Tinkering with ‘sustainable or eco-tourism’ hides the real face of tourism

By Anita Pleumarom (Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team) and Chee Yoke Ling (Third World Network)

Reproduced here by kind permission of Anita Pleumarom, Chee Yoke Ling and the Third World Network – www.twn.my

The United Nations committed a substantial error when it proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.  Despite its pronouncements of tourism being a positive force for economic development and poverty eradication, tourism is inept at meeting the challenge of implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Like no other industry, tourism promotes – and glamorizes – a hyper-mobile and hyper-consumeristic lifestyle, rendering sustainability elusive. In fact, most tourism development is fraught with negatives including gross inequalities, human rights violations, cultural erosion, environmental degradation and climate instability (1).

Recent research is particularly alarming in terms of tourism’s contribution to climate change, primarily due to the high energy use for transport such as air travel. Based on a new global tourism emissions model, global tourism is set to emit some 300 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2015 and 2100, which is 30 percent of the global carbon budget for sustainable development (2). It is preposterous to allocate so much of this budget to tourism, instead of meeting the acute energy needs of billions of people around the world. Meanwhile, tourism alternatives such as ‘green’ or ‘eco’-tourism can also be problematic. Not only do they usually depend on long-haul flights that drive climate change, they also tend to penetrate fragile ecosystems and Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands, triggering both biodiversity loss and culture loss.

Tourism as a major source of financial leakage is well documented (3). Since it is frequently large foreign companies that either initiate or take over commercially successful tourism projects, the domestic retention and distribution of tourism benefits has a very poor record; profits are generally repatriated to corporate headquarters and shareholders abroad. A particular characteristic of tourism in this age of neoliberal globalisation is that it is closely intertwined with the finance and real estate industries. Ground evidence shows that vast tracts of public land are being privatized and acquired by foreign investors for luxury tourism – plus tourism-related residential, commercial and mega-infrastructure developments (e.g. ‘aerotropolis’, or airport cities) – resulting in displacement and disempowerment of local people. The radically de-regulated business environment spawns price hikes and speculation, posing high risks to local economies, ways of life and community social structures.

The nature and conceptualisation of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) does not allow for it to adequately deal with the unsustainable and unjust patterns of tourism. Originally formed as a business organisation, the UNWTO remains industry-controlled and industry-oriented, and its critics do not regard it as a responsible UN agency acting for the common good. In synchrony with the global tourism and travel industry, it continues to aggressively campaign for further tourism growth despite the fact that much of contemporary tourism is antithetical to sustainable development and most of the tourism-related goods and services are luxuries that can only be enjoyed by the world’s minority. Even if some improvements can be achieved in tourism through better regulation and management as well as increased incentives for ecologically sustainable activities (alleged ‘eco’-tourism among them), it is clear that the gains made will be negligible in the context of the continued growth of the tourism industry at large, as forecast and aspired by the UNWTO. Instead of down-scaling the inflated tourism sector and effectively engaging in harm avoidance, the UNWTO sends a wrong message to the public: that ‘sustainable (eco)tourism’ is the solution and needs to grow without barriers for the benefit of us all.

Actually, steering tourism policy and practice towards more sustainability requires first and foremost correcting the unjust economic structures and power relations that drive tourism development. It is also necessary to put in place laws and regulations that effectively protect local citizens and communities from harmful tourism, including mechanisms that require travel and tourism businesses to compensate for social losses and to clean up the damage they created. Clear transparent, accessible processes for accountability are needed, which empower people(s) to monitor and hold governments, financial institutions, development agencies and the private sector engaging in tourism  accountable for their actions.

Rather than aiming at further tourism expansion, other more sustainable economic activities should be developed, particularly in small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) that heavily rely on tourism – which not only must contend with the volatility of tourism (e.g. due to international financial/economic crises, acts of violence, extreme weather events, natural disasters and pandemics), but also are endangered by tourism-induced climate change.  This is a major undertaking that the international community must assist with, for the transition of those economies and health of their populations.



