Its a white and green and blue and brown World

In the north-south tourism exchange, the lighter skinned get the best part of the bargain

Op/Ed by Alan Barry Ginn

Many tourists, mostly White, are coming from mostly northern countries and are destined for green and blue worlds inhabited mostly by shades of brown people in the sunny blue skies of warm southern climes. Its a colourful world. The desire to stretch out on a white sand beach gazing over turquoise blue water, sipping a rum punch, when the north is covered in snow is nearly irresistible. Hope is that this cultural mixing forms the basis for a better understanding between peoples. But does it really make the connections?

Mostly brown people are the delivery agents in these southern destinations. Many of them are women, some still children. Wearing brightly coloured costumes, they craft tourism services and products catering to their mostly white guests in summer clothes whose biggest concern is a trouble-free, check the brain stay. They live and work in communities that are becoming, more and more, the destinations that the northern visitors want to see and experience. The brown people welcome them in, hoping for a little spare change to trickle into their purses.

That's the visitor side of the north-south tourism exchange. But what about the producer side?

Here, we have mostly large corporations in northern countries, headed by mostly White, male bosses. Many of these companies employ more people than the population of the countries they are sending visitors to. They wield great power. The rich White owners tend to set aside the impacts of their businesses on poorer brown people. They consider the impacts as a necessary evil of doing tourism but they don't factor in the costs in their own income statements. Impacts like waste, illegally dumped at sea by the brightly coloured cruise ships, to avoid the cost of more expensive processing. Impacts like the massive comsumption of water and energy in islands that can't afford diesel fuel. And yet the companies, tour and cruise alike, use their power to exact concessions from the suppliers and governments in the smaller places, where the press releases promise jobs for the brown people living there. To make even bigger profits for themselves.

The profits are real but the jobs may be not so real.

When the brown people realize that the jobs aren't going to come, the mostly northern companies ably shrug off any responsibility. Their shareholders are now quite a bit richer and looking for ways to get even richer. Local governments have already changed hands and new leaders pass off accountability. The large companies, adept at negotiation, repeat the promotion with the new leaders, eager to secure their own legacies. There's very little selfless statesmanship, mostly men who see the chance to grab some fame but only find notoriety, and a pocket full of cash.

It is a cruel cycle.

As it goes, the cruelty becomes even deeper as the brown people realize that not only are the jobs not coming but the places they call home are being flattened by the designer shoes of thousands of white tourists, who simply jet back up north and if they had passing thoughts about their impacts, they dissipate as quickly as the contrails. When the white bosses see that the destinations in their colourful web pages no longer attract, they move on to other pristeen locations to advertise. And so on ...

Such is the underbelly of the north-south tourism exchange.

That's the way it has been for decades. It is taking quite a lot of time for the mostly brown, southern hosts to fix the way tourism has been managed. Tourism that has not lived up to its promises on a wide scale and never will. The inter-connected world is sharing the stories of how the rich companies have pillaged their homes, gotten very rich and then moved on. It is the force of colonial powers still in action to this day. In the craving for the sun and the blue skies, most visitors don't notice and don't really care, hypnotized by the sun sparkling off the turquoise sea in their all-inclusive beach or ship-borne enclaves.

The rich tour companies have only one objective: get richer. They do so by selling products they don't even own, getting fatter on the assets that the 'other' owns. The true owners, pummelled into collecting only a tiny amount, in taxes or fees, for their side of the bargain, again in the hope for better opportunities, but they don't come. Since the rich companies don't own the product, they don't cost it either. Its a win-win for the companies but a lose-lose for the not quite white local people. Such a relationship of inequity is clearly directly against the interests of the losing parties in the north-south tourism exchange.

With 'hope' as their empowerment, the darker skinned people continue to struggle. Even though they actually own the product. What they see is that they are relatively powerless to make progress against the rich northern visitors who have mountains of cash but miserly parse out tiny piles. It doesn't take long for some visitors who do scratch below the surface of the tourism exchange to be shocked to find resentment, resistance, reverse racism and frustration from the brown people for not being able to make ends meet, for not being able to make any meaningful change in their living reality as they witness their homelands wasting away.

It is a not very satisfying interchange for either visitor or host. Neither really gets to the true core values that the potential promises. But the rich companies handily dole out their short-term profits to their shareholders. And party on ...

The brown people are also awakening to the realisation that their green and blue worlds are under serious threat. The product they own, once highly coveted is now damaged goods. Lax environmental laws or wanton disregard for them by governments that trample the rights of their own people have perpetuated the degradation for far too long.

The rich tour companies have taken so much that the clear blue waters are now cloudy, the beaches are littered and the once rich tropical forests are decimated to supply northern countries with beef and palm oil. The richly coloured birds and fishes habitats are dwindling and the visitors are losing pristeen places to visit. And the brown people are left to defend the clean air, the clear water, the white sand beaches and the reefs any way they can.

This is the reality of what the north-south tourism exchange really looks like. There's a 100% chance that the brown hosts are losing their much vaunted sites, the paradise they call home. Northern visitors are losing places to go and experience worlds that have all but disappeared. But there's also a 100% chance that the rich northern companies are not going to act on their own to fix the problem. They will only do so when the cost of losing the attractive sites is greater than the profit they might extract from them. Maybe not even then.


When will the rich white men who are sending rich white customers to visit poorer, sunny, clear blue skies take the actions required to protect, both their tourism assets and the homes of the brown peoples? This is an unknown but, as the people living there hope, that must be sometime soon because the biospheres and the societies cannot take any more abuse. It will probably take a widescale loss of attractive sites to force these companies, and their customers, to take action. Obviously, that would be too late.

More and more oversight is coming into play. The United Nations with the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the wider promotion of 'Green and Blue' tourism is putting in place a framework that will encourage more responsibility. But promises, rules and words are not enough. Dressed up words won't cover naked exploitation.

Legislation in the destination countries is needed to force companies to respect environmental and social laws to protect their assets. This also needs to be widescale otherwise the result will be that tour companies will only take action to avoid the places where it is becoming more expensive or difficult to do business.

It will also require more hard line positions by local people to become more skilled to go head-to-head with the already adept mega-companies. It is time to simply say NO! Say no to development that will only brings short-term gains but leave behind long term pains. The problem of 'over-tourism' is rapidly becoming a problem that will not go away. Its time for local people to demand, in concrete and tangible terms, the value for them in the north-south tourism exchange. Value that delivers a surplus for them.

There are also contributions that rich white visitors can make on their own without consulting anyone. They can do 'voluntours' where giving back becomes a significant factor. They can contribute to 'green funds' and industries. They can stay in locally owned accommodations. They can buy local products and services. They can donate to local charities. They can buy carbon offsets. They can leave tips for service well done. They can take action to consume less. They can help to clean up the beaches they love to lie on. They can do it in case they might want to return. They can do it because it improves the view.

Rich white visitors should consider this as part of the transaction. They should insist that the tour companies make similar contributions. They should insist that the tour companies hire locals and give them better jobs opportunities. This is not charity, this is simply paying the freight for the scarce products and services they themselves have consumed.

These amounts will assist local people to maintain and refurbish their home communities and assets so that they can continue to live and open their homes to visitors. Otherwise, the local people should simply turn away from shortsighted, extractive industries whose only aim is to make as much money as possible in the shortest time and then move on, leaving the damage and the waste to be cleaned up by the people who can't turn away.

The end of the pillage of the north-south tourism exchange is in sight. Its a colourful and diverse world and needs to remain so. No drifting back to the way things used to be will deliver the new tourism that the World needs to move forward.