FOR many people, their foreign holiday is a time for care-free self-indulgence.
But it may not be such a happy experience for people living in those holiday destinations.
Exploitation of local people in holiday countries as the travel industry expanded was what sparked Alison Stancliffe to set up Tourism Concern 21 years ago.
She operated from the same home she still occupies in Ryton in Gateshead.
Tourism Concern, which campaigns for ethical, sustainable tourism which gives local communities a fairer deal, evolved into a charity which is now based in London, with its own director and staff. To mark the 21st anniversary, an exhibition of photographs of communities still struggling to recover from the tsunami which hit the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu opened yesterday in Northumbria University’s Ellison Building foyer.
The communities driven off their coastal land by the tsunami have seen tourism development move in and displace them permanently, said Alison.
Her eyes were opened to unfair treatment and exploitation when she travelled around South East Asia after teaching for three years in Singapore.
Back in the UK she set up Tourism Concern to lobby tour operators to insist on fairer deals for locals and for colleges teaching tourism to include the issue in their courses. She said: “Tourism Concern fights for fair tourism which benefits not just those who go on holiday but also the people who live where people go on holiday.
“All over the world people who provide the services we get as tourists are being exploited.” She said that this could range from low wages to local villages losing water supplies, land or fishing beaches to tourism development.
Tourism Concern has backed alternatives such as visitor lodges in communities which had often been built and are operated by locals who provide the services and reap the benefits instead of being “silent servants” in the background. “Visitors can meet people from real communities and enjoy trips led by local people,” said Alison.
“In the end holidays are better if the people you encounter are happy to see you there because then you have a better experience. If local people are kept off beaches and don’t get any economic benefit, you can get hostility, which makes for an uncomfortable holiday.
“Going on holidays, which tend to be precious to people, is a ‘me’ experience but we have to remember that those holidays are taken in other people’s home territory.”