"Tourism benefits the world"

PUBLISHED: 01 Jan 2007

AUTHOR: James Gledhill

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Tourism has traditionally been a way of escaping the cares of the world, but mounting fears about the impact of mass tourism mean that tourists are now encouraged not to leave their consciences at home. A debate about whether mass tourism is exploitative [Ref: BBC News] has been going on for some time, leading to the rise of related ideas like ethical (dead link), [Ref: Association of Independent Tour Operators] or eco tourism [Ref: Global Development Research Centre]. However, recently the focus has switched from whether we should travel more responsibly to whether we should actually travel less. The increase in cheap flights is a particular focus of controversy. The Bishop of London has argued that it’s selfish and sinful to contribute to climate change by flying on holiday, and that we should ‘walk more lightly upon the earth’ [Ref: Times Online]. Even the editors of backpackers’ bibles Lonely Planet and Rough Guide have sought to discourage ‘casual flying’ [Ref: Guardian]. Carbon offsetting [Ref: Wikipedia] services, which seek to cancel out the carbon dioxide produced by flying, are increasingly popular. Gap years have also come in for criticism, with warnings that they may do more harm than good [Ref: Guardian]. There has, however, been a backlash against the war on tourism, with renewed arguments for the economic and social benefits tourism brings. Critics detect snobbery against mass tourism, moral posturing and hypocrisy, with people bemoaning the effects of tourism while continuing to take full advantage of its many benefits. They ask on what basis people claim a right to tell others how to enjoy themselves. The overall impact of tourism therefore needs to be reassessed, and the question remains: is the holiday over for mass tourism?

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This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.

Is mass tourism exploitative?
From the time that the father of mass tourism, Thomas Cook, organised the world’s first package tour in 1841, tourism has been more than the preserve of a privileged few. The post-war expansion of air travel kick started the era of international mass travel, which today, with the increase in cheap flights, includes many more short breaks alongside annual summer holidays. But tourism has many critics who accuse it of three main forms of exploitation: economic, environmental and cultural. There is disagreement about whether ethical tourism provides the answer, and it has its critics on both sides of the debate. On the for side there are those who argue all tourism is beneficial and that we shouldn’t make moralising distinctions between different types of holiday. On the against side, some people question whether ‘ethical’ tourism is ever really possible. The debate is increasingly framed in terms of whether global tourism levels should be reduced.

Do the economic benefits outweigh the costs?
Tourism is the world’s largest industry and the only source of rapid development for many small developing countries. However, it’s criticised for the way in which most of the money goes to companies abroad rather than local people. One side points to the benefits from employment and associated opportunities for small family businesses like cafes and handicrafts, while the other points to the large areas of land that are bought up by foreign companies, creating resorts which exclude local people and which tourists seldom leave.

Does tourism damage or improve the environment?
Environmentalists argue flying is the fastest growing cause of climate change, although it is currently responsible for only three percent of greenhouse gas emissions. There are calls for a tax on aviation fuel to discourage flying. Budget airlines are a focus of criticism, but they argue that they are more efficient than other carriers. The debate over the effect on the environment of tourist destinations sets benefits like the creation of national parks, restoration of monuments and improved infrastructure against damage to coral reefs, pressure on water resources and the effects of golf courses and resorts on people and the landscape.

Does tourism undermine indigenous cultures or break down barriers?
Our pursuit of the exotic, some say, is turning other cultures into consumer goods. Even independent travel is not immune from criticism, as it brings package tourists in its wake. Sex tourism is seen as indicative of rampant exploitation. Counter arguments say tourism promotes cultural understanding, even supposedly superficial package holidays. Trying to protect indigenous cultures, it’s argued, denies them the benefits of development, treating them as museum pieces to be admired rather than active cultures to be engaged with.

Should we travel less?
There are few voices making a positive case for travel. Previously, travel was associated with the way social progress afforded free time for individual leisure and even self-improvement. Travel was held to ‘broaden the mind’ and being ‘well travelled’ commanded respect. Now many people present a negative view: we’re ‘addicted to oil’ and our disruptive restlessness undermines community life and threatens the planet. While some commentators argue that ‘flying kills’ [Ref: Guardian] and would welcome travel once again becoming an ‘expensive luxury [Ref: Guardian], others argue that we shouldn’t lose sight of the remarkable opportunities travel affords us and that we should actually work to ensure that these can enjoyed by more of the people of the world.


It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.

Does Reproductive Tourism Treat Women Like Cattle?

