Tourism-related land grabs: Actors, drivers and discourses

The tourism industry is not easy to define, as it is a large, complex and multidimensional assemblage of actors many of which would not even see themselves as being part of the industry (Mason, 2016). Major actors that may be directly or indirectly involved in tourism-related land grabs and displacement are host governments with their tourism ministries, agencies and accompanying security apparatuses, transnational tourism corporations, particularly large hotel chains, international tour operators, international financial institutions, commercial banks, sovereign wealth funds, private equity firms and international conservation organisations. Their motives can range from generation of economic growth, job creation, rural development and corporate profits to political stability, crisis recovery, resource conservation and the replacement of livelihoods that are deemed backward, illicit or environmentally destructive. Appropriation and enclosure of land and other natural resources at the expense of Indigenous communities, ethnic minority groups and other local communities are justified through the deployment of various discursive strategies.

The following section presents major actors related to the tourism sector and their motivation to get involved in the appropriation of land, enclosure of areas of touristic interest and the physical and economic displacement of rightful landowners. The second section examines the various discourses that are deployed by diverse sets of actors to legitimise the appropriation of land and other resources for tourism purposes.

Actors and drivers

In a very broad sense, tourism development and associated land grabs, dispossession and displacement in the Global South are driven by a combination of‘excess capital’ and ‘excessive mobilities’ (Gibson, 2019). To this combination, we may also add excessive corporate power and excessive use of state force in its various forms. Transnational and domestic corporate interests merge with state power and international development actors, such as multilateral development banks, to “develop novel means to secure monopolies, contain tourists and capture profits” (Gibson, 2019, p. 4). Referring to Harvey’s (1989) concept of time-space compression, Mowforth and Munt (2016) have explained how the logic of capital accumulation and circulation drives the rapid spread and expansion of tourism in the Global South.

Operating at different levels - from international to national and local — drivers of tourism-related land grabs are complex and multi-dimensional and involve a myriad of actors. Tourism is a central strategy of economic growth pursued by many governments in the Global South which prioritise attracting foreign capital for tourism development. Yet, as Hall et al. (2015) remind us, the question of whether nation states in the Global South should be considered as ‘host countries’ of foreign investors - i.e. as direct sponsors of land grabs through joint tourism ventures or indirect sponsors through the provision of key infrastructure and security — or whether they are more appropriately regarded as ‘target countries’ that are too weak to defend themselves against foreign tourism investors is not always easy to answer. States are not homogenous entities but composed of various institutions, agencies and factions that may have competing interests and different levels of influence on decisionmaking processes. However, by and large, most developing country governments tend to embrace and actively seek foreign capital flows into the tourism sector. Some governments have equipped their tourism ministries or agencies with far-reaching powers, including the mandate to expropriate rightful landowners, as exemplified by Mexico’s National Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR) discussed in Chapters 3 and 9.

For countries with limited resources to be exploited by traditional extractive industries — as is the case with many small island developing states (SIDS) or countries with extensive coastlines - sun, sea, and sand tourism seems the obvious choice for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and gaining foreign currency revenues. Countries with abundant wildlife, e.g. those located in the savannah regions of eastern and southern Africa or forest-rich countries in South and Southeast Asia, aim at attracting safari tourists, adventure travellers and trophy hunters to generate foreign exchange and tax income (cf. Chapter 7). For many developing country governments tourism is a key strategy to achieve stability and consolidate state power, for example after civil conflicts, but oftentimes this comes at the expense of the land rights of former enemies and defeated communities (cf. Chapter 6). For others, tourism development is chosen as a measure to rehabilitate and rebuild a country after a major disaster, such as an earthquake, tsunami or cyclone (cf. Chapter 5). The disaster event often generates a ‘blank slate’ or ‘tabula rasa’ where new opportunities arise for national and local governments to re-appropriate land and other natural resources and allocate them to various actors within the tourism industry, often in opaque transactions that lack due diligence and accountability. Some governments are also motivated by the prospects of replacing subsistence livelihoods of pastoralists, fisherfolks or hunter-gatherer communities that are deemed ‘primitive’, ‘backward’ and ‘environmentally destructive’ by more ‘modern’ and ostensibly more remunerative forms of employment. Moreover, governments expect to gain better international reputation by presenting themselves as a country that is open for cosmopolitan tourists. These tourists tend to look for a more ‘imaginary’ tourism experience in an ‘all-inclusive’ safe enclave, with pristine beaches during the day and exotic dance performances in the evening, rather than sharing their space with ‘noisy’ local communities and ‘unsightly’ Indigenous people.