(1) Third World Network, ‘Global Tourism Growth: Remedy of Ruin?’, TWR, Sept./Oct 2015, http://www.twn.my/title2/resurgence/2015/301-302.htm

(2) Sustainability Leaders Interview: Paul Peeters on Tourism, Aviation and Climate Change, 8 June 2016, http://sustainability-leaders.com/interview-paul-peeters-on-tourism-aviation-climate-change/

(3) Pleumarom, A., ‘Tourism – a driver of inequality and displacement’, TWR, Sept./Oct 2015, http://www.twn.my/title2/resurgence/2015/301-302/cover01.htm

This article can be downloaded from Third World Network’s website at: www.twn.my/tour.htm

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 The article is based on a chapter entitled ‘Corporate capture subverts production and consumption transformation’ by Chee Yoke Ling, published in Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2016: Report by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 11 July 2016, pp.94-100  

The full report as well as single chapters of it can be downloaded at: https://www.2030spotlight.org/

Remittances to El Salvador and Nicaragua in 2018

El Economista (17 December 2018) reports that remittances received in El Salvador between January and November 2018 increased by 8.7% in comparison with the same period in 2017, and amounted to more than US$4,900 million [US dollars], according to the Central Reserve Bank (BCR).

In these ten months the country received remittances from 160 countries, at the head of which was the US with US$4,602.4 million, followed by the European Union and Canada with US$46.8 million and US$43.8 million respectively.

The 2.8 million Salvadorans who live in the United States sent a major part of the US$5,021.3 million in remittances which El Salvador received in 2017, this being the highest figure in history for the Central American country.

Informe Pastrán (21 December 2018) reports that remittances received in Nicaragua during the third quarter of 2018 rose to US$372.8 million, an increase of 4.8 per cent compared with the same period in the previous year. Remittances up to and including the month of September 2018 amounted to US$1,097.4 million, a 7.6 per cent increase on the same period during 2017.

During the third quarter of 2018, the major origins of these remittances were the United States (55.4%), Costa Rica (19.4%), Spain (11.5%) and Panamá (5.3%).

The department of Managua continued to be the major recipient of the remittances (35.0%), with the department of Chinandega receiving 10.3%, León 8.2%, Estelí 8.0% and Matagalpa 7.0%.

Trump Ends TPS for Honduras

The following news about the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for many thousands of Central Americans living in the United States is adapted from a notification from the CISPES national office. (CISPES is the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – http://cispes.org/ )

Key words: temporary protected status (TPS); migration

Friday 4th May (2018) the Trump Administration announced its devastating but unsurprising decision to cancel Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 57,000 Hondurans following an 18 month grace period.

Demonstration against ending of TPS for Honduras

In the past year, the Department of Homeland Security has ended TPS for nearly every country to which it had previously been granted, bringing the total number of people who will lose their status to close to 400,000, including over 260,000 Salvadorans. Most Central Americans with TPS have lived here for over 20 years and are parents to U.S. citizens.

It should be evident that the ending of TPS could lead to a drastic increase in the number of deportees arriving back in Central American countries, especially El Salvador. The ramifications of such an influx of migrants would be felt in all walks of life including housing, employment and security.

 CISPES National Office
1525 Newton St. NW
Washington DC, 20010
(202) 521-2510

Remittances and migration – a possible Trump effect

Key words: remittances; migration; employment provision; social stability.

Sources within the BCIE (the Central American Bank of Economic Integration) have leaked their concerns about the possibility that US President Trump may tax the remittances not only of Mexican nationals residing in the USA to their families in Mexico, but may also extend this tax to nationals of all the Central American states. There are serious concerns that the currently untrumpeted intention to tax remittances to pay for the construction of the Border Wall with Mexico could seriously affect the economies of Central American states which include the remittance statistics in their currency reserve projections. The knock-on effect of such an action would be extra hardship suffered by all those families whose major money-earner works in the USA.


A related economic issue arises from the BCIE’s estimate that Honduras needs to create 140,000 jobs this year in order to match demographic projections to the employment requirements of the economy. The best case scenario, however, suggests that a maximum of only 100,000 jobs could be created. Clearly, this has implications for social stability which in turn also has implications for attempted migrations northwards to the USA.


The lion fish and fish diversity in two protected marine areas of the Caribbean Sea

By Martin Mowforth (Photo credits: Blue Ocean Network and Activist Angler).

Lion fish (Pterois volitans) are native to the Indo-Pacific, but are now established along the southeast coast of the U.S., the Caribbean, and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico. It is thought that their ‘invasion’ of these areas of sea over the last 25 years may have been due to humans dumping them at sea from their personal aquaria, although earlier reports that they escaped from one large, breached aquarium after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 are now thought to have been mistaken. They present a problem to many native fish as they are able to eat anything at least half of their own size on account of their extremely wide mouth and expandable stomach.

