Global scope and local contexts for tourism-related land grabs
In the 2010s, the highest tourism growth rates were recorded for the so-called Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and nearly all of them - 46 out of 50
LDCs — depend on tourism as their primary source of foreign exchange earnings (Becken, 2014). Sixteen out of the 20 fastest growing travel and tourism economies in 2018 were countries in the Global South (WTTC, 2019). Yet, most of these countries are post-colonial states and many are also post-conflict nations where land governance systems have remained relatively weak and are often incoherent due to overlaps between legal regimes stemming from colonial times, Western-style land reforms undertaken by post-colonial governments and customary land tenure systems. Investors from the Global North as well as domestic political and economic elites can use such weaknesses and incoherencies in national legal frameworks to pursue their own economic agendas through tourism, often at the expense of indigenous communities, ethnic minorities, smallholder peasants, artisanal fisherfolks and other marginalised groups that lack voice in national development debates.
Illegitimate or unethical land transfers for tourism development often take place in countries that are marked by significant power differentials between actors and where host governments do not necessarily act to protect weaker groups within society (Price, 2015). A common argument that has been made that many developing countries suffer from insufficient law enforcement by the public sector which allows land grabbing in the tourism sector to occur (e.g., Ojo, 2013). Yet, in many cases, national legal frameworks in the Global South have been designed to promote domestic and foreign direct investment in tourism, to facilitate land transactions and even to make it easier for governments to drive local communities off their land (cf. Neef, 2016).
Few countries have provided a strong protective framework for customary rights to natural resources. In some countries, such as India and Indonesia, new land acquisition laws have been established that - on paper — provide better protection of vulnerable groups, e.g. by making social impact assessments mandatory (Price, 2018). Yet, there are exceptions where the new laws do not apply. Indonesia’s Law 2/2012 on Land Acquisitions in the Public Interest, for instance, does not apply when the land needed for investment in the public interest is located in a forest area or when a local or national government institution wants to acquire land that is smaller than five hectares, which may be sufficient for a small tourism zone or a new sports stadium (Bakker and Reerink, 2015). Little is known about the real impact of how such new and seemingly progressive land acquisition acts are implemented, but there is anecdotal evidence that these laws have actually sped up the land acquisition process instead of leading to more participation and more effective protection of the land rights of local communities (cf. Chapter 9 for the case of greenfield airport development in Goa, India).
In some countries, progressive policies that adopt international human rights principles have yet to be incorporated into a comprehensive national legal framework. For example, the Sri Lankan Cabinet approved a National Involuntary Resettlement Policy in 2001 that was modelled on international bestpractice safeguard guidelines but did not provide any legal instruments to implement it (Price, 2015). This opened the door to widespread evictions of local communities by the Sri Lankan military for tourism development over the past decade (cf. Chapter 6).
Another key contextual factor of tourism-related land grabbing is that the tourism sector is extremely diverse, fragmented and non-transparent. For example, in many countries targeted by the tourism industry, property rights may change hands several times after the construction of tourism premises. Also, ownership of the built infrastructure may be different from property to the land. This makes it easier for investors to undermine international human rights laws and more difficult for national and local government bodies to regulate the sector and protect local communities from land rights violations caused by corporate activities (IHRB and Tourism Concern, 2012).
Debates about tourism-related land grabs have often placed particular emphasis on how the rights of Indigenous peoples are being affected by the tourism sector. Yet rights infringements do also affect non-indigenous peoples that are even less protected under international human rights frameworks (cf. Chapter 11). This will become particularly evident in the case studies from Cambodia (Chapter 3), Philippines (Chapter 3), Costa Rica (Chapter 4) and Sri Lanka (Chapter 6), where non-indigenous communities have also seen their land and resource rights violently withdrawn or slowly eroded through tourism actors at government and corporate levels.
Finally, an important contextual factor of land grabs by the tourism industry in the Global South relates to the common lack of legal literacy among the affected communities. Many groups (1) have very limited knowledge of the official legal and judicial system, (2) have a conception of resource ownership that differs markedly from western understandings of land and resource property, (3) lack the financial, technical and political capacity to challenge land rights infringements, and (4) are often unaware of who they should report their grievances to.