The tourism industry itself comprises a bewildering range of large, often transnational actors, medium-sized hotels, earners and tour operators, and smaller, family- or community run tourism businesses (cf. Table 2.1). Among these actors, transnational tourism corporations (TTCs) are considered in the literature as having the most damaging impact on customary land and resource rights in tourism destination countries of the Global South, as they are more concerned with generating short-term profit than building long-term relationships with communities in particular destinations (Swarbrooke, 1999; Mason, 2016). Hong (1985), quoted in Mowforth and Munt (2016, p. 192), describes five major ways in which TTCs participate in the hotel industry of countries in the Global South: (1) ownership or equity investment, (2) management contracts, (3) hotel-leasing agreements, (4) franchise agreements, and (5) technical service agreements, such as market surveys and feasibility studies. Among these, management contracts are by far the most common form, accounting for nearly three quarters of TTC involvement in the Global South’s hotel industry (Mowforth and Munt, 2016). Hence, TTCs, i.e. transnational hotel chains, such as Marriott, Hyatt and Shangri-La, are rarely directly involved in processes of land grabbing and displacement. This is left to the state apparatus in the host country which can deploy a range of legal and

Table 2. / Tourism industry actors





Transnational hotel groups, e.g. Hyatt, Hilton, Six Senses, Shangri-La, Marriott, Melia Hotels, Accor, InterContinental Hotels, Four Seasons

Internationally operating airlines, e.g. Emirates, American Airlines, Lufthansa, All Nippon Airways, Air France-KLM; Internationally operating cruise lines, e.g. Royal Caribbean International

Touristik Union International (TUI), BA Holidays, Club Med, Thomas Cook, China Travel Service


National hotel groups, e.g. Malima

Hospitality Services (Sri Lanka), Tata Group (India)

Regional and national carriers, e.g. Disney Cruise Line (US); Helitours (Sri Lanka), Nok Air (Thailand)

Specialist national & regional operators, e.g. Greaves Tours, Thomson Safaris


Small, family-owned hotels, guesthouses, Airbnb, eco-lodges, pensions

Small carriers, e.g., car rentals, taxis, minivans, buses, ferry services, boat and helicopter companies

Service providers, e.g. tour guides, dive companies, porters, caterers

Source: Partially adapted from Mowforth and Munt (2016).

regulatory measures as well as brute force, threat of violence or withdrawal of services and livelihood opportunities to remove communities from their land and homes. Hence, transnational hotel chains may simply be free-riders of state-driven dispossession and displacement.

Transnational hotel chains are constantly looking for new, attractive locations to build large-scale tourism enclaves, particularly in places that have become enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (cf. Chapter 8) or those featured as “the best places to visit” on the Lonely Planet website. While some of the major chains have adopted a human rights policy and self-regulatory codes of conduct (cf. Chapter 11), these tend to be rather generic, focus predominantly on the operational part of the hotel business and do not make explicit reference to land rights. International tour operators may also bear a share of the responsibility for infringement on local people’s land resource rights when they turn a blind eye to cases of land grabs and displacement by hotels and resorts or to the more systemic practices of militarisation and securitisation of holiday zones in post-conflict regions.

Medium-sized national hotel groups, such as Sri Lanka’s Malima Hospitality Services, have been directly implicated in land grabs and forced displacement. While small tourism industry actors, such as family-owned hotels, guesthouses and eco-lodges tend to be less involved in violent land grabs and forced displacements, their combined presence in major touristic areas in the Global South can fuel the rise of local land prices and living costs that may economically displace local populations.