In 2016 the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) supported a programme of protection for young lobsters on whose growth many families of the indigenous Guna Indians depend (for both nutrition and finance) in and around the San Blas Islands off the Caribbean coast of Panamá. Through the local Centre for Environmental and Human Development (CENDAH), the Guna fishermen and lobster catchers devised a system of ‘casitas cubanas’ under which the young and adolescent lobsters could hide during the day when they would be vulnerable to prey by the lion fish. A report of the programme was given in ENCA 68 (November 2016).

Lion fish have few predators and they eat small crustaceans and fish, including the young of commercially valuable fish and, as the Guna have discovered, young and adolescent lobsters. Their potential danger is not restricted to fish species, but also relates to the health of the coral because they eat what are known as ‘grazers’ and ‘cleaners’ of the coral which eat the algae that grows over the reef. The presence of the grazers and cleaners keeps the algal levels low and allows the corals to get enough oxygen to survive and to spawn.

A paper by Cobián-Rojas and Schmitter-Soto (2018 in the International Journal of Tropical Biology) reports on the results of research with the title given above. The two protected marine areas in which the study was carried out were the Guanahacabibes National Park (Cuba) and the Xcalak Coral Reefs (Quintana Roo, Mexico); and the study carried out visual censuses of fish species in coral reef habitats during both dry and rainy seasons in 2013 to 2015.

In general, the results showed a greater wealth of species in the Cuban protected area than in the Mexican area. The species diversity was shown to decrease in only one census site in Cuba and in two sites in the Mexican area, although it is posited that this may have been due to fishing activity rather than to the lion fish. It was further posited that the effects of the lion fish on species diversity may not yet be detected.

Tourism, repression and racism against the Garífuna of Honduras

For all those interested in the mechanics of accumulation by dispossession, I recommend a reading of the following article at:

Garífuna People Face Tourism Repression in Honduras


The article includes two video clips showing the eviction of Garífuna people from their village of Barra Vieja by a force of army and police personnel for the sake of the expansion of the Indura Hilton development. It is a threatening and sobering view of how so-called ‘development’ is carried out.



The article first appeared in the WilderUtopia website and

WilderUtopia is dedicated to the question of Earth sustainability, finding society-level solutions to environmental, community, economic, transportation and energy needs. Our frame is Wilderness and its wildlife. Our endgame is Utopia: stabilizing ecologic relations through urban planning and design. We celebrate world culture and literary expression, and our inspiration sources from indigenous myth and storytelling, as well as the rituals and traditions of the many peoples on the planet.

WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other.

Mass turtle deaths

Around 300 endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles were found dead and floating off Mexico’s southern coast in August. This follows a similar die-off close to Jiquilisco Bay on the coast of El Salvador in November 2017.

It is thought that the most recent case may be due to asphyxiation, fish hooks or harmful algae, but the matter is still under investigation. In the earlier case of the Jiquilisco die-off, the turtles are believed to have died in what is known as a ‘red tide’, in which nutrients or chemical runoff causes toxic algae to bloom, releasing deadly compounds into the water.

The articles in the following links give further details about both die-off events.



Trends in the approval / disapproval of El Gran Canal

News of the proposed Gran Canal went quiet over the last few months of 2016 and the first few months of 2017. It is open for debate and speculation whether this might be due to:

  • The decline in the fortune of Wang Jing, owner of the HKND company which has the canal concession; or
  • The Sandinista government’s stated policy that all the environmental impact analyses have to be finished before work can begin; or
  • The Chinese government putting the project on hold as a reward to Panama for cutting off its links with Taiwan; or
  • The current lack of attraction to international financial investment, made especially precarious because of Trump’s commitment to protectionism.

Which of these ‘theories’ holds any degree of truth I do not know, but later this year when more of the second series of environmental impact analyses are reported, we may gain a better understanding of the issues.

In the meantime, in April this year (2017) La Prensa (Managua) reported on an M&R poll of Nicaraguan attitudes to the canal project.

M&R poll: 71% still support the Canal

From: La Prensa (Managua) | By: Leonor Álvarez | 24/04/2017 | Translated by ENCA supporter Theodora Bradford

Approval of the Interoceanic Canal project has fallen since the project was announced in 2013, according to the results of a survey of 1,600 Nicaraguans, by M & R Consultants. The survey corresponds to the first quarter of this year. It was carried out face to face between the 17th of February and the 24th of April of this year, in the 15 departments and two autonomous regions of the country. It has an error margin of more or less 2.5 percent and a confidence level of 95 percent.

