Mega-resorts are destroying communities and are environmentally unsustainable and lead to widespread alienation and displacement of people from their land, according to a new report from lobby group Tourism Concern.
Poor communities in developing countries, which depend heavily upon their natural resources for their livelihoods, are the hardest hit.
Huge tracts of public and privately owned land are being ‘grabbed’ and sold off to real estate developers by governments keen to expand tourism in pursuit of economic growth. In reality, little of the profit from internationally managed resorts stays in the local economy.
The trickle down of tourism revenue to those who have lost their homes and livelihoods is minimal, particularly in the face of rising living costs associated with an influx of tourists and owners of expensive second homes. Cheap migrant labour is often drafted in from abroad to work on the developments, while opportunities for employment in the exclusive five-star resorts are limited to the most menial, poorly paid roles.
Tourism Concern has joined with campaigning groups from all over the world to call for a moratorium on the construction of mega-resorts and in support the “Declaration of Belém”. Issued at the World Social Forum in Belém do Pará, Brazil, the Declaration presents an alternative vision of the future of global tourism, and urges for more just and sustainable practices on the part of industry and governments.
Patricia Barnett, Director of Tourism Concern, says: “The development of mega-resorts and all the social and environmental problems that go with them is an issue facing communities from Scotland to Bulgaria, from Spain to the Bahamas, India to Thailand. Tourism has to be developed in a more sustainable, transparent and democratic way. That means listening to the needs of local people and the environment, and demands an abandonment of the ‘economic growth at all costs’ attitude that is seeing communities dispossessed of their homes and their means of earning a living the world over”.
Tourism Concern says despite fierce public opposition, the development of the sprawling Bimini Bay Resort on the tiny island of North Bimini in the Bahamas has caused irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem, which local people depend upon for their livelihoods.
It also points to the West Indian island of Grenada, where the government has sold off state land for a luxury development spanning 400 acres and including 170 private villas, a private island, a golf course and marina. The resort will also incorporate part of the Mount Hartman National Park, despite it being a protected area and the last remaining habitat of the rare Grenada dove. Local people are angry about the lack of public consultation and say that no compensation has been paid to the rightful owners of the land.
“The needs and rights of local communities are being pitched directly against those of mega-resorts, with the resorts winning out almost every time. Golf courses, landscaped gardens, swimming pools and showers all consume vast quantities of water, much more than the local communities, who often have to walk a considerable distance to fetch water that is barely drinkable”, says Barnett.
The group attacks governments and developers that espouse “responsible tourism” policies, covering issues such as sustainability, community participation and damage to the environment. However, all too often this amounts to little more than a marketing tool to win popular support and attract tourists.