27 Aug 2023  |   05:22am IST

Tourism Economy: An exercise in self-destruction

Basilio Monteiro

A few decades ago, two small countries gained independence after almost two hundred years of colonization, both of them water-bound quasi-islands. Singapore, with no extracting resources, and Jamaica, blessed with bauxite and alumina, both launched themselves on the path of economic development. Singapore invested in education and market-based economy with manufacturing services, high technology and high finance industries, while Jamaica took advantage of its extraction resources, bauxite and alumina, and made tourism industry its primary source of revenue. The outcomes of the economic development of these two countries are there for everyone to see. 

Over the years, the primary drivers of tourism industry in Jamaica have been taken over by foreign corporations, who are now running the tourism industry, depriving the State from needed revenue. Over the decades of use and abuse of the ecosystem by an uncontainable volume of hedonistic tourists, one finds beautiful Jamaica significantly degraded, the very thing that was marketed to draw endless streams of tourists. Beach-based, self-indulging tourism has ravaged the once tranquil and flourishing oasis. Jamaica, today is struggling to keep its head above the water.  

Tourists are not travellers. Humans have an inner drive to travel and explore the beyond. Humans travel far and wide, driven by curiosity to know, desire to learn and eagerness to understand the unfamiliar and appreciate diverse cultures. Travelers respect local cultures and make efforts to learn local idioms and argots and to understand local customs, thus enhancing their experiences. Travellers explore local gastronomy so as to understand history and human ingenuity, entrepreneurial spirit and the wisdom of the ancestors. Travellers are intrigued to understand “why people do what they do,” while they develop greater appreciation for the local ecosystem. Travellers are not in a rush to move on “to see” the attractions, but take time to enlighten themselves and return much enriched. Travellers are life-long learners, who recognize what St Bernard said: “you will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters,” and what Leonardo da Vinci said: “Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

Tourism is a quick profit-making pseudo-industry, focused on generating large numbers of tourists -- after all, the more the people, the greater the profit. Customer turnover is the basic ingredient of its business model. To accommodate large numbers of people in small spaces, tourism industry destroys the very thing that has been presented as “tourist attraction.”  Tourists are attracted by the titillation of the place which the reckless promoters of tourism industry are shrewdly engaged in continuously Dysney-fying the natural ecosystem and building Potemkin villages to dazzle and lure unsuspecting and google-eyed tourists. Tourists in general are vagabonds, whose interest is in a “hop on and hop off” programme. They check off a list of self-gratification and feel satisfied that their money’s worth is accomplished. Thus, they can boast that, “I was there, I have seen it.” 

The current proposal to promote “green tourism” in Goa is a bold fraud hoisted on the citizens of Goa in the name of progress. There is no such thing as green tourism, despite the attempts to green-wash tourism. Tourism, by definition, is unsustainable and necessarily degrades the ground where the tourists stand on. The beaches of Goa are increasingly concreted with hotel structures to accommodate the ever-increasing volume of hedonistic tourists, who are mindlessly entertained by the over-exploited local talent.  The reckless and shabby construction of the transportation arteries is an insult and an injury to the ecology. and to the ecosystem that give life to that enviable corner of the world, which excites and fires up the imagination of pleasure-seeking tourists from around the world. 

Despite the observable and measurable climate change, the greed-driven recklessness to make Goa a tourist destination ostensibly to generate revenue (which assuredly benefits a few of the powerful) is flabbergasting. Is there, among the political class and policy makers, a smidgen of conscience that would awaken them to the greater good of society?

It is rather mindboggling to observe how our sensibilities and aesthetics are colonized by the glitter of a certain Disney-fication. The beholden policymakers, the petty politicians, the notorious ‘builders/developers’ and the shameless money-laundering class have no compunction to defang, declaw and strip mother nature and convert it into a saccharine storybook version of itself in return for some silvery coins. Could they re-imagine a wholesome progressive economy by embracing nature and not defacing it? 

Why do the good netizens of Goa not get outraged by the brutal mauling of the very thing that makes Goa the cradle of human sanity? Is tourism the only source of revenue for Goa? May be Singapore would fire up our imagination… Perhaps the impending persistent flooding at every corner of Goa when the rainy skies cough up a bit would wake the policy makers? Perhaps a vehicular tragedy involving a prominent son or daughter of the reigning political class, God forbid, will awaken the calcified consciences and the ossified minds.  After all – what is ‘Progress’? 

Tourism economy is a greed-driven enterprise. Let us promote a responsible travel economy.


Idhar Udhar