MANY developing countries look to attract mass tourism to enhance their economy. For that matter they also note how developed countries encourage tourism as an economic must-have. In fact, some of them like Spain in the 1950’s and Thailand, decades after, have economically benefited in a big way by opening their doors to massive tourism.
Because modern tourism is now a case of hordes of tourists descending on countries of their destination, they are more likely than not to disrupt the social fabric if they impose themselves in their chosen way on their host countries. Think of foreigners going nude at our beaches because they can do so on theirs. Or, looking for a drug supply as they travel. Think of sex tourism, rowdy behavior of young tourists looking to be risky and risqué. Meanwhile, note how host countries and their locals begin to cater and join in behavior alien and unacceptable to their own culture. True, this is looking at the negative dimension of tourism.
The positive part is infrastructure development, job creation, tax revenues and general country development. But even here it can reach the Law of Diminishing Returns.
In truth, tourism as it is today, which means a massive inflow of aliens into a foreign society, is a double-edged sword. There are many factors that must be considered and controlled to manage it well enough so that the positive effects predominate and the negative effects are kept to a minimum.
Carrying capacity, sanitation, basic services, preservation of native culture, respect for a country ‘s history and character, minimum disruption of the host country ‘s daily life have to be considered.
One country with a formerly closed society for its physical isolation opened itself to tourism under controlled conditions which has successfully enhanced its economy, respected its culture and had a minimum negative impact (if at all) on its social fabric. This country is Bhutan, located at the foot of the Himalayas. It is an ancient kingdom difficult to reach as it is mountainous and distant. Obviously this was not too difficult to manage for geographic and social conditions (a kingdom). However, the idea of accepting tourists on its own terms, terms that are positive for itself, was a creative breakthrough in managing tourism. Bhutan controls the number of tourists it admits for which a substantial entrance fee is demanded. Thus, there are no backpackers, drifters, foreigners running away from the law or looking to establish themselves and their values permanently. There is a limit of a two week stay and if a tourist wants to stay longer, permission must be sought and granted.
The above is the ideal but not practical anywhere else. But certain lessons can be learned from this way of controlling tourism. Carrying capacity for one. In Hong Kong the invasion of hordes of mainland China tourists who clog streets, stores and the limited public spaces has virtually caused riots from the locals whose daily life is disrupted enough to relegate the business these tourists bring to a secondary consideration.
In Spain, the incoming mayor of Barcelona ran on a platform that includes controlling tourism which has become so massive that more and more buildings are being turned into hotels turning out local residents, razing old buildings not suitable for tourist activity, causing traffic and slowly changing the character of a proud, ancient city that has reached modernity and that had a diverse economy into a tourist destination that threatens its character and its social fabric.
And what about us? Tourism, both local and foreign is devouring tourist destinations like Boracay and Baguio and Tagaytay to the point of going beyond their carrying facilities. Basic services, the environment, the welfare of their residents are under pressure. Life is no longer pleasant. Sightseeing and enjoying the environment is hardly viable when hordes are causing traffic, demanding accommodations, pressuring basic services. Moreover, in the course of massive invasion the character of the place is converted to something else, alien and uninviting. It can only end with more negative than positive effects.
Local government officials and our national tourism authority should put on their thinking caps on this matter soon or we will have a spoiled paradise in this beautiful country that Creation and history have granted us. Let us not sell our birthright for a dish of pottage.