Above photo: Maya Bay in Thailand, which has been damaged by tourism. From Condé Nast Traveller.
Tourism Alert and Action Forum Statement on Covid-19 Pandemic Crisis
The members of the Tourism Alert and Action Forum come from organizations around the world that have joined in solidarity to oppose exploitative forms of tourism and to act in solidarity with communities against such practices. We are watching the pandemic crisis with great concern, grounded in the knowledge that such crises: impact the most vulnerable communities disproportionately; that such crises are used to enact authoritarian policies and surveillance that long outlasts the crisis; and that corporate sectors and elites stand set to take advantage of this crisis.
The corporate tourism, hospitality and events sectors have been brought to their knees by efforts to curtail and control the pandemic. Borders have been shut, travel has been banned, social activities have been curtailed and people told to stay in their homes. Countries around the world are trying to strike a balance between keeping their market economies going, preventing dangerous levels of unemployment and deprivation while trying to respond to dire public health imperatives that are necessary to prevent collapse of health systems and mass deaths.
Moments of crisis reveal important truths that are often overlooked in our daily struggle to get by. Because this crisis has struck tourism so particularly, there are a number of insights revealed by these events.
Capitalistic economics has undermined the security of peoples by making them reliant on structures that are designed to deliver profits to the elite. In terms of tourism, forms of tourism have been developed which undermine subsistence capacities and make communities dependent and vulnerable.
Scientists have warned that such pandemics result from human encroachment on natural areas in the effort to extract ever dwindling natural resources for growing and over-consuming populations. Tourism, as a key pillar in over-consumption, imbalanced economics and unjust distributions, is a part of this.
Irresponsible travel practices and selfish mindsets will prove to have exacerbated the unfolding public health disaster some countries are facing. For instance, passengers on mega-cruise ships have been a significant vector for disease spread. These passengers have been frequently expedited in their needs while few voices have been raised about the neglect and danger to the workers on these ships.
Governments around the world are acting to prop up fragile economic systems with significant spending meant to stave out financial collapse. Tourism authorities are claiming a big share of such public funds with airlines and the cruise industry claiming they are too important to economies to allow to fail.
Ironically, it is the poorly paid and vulnerable workers who are depended on to keep societies going in the weeks and months that this crisis will go on for. This includes the workers in our food stores, the carers in our hospitals and aged care, the gig workers delivering vital foods and medicines but also those cruise ship workers that are trapped on infected ships.
These brief and limited insights raise vital questions about the marketisation that has been imposed on peoples all around the world and its true costs. Industries such as tourism will be keen to get back to business as usual, grabbing on to the phrase undertourism to ramp it up again. Governments will be keen to take advantage of control and surveillance capacities that are being imposed on the excuse of the crisis and to extend these further. Whole segments of our communities are being dismissed as disposable, including workers in the informal sectors of tourism who will find that starvation and homelessness are their direct threat as well as Covid-19.
The inequity and injustice of corporate tourism that we have opposed from our beginning is further exposed in this most recent crisis. Social movements and voices of protest were planning to gather to oppose exploitative forms of capitalism and tourism through the venue of the World Social Forum that was to be convened in Barcelona in June, 2020. This is now postponed. However, we declare here we are not deterred in our work. Moments of crisis not only unveil flaws, they also reveal opportunity. We declare:
- The rights of communities are the pillar for just, equitable and sustainable forms of economies that include tourism.
- The rights of workers are more important and override the rights of corporations. All workers deserve work that provides a living wage. All people deserve dignity and security and this is underpinned by a universal living wage.
- Tourism dependency is not sustainable. Forms of tourism that are embedded in diverse economies and are structured to support long-term community well-being are the way forward.
- Capitalist globalization has been built on colonial exploitation; the wealth and well-being of peoples of the Majority World have been plundered. Fair futures must be built on processes of reparations for this in the interest of all the world’s peoples. This is the only way to prevent further disastrous crises, including more global pandemics, climate change and economic depressions.
- The selfish, individualism promoted by market ideology has got to give way to the resurgence of the public good, the sharing of the commons, social embeddedness and building of nurturing interdependence. In terms of tourism, tourism should be transformed to be a servant to building society, citizenry and well-being.
In closing, this crisis has revealed that many things once declared impossible have suddenly become possible when the authorities decide it is in their interest to make them so. We should not forget this important lesson. The movements for social justice have long declared that “another world is possible” and we have also declared “another tourism is possible”. But the world we want to see won’t be given to us; we have to act collectively for it.
Ranjan Solomon, On behalf of Tourism Alert and Advocacy Forum