Tourism has become a favourite development approach for international financial institutions (IFIs), including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a major part of their lending portfolio has been dedicated to the tourism sector, including supporting infrastructure projects (Table 2.2). The Inter-American Development Bank, for instance, gave a loan of US$800 million to the Brazilian government in 2003 to create its Ministry of Tourism and to improve tourism infrastructure in the country’s northeast (Telfer and Sharpley, 2008).

IFIs also play a role in providing technical assistance and guidance to large-scale tourism infrastructure developers and legitimising displacements by weighing the ‘costs’ of resettling a relatively small number of people against the alleged ‘benefits’ of the tourism sector in terms of providing job opportunities, stimulating economic growth and alleviating poverty (cf. Chapter 9 for the role of the ADB in justifying resettlements of ethnic minorities for Luang Prabang’s airport expansion in Laos). Finally, IFIs may inadvertently or deliberately lay the ground for tourism investment through their support of private land titling programmes that may undermine communally held rights to land, as evidenced in the case of the Caribbean coast of Honduras (Chapter 5).

In their reports, IFIs often present successful tourism-driven growth in developing countries as showcases of what is possible when the local real estate

Actors, drivers and discourses 19

Table 2.2 Actors in the financialisation of the tourism sector in the Global South

International - Regional

International Financial Institutions; e.g. World Bank, International Monetary' Fund (IMF), Central American Bank for Economic Integration; Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; UN organisations, e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Commission for Africa (UNEGA)

National - Government

Federal banks, e.g. Banco de México; national development banks, e.g. Export-Import Bank of China; Foundation for Investment and Development of Exports, Honduras; Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USA; bilateral donor agencies, e.g. UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Germany’s Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau KfW (Credit Bank for Reconstruction); Sovereign wealth funds, e.g. Temasek (Singapore), Qatar Investment Authority, Public Investment Fund (Saudi Arabia)

(Trans)national -Commercial

Internationally operating commercial banks, e.g. HSBC, Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Barclays; real estate investment trusts, e.g. Blackstone-Embassy (India); private equity firms, e.g. Blackstone Group (USA); insurance companies, e.g. Anbang Insurance Group (China); national pension funds

sector is opened up to foreign tourism investment (Zoomers, 2010). For instance, the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coastline and Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean (cf Chapter 4) have rapidly risen on the Human Development Index from “low” to “medium” and “high” respectively. This motivates other countries to follow these ‘role models’, while overlooking the dark side of their success stories, i.e. massive outmigration of Cape Verde’s original population and the expansion of squatter settlements in Mauritius due to excessive land prices that have become unaffordable for local residents.

In recent years, several government-owned investment companies and sovereign wealth funds, such as Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Qatar Investment Authority have become major players in the financialisation of the global tourism sector (e.g. Capape, 2016). Real estate investment trusts, private equity firms (e.g. Blackstone Group, USA), insurance companies (e.g. Anbang Insurance Group, China) and national pension funds also have acquired major stakes in TTCs, thereby becoming indirectly involved in land grabs, enclosures and forced evictions (Table 2.2).

Aside from the major actors in the tourism industry and its financial partners, there are various tourism interest groups at international, national and local level (see Table 2.3). At the international level, the most important industry group that lobbies on behalf of the global tourism sector and its expansion to countries in the Global South is the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) which receives support from some of the principal tourism companies (Mason,


Industry groups

Non-industry groups

Single interest groups




UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Pacific Asia Travel Alliance (PATA), World Indigenous Tourism Association (WINTA)

National tourism organisations, e.g. Mexico’s National Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR);

Chamber of Tourism (Costa Rica), Department of Tourism (Vanuatu)

Regional tourism business associations, e.g. Bali Tourism Board (Indonesia); local area promotion partnerships, e.g. the Mirador Basin Project (Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala)