Since December 2013, when the pollster, led by Raúl Obregón, began to ask about the Canal project, disapproval has grown by 16.3 percent. In December 2013, disapproval was at 12.1 percent; in December 2014, 17.1; in June 2015, 21.4 percent; in December 2015, 17.4 percent; in March 2016 26.4 percent; in December 2016, 19.4 and in April 2017, 28.4 percent.

In the most recent poll, 63.4 percent of interviewees said they believed that the Canal project would go ahead if studies determined it to be feasible, while 31.9 percent responded that it was ‘unrealistic’ and that there would be no canal. Some 4.8 percent said they didn’t know or didn’t respond.

On the 22nd of April, campesinos mobilised against the Bill for the Interoceanic Canal (Law 840) called for a national march in Juigalpa, Chontales, that was obstructed by the National Police.

According to official information, the construction of the Canal would involve the investment of 50,000 million dollars to be completed in five years. Canal critics have pointed out that this would affect the natural reserves that stand in the way of the canal route and have also made the analysis that the concession law hands sovereignty over to the Chinese businessman.

Tourism in Nicaragua Takes a Hit

By Martin Mowforth

Article in ENCA 74, November 2018

Despite the very best efforts of Anasha Campbell, Co-Director of Nicaragua’s Tourism Institute (INTUR), it is clear that the rising star of the Nicaraguan economy – tourism – has been dealt a huge blow by the crisis caused by the anti-government protests since April this year. In August the Tortilla Con Sal blog published an interview with Campbell in which she failed to make even one explicit reference to the protests or their effects on the country’s tourism industry.

It is of course understandable that the INTUR and its officers should try to amplify their claims of an attractive and rapidly expanding industry – that’s precisely what it was before the troubles began in April. In fact it had already gained an enviable reputation and was fast overtaking all other sources of foreign income in the country. But it was rather disingenuous to try to hide the devastating effects of the crisis on the industry – although, to be fair, what the blog published was probably only a small proportion of the whole interview.

By the end of August most of the road blocks or barricades had been dismantled and movement around the country was once again possible. (Incidentally, that did not indicate that the troubles had come to an end.) Associated Press reported that the tourism sector had “become Nicaragua’s top source of foreign currency in the past two years,” but had shed as many as 70,000 jobs as a result of the protests. Revenue at hotels and restaurants fell by 45 per cent in June compared to 2017, according to Nicaragua’s Central Bank, whilst construction fell by 35 per cent and retail 27 per cent.

El Economista reported that the National Chamber of Tourism (Canatur) had estimated a $400 million loss in tourism compared with 2017. Canatur’s study calculated that 83 per cent of tourism companies had reduced their services by at least 30 per cent, and that since the start of the protests more than 60,000 people had been laid off in the tourism sector along with 16,000 reduced to part-time work.

Within three months of the start of the protests, the city of León’s most up-market hotel, El Convento, had been forced to close for lack of guests. Similarly in La Concha, the Spanish School and Eco-Hotel La Mariposa (http://mariposaspanishschool.com/) also had to close, although it is good news to hear that they have now re-opened for bookings. Towards the end of August, the first cruise ship to call for three months docked off San Juan del Sur. Around the same time, Nicaraguan tourism businesses asked foreign governments to change their travel advisories which strongly advised travellers not to visit Nicaragua.

There may be the initial signs of recovery, but these are small and the country now has a long way to go to reach the dizzy heights of the previous season. More importantly for many people who lost their jobs in tourism during the crisis, there may be some small hope that a recovery of the industry will create anew their jobs. But it is highly unlikely that the recovery will be rapid – a reputation will not be rebuilt overnight; although as we have seen, it can be lost overnight.


  • Alliance for Global Justice (22 August 2018), NicaNotes – Briefs: ‘Cruise ship ‘Crystal Symphony’ arrives in San Juan del Sur’ and ‘Tourism businesses ask foreign government to lift travel alerts’.
  • Associated Press (11 September 2018), ‘Months of deadly unrest devastate Nicaragua’s economy’
  • El Economista (20 September 2018), ‘Nicaragua dejará de percibir $400 millones en turismo por crisis’.
  • La Mariposa (September 2018), ‘Closure of La Mariposa’, La Mariposa e-list communication.
  • La Mariposa (4 October 2018), ‘We are taking a risk, but let’s make it work for everyone – we are now open’, La Mariposa e-list communication.
  • teleSur (25 August 2018), ‘Tourism, Democracy and Development in Nicaragua’, an interview by Tortilla Con Sal with Anasha Campbell, co-director of Nicaragua’s Tourism Institute.
  • United States Department of State (12 September 2018), Travel Advisory for Nicaragua.

