The staggering profits in leisure tourism inevitably attracted big foreign investors, particularly transnational corporations, that control hotels, world-class resorts, real estate firms, and transportation conglomerates. Investments in tourism have become a significant component of the structural adjustment programs imposed by multilateral agencies like IMF and WB. Now, tourism is eyed as an important development strategy. It is packaged to transform low-scale local tourism in underdeveloped nations into a multi-billion dollar industry for the market oriented global economy.
This is the why Third World countries like the Philippines are urged by multilateral organizations to embark on extensive tourism development programs. The tourist dollar is presented as the underdeveloped nations’ quick way of cashing in towards economic progress.
Eager to take a share from the increasing earnings in global tourism, the Philippine Government issued guidelines through the Department of Tourism and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, categorizing ecotourism as “low-impact, environmentally-sound and community-participatory tourism activity in given natural environment that enhances the conservation of bio-physical and cultural diversity, promotes environmental understanding and education and yields socio-economic benefits to the concerned community.” Other legal mechanisms and incentives enticed and facilitated foreign and local investments into the ecotourism business.
While ecotourism contributes to the international reserves of the national government and has some positive aspects as it is considered to create jobs, bring in foreign exchange and alleviate poverty, most developing or underdeveloped countries promote tourism as one of the solutions to economic difficulties and thus offer cheap labor and pristine natural wonders. Most governments and its tourism arm together with travel and tour organizations look at tourism as a source of financial benefits and profits instead of harnessing tourism to support sustainable community development in their respective countries, drastic and negative effects of these ventures are often disregarded.
Tourism development projects, more often than not, conflict with the subsistence agriculture economies in the rural areas, displace people in their own community, lure women and children to prostitution, and undermine the rights of people in tourist destinations. The greater the tourist activity is, the greater the exploitation and abuse. In the name of tourism, people are discriminated against, their freedom of expression and participation in decision making is curtailed. Common folks are dispossessed, indigenous communities displaced and children and women are sexually exploited, values and culture of host countries distorted if not disregarded. Last but not least global tourism accelerates environmental degradation thus globalizing its impact and adding to the local communities’ vulnerability.
In this regard, it is not just the implementation, but the framework in which tourism operates that must be reviewed. Meanwhile, NGOs and concerned individuals strive to achieve and advocate for an alternative, not only for people from all over to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful nature and diverse culture but to support and promote the aspirations of these communities for a better life.