Environmental, social & cultural organisations, such as WWF, African Wildlife Fund, Rainforest Action Network, Conservation International, Rainforest Alliance, Survival International

Tourism Concern (UK), GOOD Travel (New Zealand), Tourism Watch (Germany), Lonely Planet (Australia), TripAdvisor (USA), Fair Trade in Tourism (South Africa)

Local government bodies, e.g. Authority' for the Protection and Management of Angkor - APSARA (Siem Reap, Cambodia); residents’ associations, e.g. La Voz de Guanacaste (Pacific Coast, Costa Rica)

Asian Peasant Coalition, Vía Campesina, Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), Burma Action Group, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice, Land Watch Asia, World Heritage Watch National human rights advocacy groups, e.g. Bharat Mukti Morcha (India), Chum-chonthai Foundation (Thailand), Emek Shaveh and Ir-Amim (Israel), La’o Hamu-tuk (Timor Leste) Local groups opposed to tourism development, e.g. Citizen Action for île à Vache (Haiti), Kilusang Magbubu-kid Ng Pilipinas (Philippines), Man-ggarai Student Alliance (Indonesia), Goa Foundation (India)

Source: Adapted from Mowforth and Munt (2016).

2016). Its directors feature former government officials in the tourism sector; the current WTTC president Gloria Guevara, for instance, is a former Secretary of Tourism for Mexico. Similarly, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has become an influential promoter of tourism development in the ‘developing world’. Its current executive director is Zhu Shanzhong, a former vice-chairman of China National Tourism Administration (CNTA). These international lobby groups have turned a blind eye to tourism-related land grabs and evictions and have contributed their fair share to some of the discourses that have been deployed to legitimise them.

Other international non-industry groups, such as Pacific Asia Travel Alliance (PATA) and World Indigenous Tourism Association (WINTA), have tried to raise awareness about the global tourism sector’s threat to Indigenous land rights. PATA and WINTA (2015) have been the driving forces behind the 2012 Larrakia Declaration with its six principles calling for the tourism sector’s respect for customary land and water, law and traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and cultural heritage as well the protection and promotion of Indigenous culture through well-managed tourism practices and appropriate interpretations (cf. Chapter 11).

International conservation organisations, such as the African Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), have been criticised for siding with national governments to drive conservation- and tourism-related resettlements and for providing the discursive legitimation of these practices by denouncing original dwellers in protected areas as ‘eco-threats’ (cf. the case of Hacienda Looc in the Philippines in Chapter 3, the dispossession of Garifuna communities on the North Coast of Honduras in Chapter 5 and the eviction of the Maasai from the Serengeti National Park in Chapter 7). Yet other conservation organisations, such as the Rainforest Alliance or the Rainforest Action Network act as critics of state-driven and corporate tourism development that comes at the expense of community-based tourism initiatives and the customary rights of Indigenous people (e.g. the case of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala in Chapter 8).

Among non-industry actors at the national level there are a number of tourism watchdogs and pressure groups. One of the most influential groups in terms of raising awareness about tourism-related land grabs, displacement and other human rights abuses was the UK-based organisation Tourism Concern until its closure in September 2018. Other important groups in this category are Tourism Watch in Germany and South African pressure group Fair Trade in Tourism. Single interest groups at various geographical levels play a major role in garnering resistance, providing advocacy and organising protest movements. Among these are transnational social movements, national human rights advocacy groups and local groups resisting neoliberal tourism development and associated land grabs, dispossession and displacement.

In recent years concerns have been raised among civil society organisations and targeted communities regarding actors that are usually not directly associated with the tourism industry. These include armed forces (military, paramilitary units and police) and private security firms that in some countries have played an increasingly prominent role in the securitisation of the tourism sector as a whole or for a particular resort-complex or tourist zone. More disturbingly, military forces have also taken a direct commercial interest in the tourism industry and have been involved in the violent dispossession and eviction of Indigenous communities and ethnic minorities and sometimes former enemies (see the cases of Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Chapter 6).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >