Sunday, January 2, 2005

Justice Tourism

excerpt from a paper by
Rami Kassis, Director of ATG, Bethlehem, Palestine July 2006

Tourism is one of the most important industries in the world. It represents an unprecedented phenomenon in history, allowing contact between different peoples on a scale previously unimagined. It is an ideal vehicle for intercultural exchange and tolerance, through which everyone can encounter a world at once unique and diverse. It has also become a vital resource for developing local economies; ideally, it promotes job creation, infrastructure development, and economic growth and stability.

However, this ideal is often disturbed by the imbalance in the encounter between wealthy Western visitors and poor local populations, tending to place local cultures in a position of inferiority. Instead of acting as a forum for cultural exchange, this kind of dysfunctional tourism often leaves host peoples feeling that the visitors’ culture is superior. This can lead either to attempts to adopt Western culture at the expense of local ways of life, or conversely, to legitimate feelings of hostility towards Western influence on the part of host populations. Traditional mass-tourism can cause disturbances and discomfort in the everyday lives of the host population if priority is given to the establishment of infrastructure geared towards tourists to the detriment of local businesses, marketplaces, schools, and places of worship, as well as the local environment.

As populations increase, the widening gap between rich and poor is creating suffering, anger, and resentment that threaten the long-term interests of us all. The environment, too, is expressing the results of these pressures, through global warming, extreme weather events, depleting natural resources, and other phenomena. These bitter fruits of economic globalisation, both human and environmental, are leading progressive people throughout the world to consider how to use resources more responsibly and share them more fairly, while at the same time working to develop the truly democratic systems that will be able to change our present course in the long term.

Justice tourism, one of the most effective means of promoting understanding, mutual education, economic exchange and environmental protection, has a central role to play in these efforts. All varieties of tourists have a choice: sun-seekers can help to heal the inequalities between cultures by injecting local economies with resources, or they can participate in their exploitation; adventure tourists can wreak havoc on local environments, or they can participate in efforts to protect them. Put simply, tourists with a commitment to social justice – justice tourists - have the opportunity, not only to make positive contributions to the communities they visit, but to become holders of  the knowledge that will one day lead to equality, democracy, and human rights for all.
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