Dr. Raywat Deonandan Huffington Post 29 October 2012

Assembling the Global Baby

Tamara Audi and Arlene Chang Wall Street Journal 10 December 2010

India, the Rent-a-Womb Capital of the World

Amana Fontanella-Khan Slate 23 August 2010

NHS restrictions prompt fertility tourism boom

Sarah Boseley Guardian 30 June 2009

Binoculars or beer: a tale of two tourists

Justin Francis vs Jeremy Skidmore The Times 19 November 2005

Feel-good travel: cheap flights: a force for good?

Simon Calder vs Mark Lynas Independent on Sunday 19 June 2005

Local v global: Do we need to travel so much?

Jonathan Meades vs Peter Smith The Future Cities Project 27 February 2003


Airbnb in Berlin

Airbnb Airbnb 5 December 2018

In defense of tourism

Peter Jon Lindberg Peter Jon Lindberg 3 September 2018

Anti-tourism gets ugly

Jim Butcher Spiked 22 August 2018

In defense of being a tourist

Lilit Marcus CNN 19 July 2017

Dear ‘Citizens of nowhere’ you are not alone

James Shackell The Journal 18 January 2017

In defense of the three-week vacation

Jynne Dilling New York Times 9 June 2016

Increasing concerns about surrogacy

University of Huddersfield 17 January 2013

A child of easy labour

Kamayani B Mahabal Tehelka 8 June 2011

Outsourcing Pregnancy: Just Another Job?

Jennifer Lahl The Centre for Bioethics and Culture Network 20 January 2011

Let us celebrate the freedom of flight

James Panton spiked 16 August 2007

Hot air? I want the cold facts

Anatole Kaletsky, Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Micheal O'Leary The Times 10 June 2006

I love cheap flights

Brendan O’Neill Guardian Comment is Free 19 May 2006

Stop this war on tourism

Keith Jowett and Roger Wiltshire Guardian 3 March 2006

Tourism enriches

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2 February 2004


In Berlin, a Grass-Roots Fight Against Gentrification as Rents Soar

Charly Wilder New York Times 18 March 2017

Airbnb vs. the city

Megan Barber Curbed 10 November 2016

Welcome to airspace

Kyle Chayka The Verge 3 August 2016

Six reasons why mass tourism is unsustainable

Anna Pollock The Guardian 23 August 2013

A Closer Look at Surrogacy

Kendal Youngblood Culture Wars 27 June 2013

Womb for Rent

Mina Chang Harvard International Review 6 July 2009

Donating a womb

Uday Mahurkar India Today 13 September 2007

Eco-tourism: A sustainable trade?

James Mair BBC News The Green Room 14 December 2006

This fear may at last rid us of the curse of hyper-mobility

Simon Jenkins Guardian 16 August 2006

Why we must give up flying

Nicholas Crane Daily Telegraph 29 July 2006

Broadening the mind?

The Oxford Student 22 November 2001

Happy to rent a womb

Hemlata Aithan Oman Tribune


Living Next Door to Tourism in Berlin

Various DW 22 November 2017

Here’s exactly what Airbnb does to rent in popular cities

Jim Edwards Business Insider 20 October 2016

How have our travel habits changed over the past 50 years?

Colin Pooley The Conversation 21 October 2015

Surrogate motherhood: a critical perspective

Olga van den Akker Expert Reviews 2010

The fertility tourists

Raekha Prasad Guardian 30 July 2008

Foreign couples turn to India for surrogate mothers

Amelia Gentleman New York Times 4 March 2008

Sun, sea and saving the world

Jim Butcher spiked 11 August 2005

Hypermobility: too much of a good thing

John Adams PIU Transport Seminar 13 November 2001


Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.


Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.

Thomas Cook

Wikipedia 14 November 2018

Ghana after aid

Various authors Financial Times 8 October 2018

‘Overtourism’ Is driving europeans crazy

Jessica Loudis The Nation 12 September 2018

Your choice of holiday destination is a political act

Brendan Canavan The Independent 6 August 2018

The backlash against Airbnb

Charlemagne The Economist 19 July 2018

The holiday destinations that are saving the planet

Oliver Smith The Telegraph 5 June 2018

Traveller vs tourist: The worst thing about being a travel snob

Ben Groundwater Stuff Magazine 22 May 2018

I did nothing all over the world

Kate Manser Medium 5 March 2018

In defence of the ‘tourist trail’

Jessica Lee Lonely Planet 18 February 2018

Does your holiday pass the human rights test?

Rebecca Seales BBC 7 February 2018

Ethical Tourism and travelling off the beaten path

Tobias Roberts HuffPost 6 July 2017

In Defense Of Chinese Tour Groups

Panpan Wang Huffington Post 2 May 2017

No, tourism is not an act of ‘white privilege’

Jim Butcher Spiked 29 September 2016

Surrogacy overseas

HM Government 19 June 2013

Are test-tube babies at greater health risk

Cherrill Hicks Telegraph 10 February 2013

Outsourcing Motherhood

Prachi Bharadwaj 1 May 2011

Film Review: Made in India

BioNews 14 March 2011

Do We Confuse Surrogacy With Prostitution?

Paul Troop Practical Ethics 20 January 2011

“They are just the wombs”

Gina Maranto Biopolitical Times 6 December 2010

Inside India’s Rent A Womb Business

Scott Carney Mother Jones March 2010

Is commercial surrogacy in India ethical?

Naomi Canton Hindustan Times 9 December 2009

More and more couples finding surrogates in India

Mike Celizic Today 20 February 2008

Surrogacy – Exploitation or Choice?

Cubically Challenged 2008

Surrogate Motherhood in India

Stanford University 2008

‘A woman helping a woman! I love it!’

Sheela Bhatt Rediff India 1 November 2007

The slippery slope of winter sports

Carmen de Jong BBC News The Green Room 6 August 2007

Surrogate Mothers: Womb for Rent

Abigail Haworth Marie Claire 29 July 2007

International estimates of infertility prevalence and treatment-seeking

Jacky Boivin, Laura Bunting, John A. Collins and Karl G. Nygren Oxford Journals 2 January 2007

Talking heads: responsible travel

Kate Humble, Ben Fogle and Alain de Botton The Times 10 June 2006

Bhutan: the door slowly opens

Cath Urquart The Times 8 January 2005

Travellers who strive to do no harm

Susan Llewelyn Leach Christian Science Monitor 22 December 2004

Ecotourism – hope and reality

Sue Wheat 6 September 2004

Tourism: the world’s blessing or curse?

Lisa Mastny and Steve Conklin Worldwatch Live Online Discussion 23 June 2003

Mass tourism: Is it exploitation?

BBC World Service Talking Point 9 August 2001

Economic impact of tourism

United Nations Environment Programme 1 January 2001


Our Planet February 1999

Surrogacy: boon or bane

Dr Alka Sehgal

Benefits and challenges of tourism

New Zealand Ministry of Tourism



Adventures in tourism

BBC World Service


Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.


Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.

Majority of residents in favour of tourists

Various Visit Reykjavik 5 November 2018

Airlines hit out at increases in UK passenger taxes

Josh Spero Financial Times 30 October 2018

Leading ethical tourism charity forced to close

Antonia Wilson The Guardian 28 September 2018

Will you soon have to pay a tourist tax to visit the Scottish Highlands?

Greg Dickinson The Telegraph 27 September 2018

Airbnb Drives Up Rent Costs in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Report Says

Luis Ferré-Sadurní New York Times 3 May 2018

Where to go on holiday in 2018 – the hotlist

Various The Guardian 6 January 2018

Tourists have turned Oxford into ‘hell’, locals claim

Natalie Paris The Telegraph 8 August 2017

Stats: millennials 5x more well-traveled than their grandparents

Various Travel Agent Central 27 July 2017

Why Amsterdam’s coffeeshops are closing

Various The Economist 10 January 2017

Airbnb faces worldwide opposition. It plans a movement to rise up in its defence

Shane Hickey and Franki Cookney The Guardian 29 October 2016

High Line neighbours hate “High Line tourists”

Garth Johnston Gothamist 24 May 2016

Agents steal womb money

Times of India 21 January 2013

India bans foreign couples from surrogacy

Telegraph 18 January 2013

Fertility tourists eye Russia

Russia Today 13 December 2010

No to pregnancy, yes to surrogacy for UK couples

Daily News Analysis 14 May 2010

Baby boom, baby bust

Telegraph India 13 December 2009

Experts attack ‘fertility tourism’ industry

Dr.Malpani's Blog 28 September 2009

Germans stay home for eco-holiday

BBC News 7 May 2007

It’s a sin to fly, says church

The Sunday Times 23 July 2006

Are the benefits of tourism just skin deep?

Inter Press Service News Agency 11 July 2006

Euro MPs push for air fuel taxes

BBC News 4 July 2006

Soweto seeks its place in the sun

BBC News 19 June 2006

Concern over Antarctic tourists

BBC News 19 June 2006

Zambia beckons new wave of tourists

BBC News 13 June 2006

‘Mass tourism threat to Morocco’

Daily Telegraph 3 June 2006

Oops, we helped ruin the planet

Guardian 4 March 2006

A nation of careless travellers

Daily Telegraph 26 November 2005

Climate threat to holiday hot spots

Daily Telegraph 19 November 2005

Tourism revival key for Maldives

BBC News 7 February 2005

Pope condemns mass tourism

BBC News 23 June 2001


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