Sustainable Tourism: Seminar Presentation Paper
The object of this short piece is
to provide the reader with brief critique of Brian Wheeller’s views on
sustainable tourism, which he put forward in his article ‘Here we go Here
we go Here we go eco’ in a book edited by Stabler (1997). A case study
of a personal experience of ‘sustainable/eco’ tourism will be provided
as an example to consolidate what Wheeller is declaring. It will also be
necessary to define what sustainable tourism means as the concept can mean
different things to different people.
‘Sustainable tourism relates to the interdependency among tourist industry developers, community authorities, and environmentalists who work in tandem to ensure an improved quality of life for area residents and to maintain area resources for future generations.’ (Hawkins & Cunningham in Harrison & Husbands, 1996:351)Sustainable tourism also has very close links with alternative tourism. Some of the definitions of both concepts are very similar and suggest that they are synonymous with each other.
‘Alternative tourism is applied to tourism that does not damage the environment, is ecologically sound…[Kozlowski 1985; Travis 1985]…Second, alternative tourism is thought top consist of smaller developments, or attractions for tourists which are set in or organised by villages or communities…[Saglio1979; Bilsen 1987; Gonsalves 1984]…Third…certain kinds of tourism are called alternative because they are not "exploitative" of local people.’ (Smith, 1994:50-51)Wheeller, very early in his article states that there is no point trying to accomplish sustainability in tourism as he feels it cannot happen.
‘The possibility of achieving sustainability in general and sustainable tourism in particular, is as close, or likely, as the UK is to becoming John Major’s classless society. There are no sensible moves.’ (Stabler, 1997:40)Wheeller goes on to further criticise the concept of sustainable tourism by providing a variety of reasons. To highlight some of his logic, I am going to refer to my own personal experience of adventure tourism and it’s shortcomings.
In 1990 I went on a school trip to the Pyrenees. Two schools were involved in the trip, my own (in Blackpool) and a catholic school from Preston. Fifteen people went and the main aims of the trip were to go climbing, experience the local culture and undertake a small investigation of one of the facets of the area (flora, fauna, local architecture). We camped on a site about one kilometre away from a small village in one of the valleys. The village of Gedre appeared to be almost self sufficient. It had its own school, power station, shops, police station and swimming pool. Perhaps the strangest experience I had though out the whole trip was at the swimming pool. It was an outdoor pool and had unisex changing rooms. The changing rooms made me feel very self conscious and curios at the same time, but the local community did not seem concerned with the arrangement in any way. Most of the time whilst in the Pyrenees was spent in the mountains (eroding the footpaths). During this time I had a variety of experiences that can only really be defined as emotional. I was moved by the beauty of the area and felt very privileged to be there. During our stay in France we also visited Lourdes. It appears that this trip was for the benefit of the catholic people in our group. The water in Lourdes is supposed to have healing qualities (perhaps for those people who have psychosomatic illnesses?), and there is a cave where Mary is supposed to have appeared. I found this all very commercialised and likened it to Blackpool during the tourist season: tacky.
The whole holiday seems quite sustainable on the surface. Our group consisted of fifteen people, we camped rather than spending lots of money in a hotel and supported the local economy by buying all our food in the village. We also did not interact with the local too much as we were out of their way whenever we were in the mountains. This may have been of benefit to the local people if their views were similar to the Yapese. (Mansperger in Smith, 1992:11)
In retrospect the holiday was not really sustainable or ecofriendly. Wheeller would argue the same point. He would point out that we were maybe thinking global and acting local. (Wheeller 1997) Our trip was basically about being in the Pyrenees. Whilst there we were concerned about the local environment, we did not leave a trail of toilet paper behind us, we had to put it in a plastic bag until we got back to camp. We were not concerned and did not think about how we got to the Pyrenees, that did not matter.
‘The ecotourist…so concerned to ostentatiously behave sensitively in the vulnerable destination environment, is not concerned about the danger to the overall environment they cause in actually reaching that destination. (Wheeller, 1993 cited in Stabler, 1997:43)To get to our ‘vulnerable destination environment’, we used two vans and a ferry to get across to France. This was the most convenient way of travelling.
‘Convenience takes precedence over conscience-a car to the airport and a jumbo jet are hardly paradigms of virtue in the environmental stakes.’ (Wheeller, 1993 cited in Stabler, 1997:43)Although not exactly the same transport methods were used to get to the Pyrenees as Wheeller mentioned there are obvious similarities. He is also concerned with the increasing popularity of eco/sustainable tourism and fears that all it is is another form mass tourism, but with the pretence of being eco friendly.
‘Predictably, the white elephant of eco tourism has metamorphosed into the equally deceptive oxymoron of mass eco tourism.’ (Stabler, 1997:48)Wheeller states that sustainable tourism has a negative rather than positive effect on the environment and is really another method that can be used to massage one’s ego.
