capture those potential revenue streams increase.
In the mid 2000s while doing my Ph.D. in Cairo Egypt, I started helping to create a form of what the book calls “Urban Cultural Heritage tourism”  that I called the “Solar CITIES Urban Eco-tour of informal sector Cairo”.  This was in keeping with what Weaver calls “the early emphasis on sociocultural attractions and Third World venues” that arose “partly in response to the cautionary platform’s focus on the social, cultural, and economic costs of mass tourism in pleasure periphery destinations, where the need for more appropriate forms of tourism was deemed to be most urgent.”
 I had made many visits to the standard tourist destinations in Egypt, from the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings to the coral reefs of the Sinai and Red Sea Coast, and was particularly disturbed by a river boat trip down the Nile I took with my parents where, docked near one of the more spectacular ancient ruins along the river alongside a dozen other massive river cruise ships, the smoke from the boats exhaust was so thick we could hardly see across the river, the air so toxic we couldn’t breathe even inside our sealed air conditioned rooms, and the crowds so large as to suggest these ancient marvels wouldn’t last another century much less millenium. I also participated in coral reef and beach and desert ecosystem clean ups, scuba diving as a voluntourist to try and remove plastic trash and bottles thrown overboard by irresponsible pleasure seekers and biking and hiking in the desert valleys removing plastic bags from shrubs and trees. The plastic bag problem is so bad in Egypt that locals call flying plastic trash bags “the national bird of Egypt”.
 Meanwhile, I was doing my dissertation in what is called ‘Garbage City” where the Zabaleen people, named with Arabic word for “trash pickers” eke out a living recycling all the city’s filth and waste that they can collect in their donkey carts and pickup trucks.  I was already doing my own “volunteer tourism” work with them, building solar hot water systems and biodigesters, and one day a young local trash picker named Hanna Fathy  who helped his church by giving tours of a famous local monastery carved into the rocky hills, brought a group of American church tourists at the end of his tour  to one of the schools where I was teaching kids to build renewable energy systems.  The tourists were so impressed that as we built more systems and more of them came to see them, including several on this young man’s roof, he and I and other local guys  formed the NGO Solar CITIES. We  recruited some of his friends and family members as both expert builders and tour guides and began to advertise our tours of their “sustainability minded slum”  on the web.  We quickly became well known and the Nile Guide Tourism book listed us as one of the top destinations for alternative tourists seeking to both see things the masses never get to see, and help people at the same time.  

Our experience was again consistent with Weaver’s observation that “Ecumenical church groups in both the developing and developed regions played a lead role not only in pointing out the problems with Third World tourism, but also in working toward ‘pro-poor’ solutions. (p. 39).
Urban tourism is generally considered more than benign and actually helpful. The more tourists come the more is invested in cleaning up the communities and making them greener and more healthy.  Idea sharing goes in two directions, with tourists bringing new technologies and insights from their travels, while local people provide ingenuity born from problem solving necessity (the mother of invention) and  deep understanding of how to implement solutions that will meet the needs of their community and will actually stick, and in the case of the Zaballeen, truly opened the visitors eyes to effective solutions, like home made solar hot water and biogas systems, that the tourists had never seen but could now take home and lobby for in their own countries.  If there is any downside at all to urban tourism it is the threat of gentrification once the impoverished neighborhood becomes more attractive, as we see happening in many of the favela areas of Brazil where I have worked.

Educational tourism is the last of the alternative forms of tourism talked about in the book that I have extensive direct experience with.  Like backpacking tourism, student travelers tend to have relatively small numbers and low daily per capita expenditures, but these financial disadvantages are offset ‘by the length of time they spend in the location”. Weaver (p. 50) tells us that in Australia while international students make up only 3 percent of all stay overs, they account for 20 percent of all stayover expenditures.”  Because their tourism is tied to long term educational goals, they are a stable source of visitors even at times of unrest, and they tend to act as “tourism magnets” through their extensive social networking, inspiring others to visit the locations and attractions they saw during their stay, whether those others are fellow students or not. And they tend to be repeat visitors.  Every year I run a service learning class overseas, either in the Caribbean or in Israel and Palestine, and each year I have students who graduated making return trips to the country to see more and do more.  Educational tourists, according to Weaver,  have an amplified and disproportionate economic impact, and as with voluntourism, few can criticize the benefits of visitors who are simultaneously consuming and producing knowledge and deepening and enriching it through focused study and the open mind and attitude that educational institutions demand.
A typology of alternative tourism is shown in figure 3.1 on page 40 in the book, and Table 3.1 exhibits a table of “unsustainable mass tourism and deliberate alternative tourism ideal types.”  Of course these are ideals, and reality never conforms to our dreams of an ideal world.
Using the knowledge based platform we must be aware of potential problems, and as Weaver states on p. 51, we should discourage “value judgements based on the scale of tourism alone”. We should challenge “claims to the moral high ground” and be aware of the limitations of scale that the “small is beautiful” approach of many proponents tend to ignore, and of the possibilities for elitism and ecoimperialism (i.e. having tourists affect a space to create an image of what they believe a community should be rather than what it really is or wants to be), and beware of alternative tourists despite the best of intentions, patronizing the local residents, causing community disruption and fostering internal conflict or intrusively affecting the culture and its traditional social relationships with casual liaisons and relationships , especially when sexual activity and drugs are involved.  However, by and large, these same threats are also present, in fact HYPER PRESENT with mass tourism, so on balance alternative tourism can act as a countervailing force for all the negatives that come from moving a huge number of consumers from one region, usually a richer region, to another.
  So wherever we see problems emerging, from large or small scale operations,  it is our job to find another way to do things that is better, that is more sustainable.  And after all, that is what alternative tourism should be:  An alternative.

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