The interoceanic canal – comment by John Perry

John Perry

August 2017

For her recent trip to Nicaragua, Bianca Jagger probably didn’t pack her favourite shoes (Miu Miu boots with diamanté heels). She joined a protest march against the interoceanic canal planned to cross the south of the country, calling it ‘an insane project.’ Amnesty International claims Nicaragua’s government ‘secretly sold the country’s future to the highest bidder.’ The Guardian says the canal has ‘provoked a mix of anger, fear and defiance not witnessed since the civil war between the Sandinista government and US-backed Contra rebels ended in 1988.’ Global Witness has declared Nicaragua the world’s most dangerous place per capita for environmental activists. Francisca Ramírez, leader of the anti-canal protests, told them: ‘The only response we have had is the bullet.’ (Global Witness’s report mixes coverage of the canal protests with reports on deaths in land disputes in an entirely different part of Nicaragua.)

Despite being one of the poorest countries in Latin America, Nicaragua is also one of the safest. An opinion polls show more than 70% support for the canal. It would create 50,000 jobs in a country which will add over 350,000 to its working-age population in the next five years. Nicaragua’s growth rate is 4-5%, but the government believes it needs to be 8-10% if extreme poverty is to end.

The environmental challenges are enormous. They focus on the use of Lake Nicaragua as part of the canal’s route. It’s a large but shallow inland sea, which will have to be dredged to create a wide shipping channel, with uncertain effects on its ecology. On the other hand, the canal’s need to capture rainfall will require a massive tree-planting programme. The government argues that only the canal will provide the resources needed to protect the country’s vanishing forests. ERM, the British firm that did the environmental impact study, concludes that the project could ‘create lasting benefits for biodiversity.’

It’s also estimated that 30,000 people will lose their land (Amnesty says the real figure is 119,000). About 100 of these accompanied Jagger and Ramírez as they led the latest protest march. Organisers say it would have been bigger but for police holding up those intending to join in. Ramírez says her family is constantly threatened. Nevertheless, she’s managed to organise 91 marches so far, fully reported by the opposition media.

The irony is that the canal might never go ahead. It’s a direct competitor to the recently widened Panama Canal, 1,000 kilometres to the south-east. But it will be almost four times its length, requiring ships to lay up overnight or navigate in the dark. The transit costs will be a lot higher than the $450,000 a large ship might pay for a two-way crossing of Panama. The government says that HKND, the Chinese firm which holds the concession, is still carrying out 26 follow-up studies recommended by ERM, hence the delay. But the press in China thinks the project has already been ditched in favour of a massive new container port in Panama. None of the investors required to fund the $50 billion projected cost have yet been named.

The sudden international interest in a scheme that seems to be stalled is a mystery, and comes at a worrying time for Daniel Ortega’s government. Despite its excellent record on drugs and crime, it was excluded from the June conference on prosperity and security in Central America, addressed by the US vice-president. The US ambassador warns that sanctions are in prospect because of Ortega’s support for Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, ignoring the fact that Venezuela funds many of the country’s anti-poverty programmes. In the US senate, the right-wing Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is sponsoring the NICA Act, which would oblige the US to oppose funding for Nicaragua by international institutions. Even though the US now provides very little direct aid, it would be forced to block international loans and even World Bank projects that improve access to health services and strengthen land rights. Vanity Fair says Bianca Jagger is devoted to social justice. The danger is that reports from international NGOs and their attendant hype encourage the Trump administration to take action that worsens social justice in Nicaragua, rather than imp

UN Green Climate Fund awards $36 million to El Salvador

From: El Economista, 19 October 2018.

The Green Climate Fund is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is designed to assist developing countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change and to mitigate its effects. In October, the Fund awarded $35.8 million (USD) to El Salvador for a project to address climate change.

The project is entitled ‘Upgrading of climatic resilience in agroecosystems of the dry corridor of El Salvador’ – Reclima by its Spanish initials. It is designed to strengthen the climatic resilience of farmers who face the growing risks of increasing temperatures, irregular rains and other events attributable to variations in the climate.

The project will be supported by the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).