‘The overall effect of sustainable tourism is negative not positive….Eco/sustainable tourism , where philanthropic aspirations mask hard-nosed, immediate self interest.’ (Stabler, 1997:45)Wheeller appears to spend all his time trying to explain that sustainability and tourism can never seriously be joined together. He backs his ideas up with a variety of experiences and references and creates a very valid argument. The only problem that occurs to me is when he mentions about going to conferences or on trips. How does he get there if is as concerned as he tries to put across in his article?
To what extent is sustainable and socially responsible tourism merely a romantic or back to nature response to increasing urbanisation, globalisation and the loss of a sense of place?
During the course of this piece of work, it is will to be necessary to define several concepts. The first is to what actually constitutes a tourist and what sustainable and socially responsible tourism is trying to be. The second is that of globalisation and urbanisation and the third area is that which the author perceives as 'a loss of a sense of place’.
It appears that tourism and tourists are terms that are very difficult to define. The terms may mean different things to different people. For example, some academics have defined a tourist as a person who has spent more than 24 away from their hometown. 'Tourists are temporary visitors staying at least 24 hours...whose purpose was for leisure, business, family or meeting.' (Theobald, 1996:9) From a personal perspective, this interpretation of a tourist is a little dubious. The definition suggests that any one who is an area for more than 24 hours that they do not live in is a tourist. This means that a business person who commutes from her/his home to another area and spends over 24 hours in that place is a tourist, even if the travel was deemed necessary for work commitments.
Mathieson and Wall (1982) provide
a definition which eradicates the problem of travelling business people,
and is not too concerned with the economics or geography of the concept
which are sometimes used to define tourism.
Tourism itself seems to create many problems, not just in finding a suitable definition, but also as causing a negative effect on the environment and culture. Coccosis suggests that tourism will become the biggest economic force in the world. 'By the turn of the century, tourism is expected to become the world's single leading economic activity.' (cited in Priestley, 1996:1) With this comes the detrimental effect on the environment and culture. Theobald supports this. 'Tourism problems are complex and interrelated and they suggests a myriad of crises...overuse and destruction of natural resources, loss of cultural heritage.' (1996:ix)
Sustainability in tourism now appears to have caught on with both the tourist industry and governments alike. Sustainable tourism like tourism also appears to be unclear in its definition. Many different words have been used to describe this facet of tourism. Godfey in Harrison and Husbands book 'Practising Responsible Tourism' upholds this view. 'Common phrasing, and terminology such as 'appropriate', 'responsible', and 'alternative' have all been used interchangeably to describe this new industry paradigm,' (1996:58)
House (1997) suggests that 'sustainability...reflects concern, but not necessarily action to address the problem of human impacts on the environment.' (cited in Stabler, 1997:93) Wheeller goes a step further and states that there can be no such thing as sustainable tourism and describes it as an oxymoron. He provides an analogy for sustainable tourism. 'The possibility of achieving sustainability in general and sustainable tourism in particular, is as close, or as likely, as the UK is to becoming John Major's classless society. There are no sensible moves.' (cited in Stabler, 1997:40)
Other academics suggest that there can be such a thing as sustainable tourism and that it can be interpreted in many different ways. Coccosis details three different attitudes. 'Economic sustainability of tourism, sustainable tourist development an ecologically sustainable tourism,' (cited in Priestley, 1996:10) Other writers suggest that alternative, sustainable, socially responsible tourism is 'small scale geared to individual travellers.' (Brown, 1998:100) Butcher states that sustainable tourism is an activity which ‘maintains the environmental integrity and well being of natural, built and cultural resources in perpetuity.’ (cited in Stabler, 1997:27) Plog in Theobald argues that touristic experiences just create ‘physical deterioration of destination facilities. Destruction of the environment. Destruction of local cultures'. (1996:41-42)
From this it is clear that sustainable tourism, alternative and responsible tourism are all facets of the same thing. (Godfey 1996) There also appears to be no clear and unilaterally accepted working definition of the concept. ‘Sustainable tourism is a concept that still defies uniform understanding and a common, and perhaps more importantly, working definition.’ (Fyall & Garrod in Stabler, 1997:52)
The notions of urbanisation and globalisation
create less problems in their concepts for the academics than those related
tourism. The process of urbanisation began over 150 years ago with the
industrial revolution. Towns and cities grew as people moved into them
to get jobs in the manufacturing industry. Previous to this, people had
been living and working in the country. ‘In 1801 20 per cent of the population
lived in towns; by 1901 80 per cent did.’ (Urry, 1997:18) ‘Western urbanisation
emerged in the nineteenth century generally for reasons of production and
commerce.’ (Shaw & Williams, 1994:181)
Globalisation hints at the idea that
the earth is shrinking. Communications from one side of the planet to the
other are now a lot easier than they were one hundred years ago. ‘Greater
knowledge of the world and a perception that it has shrunk thanks to television,
the Internet and high-speed transportation links.’ (Brown, 1998:18) Writers
on the subject argue that although the globalisation process has general
characteristics, there does not appear to be an accepted definition. ‘There
is no universally accepted definition of globalisation.’ (Brown, 1998:16)
Mowforth and Munt suggest that globalisation ‘is a concept that seeks to
encapsulate processes operating on a global scale. It refers to the ever
tightening network of connections which cut across national boundaries.’
