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

TWN banner

 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%.

Panamá Canal Ready for El Niño in 2019

In October 2018, the Panamá Canal Authority gave notice that its lakes were ready for the possible arrival in early 2019 of the El Niño effect. El Niño is a climatic phenomenon associated with the warming and movement of ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean. In Central America the phenomenon can cause severe droughts.

The two lakes which supply the canal with water are Lakes Gatún and Alhajuela which at the end of 2018 were almost at their maximum capacity.

Experts predict that El Niño will not extend beyond the month of May in 2019 and that its effects will be light. The month of November generally marks the highest lake levels on account of the high levels of rainfall during October and November. May generally marks the end of the dry season in Panamá.

The Authority is sensitive to the levels of water and their effects on the Canal because in 2016, when the effects of El Niño were much stronger, they had to impose a limitation of vessel draught.

Around 6 per cent of world trade passes through the Canal and every time a boat passes through its locks, it requires 202,000 cubic meters of water.

A map and longitudinal section of the canal are shown as a separate item in the website immediately following this brief explanation.

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).


Initiatives to protect Belize sea life show good results; but threats remain a worry

Summary prepared by Pamela Machado (Pamela Machado is a Brazilian student of journalism in London)

October 2017

Belize’s coral reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, shows strong signs of resilience as corals keep growing despite environmental threats and damages from tourism and man-made activities.

A restoration project in Laughing Bird Caye, southern Belize, has succeeded in giving hope to threatened marine species, reports the Guardian1. Despite survival pressures caused by external environmental factors, 90% of sea life has survived and is thriving, marking the endeavour as “the most impressive coral restoration effort in the Caribbean”. The project is led by a grassroots group born from the efforts of fishermen, tour guides, environmentalists and scientists.

Another step to keep marine creatures safe was taken early this October by the government of Belize when it announced the inauguration of the world’s first ray sanctuary. The waters of Belize are home to more than 20 species of rays, according to Florida International University2, whose scientists’ research inspired the creation of the sanctuary.

Due to an unhealthy environment – a result of the combination of climate change effects, overfishing and habitat loss, rays are threatened with extinction, with some species being critically endangered, such as the smalltooth sawfish and Ticon cownose rays. “I was surprised to hear how threatened rays are globally and decided that Belize could be a good global citizen by protecting them,” said Belize Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade.

Regardless of the efforts from authorities and independent groups, numbers are far from representing an ideal scenario for environmental protection and preservation of the ecosystem in the waters of the reef. Laughing Bird Caye, for instance, although declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996, entered the danger list in 2009.

Initiatives such as restoration projects and sanctuaries can only do so much in protecting their fauna and flora. Finding a healthy balance between human intervention and nature’s own pace can be a challenge, particularly in a country where preserving nature is also an important source of economic earnings. Approximately half of the Belizean population depends on activities such as snorkelling, diving and fishing – which come mainly from tourism.

The increasing levels of pollution and water contamination are causing fleshy macro algae to flourish excessively, impeding the further growth of corals. On top of that, oil extraction, poor law enforcement and construction of hotel resorts around the reef could be factors holding back the development of sea life in the future. If so far actions to preserve the reef ecosystem have been thriving, the growing exploration of and other pressures on these resources leave uncertainty on how long a sustainable balance can be kept.

1 Nina Lakhani, The Guardian, 22 August 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/22/belize-coral-reefs-improving-grassroots-restoration

2 Florida International University, 4 October 2017 https://news.fiu.edu/2017/10/belize-to-create-worlds-first-ray-sanctuary-guided-by-global-finprint/115920


The danger of biodiversity offsetting

The following press release from Friends of the Earth UK refers specifically to the situation within the UK and case studies within the UK. It is given here because of the danger of the use of biodiversity offsetting on an international stage, especially in relation to the rich biodiversity in Central America.

FOE Press release: Offsetting is a massive threat to wildlife, warn environment groups
Monday, June 2, 2014 – 10:57

Biodiversity offsetting is already being used by developers to justify schemes that will cause irreversible harm to nature, warn over 15 environment groups across the world today (Monday 2 June 2014), ahead of a major biodiversity offsetting conference in London this week.

It comes as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is soon to decide on controversial plans to allow developers to destroy precious wildlife habitat, provided there is an attempt to offset the damage elsewhere.

Such schemes are known as biodiversity offsetting, and FERN and Friends of the Earth are concerned that its introduction could allow developers to push through projects that would have devastating impacts on irreplaceable habitats and our wildlife.

New evidence published today by Friends of the Earth and FERN identifies a number of cases around the UK where offsetting is already being proposed by developers. This evidence and the accompanying photographs will be showcased in a public meeting in London tonight organised by environment groups from around the world.

One such case is Smithy Wood, near Sheffield, an ancient woodland much loved by local people, which is now threatened by a motorway service station. The developer has proposed planting new trees and improving management of another woodland to offset the damage, but local campaigners say they would still lose a forest that it would take 850 years to re-establish.

Friends of the Earth Nature Campaigner Sandra Bell said:

“Developers are already gearing up to use biodiversity offsetting to bulldoze some of our most precious wildlife sites.

“There is no clear evidence that biodiversity offsetting works – attempts abroad have frequently ended in failure.

“Owen Paterson should stop gambling with our green and pleasant land, abandon his ill-conceived offsetting plans and give UK nature the protection it so sorely needs.”

FERN Biodiversity Offsetting Campaigner Hannah Mowat said:

“Offsetting is already weakening the UK’s planning laws and exposing nature to new threats.

“The EU – which is considering similar legislation – should watch closely before going further.

“Together we can prevent offsetting from creating chaos and upsetting nature laws across Europe.”

Notes to editor
1. Case studies and photos are available in the biodiversity offsetting evidence published by Friends of the Earth and FERN:
2. Campaigners and biodiversity experts will gather this evening (Monday 2 Jun 2014) in a venue in Regent’s Park for an open meeting to discuss the problems with offsetting schemes in the UK and overseas http://naturenotforsale.org/. Photos of offsets from around the world will be exhibited. http://photos.criticalcollective.org/index.php?module=media&pId=100&category=gallery/exhibition
3. The conference ‘To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond’ will take place on 3 and 4 June. It is hosted by BBOP, an organisation committed to biodiversity offsetting along the ZSL, Defra and Forest Trends http://bbop.forest-trends.org/events/no-net-loss/ Isaac Rojas from Friends of the Earth International and Hannah Mowat from FERN will be speaking in a plenary session on Tuesday 3 June 2014 to offer an alternative to the pro-offsetting perspective being promoted at the conference.

Friends of the Earth
26-28 Underwood Street
N1 7JQ

URL: http://www.foe.co.uk

Reproduced by kind permission of Friends of the Earth UK