Introduction: Tourism in the Global Land Grab Debate

Purpose of the book

Tourism has arguably become one of the most important economic sectors globally and has been particularly hard hit by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has wiped out millions of jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry around the globe. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism sector in 2019 accounted for 10.3 per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and one in ten jobs worldwide (WTTC, 2020). The World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) reported that 393 million more people travelled internationally for tourism between 2008 and 2017 (UNWTO, 2018). In 2019, international tourist arrivals reached the mark of

1.5 billion (UNWTO, 2020).

Tourism is often depicted as an activity that provides enormous benefits to host countries and local communities in the form of employment, foreign exchange, preservation of natural and cultural heritage, and intercultural exchange. The World Tourism Organization claims that tourism has the potential to contribute directly or indirectly to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed upon by United Nations members states in 2015 (UNWTO, 2018). Tourism has been specifically included as targets in SDG 8 “Decent Work and Economic Growth”, SDG 12 “Responsible Production and Consumption”, and SDG 14 “Life Below Water: Sustainable Use of Oceans and Marine Resources” (UNWTO, 2015). The tourism sector has even been labelled as the world’s ‘peace industry’ (D’Amore, 2009; WTTC, 2016), hence it also lays claim to addressing SDG 16 “Peace, Security and Strong Institutions”.

Recently, the Chengdu Declaration on Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals made the bold statement that

tourism is a vital instrument for the achievement of the 17 SDGs and beyond as it can stimulate inclusive economic growth, create jobs, attract investment, fight poverty, enhance the livelihood of local communities, promote the empowerment of women and youth, protect cultural heritage, preserve terrestrial and marine ecosystems and biodiversity, support the fight against climate change, and ultimately contribute to the necessary transition of societies towards greater sustainability.

(UNWTO, 2018, p. 37)

This glamorous representation of tourism omits the fact that the industry has also played a major role in the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous communities, ethnic minorities and the urban poor, entrenched resource conflicts, ecological destruction, and socio-economic inequality in many host countries, particularly in the so-called ‘developing world’, hereafter referred to as the Global South (e.g. Gurtner, 2016; Farmaki, 2017; Neef and Grayman, 2018). Contemporary tourism practices have been traced back to colonialism and imperialism, while tourism’s controversial entanglements with class, gender, race, and even war and militarism have also been highlighted (Pritchard et al., 2007; Weaver, 2011; Kahrl, 2012; Gonzalez, 2013; Lisle, 2016).

This book examines the global scope of tourism-related grabbing of land and other natural resources and its diverse expressions and mechanisms, for instance, by enclosing territories, displacing communities and destroying livelihood opportunities. It tries to explain why tourism has often remained ‘under the radar’ in the global land grab debate and will argue that it is time to consider tourism as an extractive industry and to acknowledge that tourism practices can adversely affect the rights of legitimate owners and users of land and resources in a variety of ways. It aims to expose the most important drivers, actors, mechanisms and impacts of tourism-related land and resources grabbing. The book does not claim that tourism-related land grabs have been non-existent in countries of the so-called ‘Global North’. In his fascinating book The Land Was Ours: A frican American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South, Andrew W. Kahrl (2012) provides a rich archival portrait of the racialised struggles over black-owned beaches and coastal resort ownership and how these transformed property relations, communities and ecosystems along the southern seaboard of the United States. Yet the major focus of the studies presented in this book is the tourism sector in the ‘Global South’, where most of the contemporary empirical studies on tourism-related land and resource grabbing have been conducted and where local communities - both Indigenous and non-indigenous — have proven to be particularly vulnerable to infringements on their customary and/or legally acknowledged land, resource and housing rights.

The objective of this book is to raise awareness among experts and practitioners in the field of tourism and land rights, including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), political decision makers, national tourism services, and tourism businesses along the supply chain (from international travel advisors, national tourism offices and local travel agencies to tour operators and hoteliers). The publication shall provide solid grounds for an informed debate on how different actors are responsible for the adverse impacts of tourism on land rights infringements, how they can proactively avoid land grabs and displacements and how those who have violated local land and resource rights can be held accountable. The book also examines some of the existing international human rights frameworks as well as voluntary guidelines and corporate codes of conduct.

The following section will discuss tourism-related land grabs in the context of the global rush for land and natural resources. Then, gaps in the study of land grabbing and displacement in the wider ‘tourism and development’ and ‘critical tourism studies’ literature will be examined, followed by an exploration of the global scope and local contexts of tourism-related land grabs and displacement. The chapter will also explain the research design, discuss the case selection and provide the analytical framework. The final section will give an overview of the book’s structure.

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