It is said that a new kind of mass tourism is developing. It will no longer only be the the rich people from the west who travels anymore. In India, China, South Korea, Thailand and other countries in Asia the middle class is increasing rapidly. In India domestic mass tourism has become a great problem as the biggest group of tourists today in India is the Indian new middle class. and the contries biggest group of tourists belong to the growing middle class. I read a few years ago that about now the middle class in Asia (Japan excluded) should have increased in size to about 143 million people with around the crazy amount of 11 trillion dollars to spend on products and travelling. I don’t have any numbers on today’s situation but I was watching a Swedish documentary about the new middle class in India and it has increased to numbers hard to imagine.
One of the biggest problems with mass tourism is the lack of democracy. Locals don’t have much say in anything and there is almost always big companies or regional governments managing and gaining from tourism. The second biggest problems is that the locals don’t get to take part of the earnings that tourism bring on the destination. This problem is greater on destination with all-inclusive hotels and where people travel on package tours. Very often they are kept away from the locals and the local environment not spending any money in local shops or restaurants.
You often hear that job opportunities are created by tourism. It may be the truth but one also have to consider that most of those jobs are in the big hotels and in shops where they sell mass produced local art to fix prices. Day trips are arranged by the hotels and are lead by guides hired by the hotels and using transportation belonging to the hotel. Most of the times the working conditions for those working for the hotels and big companies are really bad. One effect of all those job opportunities is that Local fishermen and farmers lose their incomes as the hotels import food from other regions and big companies. In other cases farmland is bought by big companies to build their hotels and shops. Supposedly only about five percent of all the money spent by tourist on those kinds of destinations will stay within the destination and within the local economy and the rest of it will end up with the big travel agencies, far away from the destination.
About the new middle class in Asia. In Thailand for example you can already notice the increasing amounts of travellers that are Thai.They mostly seem to come from the middle class in Bangkok. Pai in north western Thailand, close to the Burmese border is now not only threatened by western mass tourism. When I went there end of December 2009 I could not believe what I saw. The streets where crowed with Bangkok kids. The riverside was full of tents, hundreds, maybe thousands of them, to close to each other and with a lot of litter every where. You hardly saw any western tourists. It was like they had fled to make place for the Bangkok kids. There was not a single motorbike to rent in the whole village and it was an absolute danger to walk the streets of Pai for a couple of days. The interesting thing was that the roads outside of the village where empty, as if they where only driving of four streets in the village.
My local friends told me that they call them the “Horrific Bangkok Thai Swarm” as most of them come from Bangkok and they overload the infrastructure in Pai. They come in big groups and are often slaves to a pre arrange package. They visit maybe three famous spots in the area at the most during a very limited time of stay.
Pai has been famous for being a village with both residents and tourists thinking ecological, bying food from the local market, eating in local owned restaurants that serves food with local ingredients and so on. Today, especially during the cool season (December and January) you will see several restaurants in Pai organizing pre-booked servings for groups up to 200 people.
I have also seen something similar on Koh Tao during Thai holidays in April. I once went on a nightmare snorkelling trip around Koh Tao in April. First I was very excited that there where so many Thai tourist on the boat. I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to interact with Thai people. And it was interesting and fun to start with. Until we went in the water. As most Thai from the city can’t swim they are wearing life vests, which is cute and safe but not for very long. After just a few minutes you will see whole Thai families standing on the corals, killing them. Neither the locals organising those trips, nor the Thai tourists know what negative impact they have on the environment.
I hardly ever complain about Thai people as they are one of my main reasons for loving the country as much as I do. But mass tourism is scary and has so many negative impacts on environment, culture and economy as it is, and it is heart breaking to just sit there and watch them destroy their environment and to see them contribute negatively to their countries economy. As there is a new and increasing middle class in Asia, already developing a new form of mass tourism, government role in tourism must improve. Laws and restrictions must be set and changed to give locals more rights and education must be high priority.
We all know that eco tourism and environmental awareness is the answer. I will post a blog about Eco tourism further on so stay tuned. I will also post a blog about sex tourism, something that arises when tourism increases on a destination.