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Ecotourism in the time of Crisis

Editorial by Antonis Petropoulos
Director - ECOCLUB International Ecotourism Club

Athens, Greece – 20 March 2009

“The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules” – Albert Einstein, Why Socialism? , Monthly Review, May 1949

No one really knows how long this latest systemic crisis may last or how it will end - hopefully not in tears, not like the 1929 one. But it does present a unique opportunity: it can help reveal the resilience and the necessity of small-scale, sustainable tourism, family & community-owned, and prove the unsustainability of mega-resorts, in particular all-inclusive, condo hotels and golf, the funders of which are getting weaker by the day! Within Ecotourism as well, we need to move away from discredited neoliberal recipes, dependencies on aid and other agencies, nefarious mushups like corporate social responsibility, triple bottom lines and carbon offsetting. As Murray Bookchin  pointed out “we live in a highly cooptative society that is only too eager to find new areas of commercial aggrandizement and to add ecological verbiage to its advertising and customer relations.” We need to strengthen the social, progressive, solidarity and autonomous / direct-democratic aspects of Ecotourism without losing sight of the environmental ones and without becoming part of the status quo.

Beyond small-scale tourism, we should also examine ways, big and small, to face up to the global tourism juggernaut, and gradually liberate Tourism communities from the package-makers and the chains (“we have nothing to lose but our chains...”), large multinational tour & hotel operators. One way is to resist the further degradation of working conditions and labour rights in Tourism, and re-emerging racism in the workplace, and defend the right to form unions, which are non-existent in large swaths of the Tourism world. While exploitation is often masqueraded as volunteerism, internships, training and the like. For Mass Tourism to deliver its long-touted and over-hyped promises on meeting the Millenium Development Goals it must at least stop being so dependent on profit, through a concentrated, hierarchical, authoritarian and opaque, tax-evading structure. Indicative of the fact that Tourism is one of the most conservative sectors, is the lack, I am sorry to say, of an Independent, progressive Travel Journalism, that would really understand, scrutinize and reveal. Even major ‘progressive’ newspapers accept travel journalists to be invited and go and eulogize resorts. On top of that, an international merry go round, involving jet-set consulting, awards and funding, propagates greenwashing & dependency and discredits (or perhaps uncovers) sustainable and responsible tourism. Omerta, the code of silence, rules.

The Crisis (their Crisis) will hopefully deal blows to many things rotten, in the mean time, our aim at ECOCLUB is to take ideas from Social Ecology and develop a genuine, deeper, Social Ecotourism (or Social Ecological Tourism), both in terms of a philosophical framework and its application, so that it is relevant and can not be dismissed as utopian. It’s not so difficult; we just have to turn Tourism upside down!

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