December 16, 2003
This just in: water wet
While picking on dumb articles in one's local free alt-weekly is a bit pointless, I just can't resist doing so with Georgia Straight's Debunking the Paradise Myth. I think I'd sum it up as: 'I used to like Thailand before all these damn tourists showed up. Also, you should all stop going there, it'll really improve the place.'
Tourism is not a panacea, but expecting a desperately poor nation with the natural beauty of Thailand to reject tourists (and their money) in order to help the poor is not in line with reality. By all means, ethical tourism should be encouraged and sex tourism discouraged, but calling for people to stop going to countries impacted by tourism is as naive as going to Thailand and being surprised that it has bugs, snakes, pickpockets and scam artists.
Posted by Bill Stilwell at December 16, 2003 05:04 PM
I was going to agree with you, but living as I do in an emerging tourism market, I stopped myself to just think for a moment, which is, sadly, a moment longer than most tourism entrepreneurs and their pocketed politicians tend to do.
Quiz: Can you name just one location on this planet where a focus on tourism has had a positive social or ecological impact?
When we sum the balance sheets across both the rich and the poor, and add the economic burdens of the collateral damage of poverty's desperation in the midst of exploitive tourism operators and freewheeling anonymity of tourists, I wonder if there is even any net economic benefit.
The solution for Thailand is not tourism, regardless how beautiful it may be. Hawaii was beautiful in the same way once upon a time. What is needed is economic involvement that gives the Thai people their dignity as globalized equals, so we are not surprised to find the stunning slink of an Asian fox sitting next to us in the Pad Thai restaurant holds a PhD in genetic engineering and pulls 6 figures annually from her patent licenses.
Put another way, go to the Hudson in Manhatten, pick any allurer seated alone at the bar, and try to imagine they'd let you have your way with them in any way you ask for just $5 because it will buy rat-infested lodgings and feed them and their TB-stricken baby brother on rice and water for a few days until the next trick.
That's not to say every sex-trade worker is so impoverished or that there are no brilliant Thai scientists, only that so long as both these scenarios seem incongruous to us, we have a problem that's not going to be solved by more luaus and mai-tais.