(1998:12) This is supported by comments put forward by Brown (1998). She
mentions the ‘blurring of boundaries as economic or political events in
one country have an effect way beyond its borders…the world wide spread
of a neoliberal capitalist system…the growth of transnational companies,
able to operate free of national restrictions.’ (pages 17 & 18) Brown
also paraphrases what other writers have said. Within this she hints at
a time when the globalisation process could either steer to cultural homogenisation
or to a situation where there is a large amount of pressure to retain cultural
To the author, a loss of a sense of place suggests that a persons or cultures (national) identity is being or has been lost. The formation of a persons identity can have roots in many different areas. These can include family backgrounds, ethnicity and gender. ‘identities in the contemporary world derive from a multiplicity of sources - nationality, ethnicity, social class, community, gender, sexuality.’ (Woodward, 1997:1)
From these aspects of identity formation, it is possible for a person start to form their own identity. It may give a person a starting block to use to find out who they are and how to interact with others. ‘Identity gives us an idea of who we are and how we relate to others and to the world in which we live.’ (Woodward, 1997:1) National identity can also be formed from a variety of factors. 'Demand for identity springs from several places, both internal and external. Representatives of the state, professionals, temporary or permanent visitors.' (Lanfant et al, 1995: 34) On the reverse side of this the same people can distort a national identity. Tourists are included within this group. By visiting an area, 'the region can quickly lose part of its autonomy, in that through tourism its development is suddenly onto factors which are external to it. Local elites can come to be dispossessed of a part of their powers to the benefit of external factors.' (Lafant et al, 1995:34) In summary, identity can be affected and formulated by many different factors.
Urry portrays that some forms of tourism have been romanticised. Within his discussion, he mentions mountains and the feelings that some people associate with them. 'The mountain can be viewed for its grandeur, beauty and to the alpine horn...a shrine to nature that individuals wish to enjoy.' (1997:45) This viewpoint is also supported by Cohen to a certain extent with his 'Modes of Touristic Experience' (1979) By mentioning this form of tourism rather than an example which might include someone lying on a beach in the Costa Del Sol. The author feels that he is hinting at a sustainable touristic experience. Urry also mentions two paradigms. The 'romantic gaze' and the 'collective gaze'. His romantic gaze has an 'emphasis upon solitude, privacy and a personal, semi-spiritual relationship with the object of the gaze...the collective gaze necessitates the presence of large numbers of people.' (1997:45) By cross referencing, what Urry says with what other authors say, it would appear that when he mentions the romantic gaze he is probably referring to sustainable tourism.
From the literature available it would appear that there is a worry that the ongoing process of globalisation is creating an environment where it is possible to lose the sense of place and identity. People who go on holidays which could be classified as sustainable are perhaps trying to rediscover the lost aspects of their identity (personal and national). Potential problems that could possibly arise from this are the impacts the tourists have on the indigenous communities they visit. Perhaps it could be argued that this is a form of post colonialism as once again the visitor is exporting his/her own western values onto the local culture. Within this there is also the problem that with the exportation of the tourists values and wants, the local community could possibly become exposed to this and may start to adopt some of the tourists' behaviours; thus starting to change the local community's own identity. It could be argued that the ideology of travelling to a far off place tom become 'at one with nature' to regain ones identity impinges on the local people and in turn defeats the object of the defiance of globalisation. The whole concept could actually be called an oxymoron as by resisting mass tourism, the visitor is causing more damage to those places which have not been fully infiltrated by the mass tourist. the Package holiday maker is at least travelling to an area prepared for the tourist.
In conclusion, it appears that any attempt to be socially aware of the consequences of being a tourist is not enough on it's own. The simple action of tourist travel and the interaction with other communities reinforces yet further the modern concept of globalisation (Brown); drawing more people to urban areas to service the tourist "industry". This is separate to the potential consequences of interaction with those communities and the consumerism and culture we take with us. Sustainable tourism is merely an acknowledgement and an attempt to justify the damage of the tourist.
As our identities and sense of place is eroded, we attempt to transplant ourselves to places we have not visited before, trying to reinforce that we leave "at home" (Cohen). In answer to the proposition as to how far sustainable tourism is a response to romanticism and global issues, the discussion would imply that having transplanted our manufacturing industries and old lifestyle identities abroad, we now travel to visit the colonial and corporate life of the past.