Vacation blues: Global tourism can harm communities

Jet setting to exotic destinations is fun for travelers, but one UBC researcher is looking at how tourism impacts local communities.

You’ve been riding a bus through a foreign country and arrive early in the morning in a town square. As you get off the bus, young boys approach you and start speaking to you. They try several languages—English, French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese—waiting for you to pick up on one of them.

The boys are offering to help you with your luggage and to direct you to a nearby hotel. If you let them, they will get a small sum of money from the hotel and maybe a tip. And according to Jo-Anne Dillabough, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC, tourist businesses like these are a growing problem.

These businesses keep boys out of school, so although they seem cosmopolitan and can speak five or six languages, they won’t have fundamental skills, like reading and writing.

Dillabough studies the global tourist industry, where tourism develops from outside of a country and investors, such as a large North American hotel chains, can gain financial success with little benefit for the people who live there. This work emerged out of some earlier research on male youth subcultures, which Dillabough made into a book, Lost Youth Culture in the Global City: Class, Culture and the Urban Imaginary.

Today, she looks at how the global tourist industry has changed the dynamic of local communities in Morocco and what this means for the young boys growing up in the area.

“You’ll see very young boys, sometimes younger than nine years old, working in the tourist markets and in the hotels,” says Dillabough, who is also the David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education. “They stop going to school and work to provide some income for their families.”

Tourism took off in Morocco in the late 1970s as a result of government investment, which included a global advertising campaign, and after groups of hippies and celebrities like Cat Stevens and Jimi Hendrix had visited the area. Today, wealthy and influential developers from Europe and North America are developing rural villages into major coastal tourist destinations.

Up to 40 per cent of working class male youth will leave compulsory elementary school to work in the tourist industry, explains Dillabough. Most of these boys are from economically disadvantaged homes and many live in single-parent families and must work to provide for their families.

Dillabough and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge, in the U.K., have found that many of the young boys and men are thankful that tourists come to their towns but they cannot see the negative effects.

The tourist industry is keeping boys out of school and it undermines their hopes for education and employment in the future. Dillabough says this reality ultimately prevents the boys from imagining alternative futures, and tourism becomes the ultimate solution.

“It changes how the boys identify themselves as cultural actors,” says the researcher. “It also changes the village because it changes the memories residents have of their own cultural traditions.”

“Many of us are guilty of going on holiday and gazing ‘exotically’ at something that we imagine is different,” she says. “But this practice shapes how local youth view their own cultural traditions and in many cases forces young people to refashion and market their ‘exotic’ identities in order to survive.”

This issue is not unique to Morocco, and Dillabough thinks that international human rights groups and academic researchers need to pay more attention to the contradictions associated with global tourism and the constraints placed on these young men.

“The sociology of the global tourist industry is not as well developed as it could be,” she says. “Particularly concerning is the position of economically disadvantaged young people.”

Mobile school

In Morocco, where young boys often don’t finish school in order to work in the tourist industry, Jo-Anne Dillabough, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC, is hoping to run a pilot program testing the success of a mobile school.

The school would allow both boys and girls to be educated about other forms of employment and about cultural and political life more generally while they continue to work in tourism. She also hopes to educate young people about some of the harms of global tourism, including providing information on the sex-trade and trafficking industry.

“The purpose is to assist in presenting young people with wider political and cultural images of their employment, as well as providing them with a landscape of possibilities that showcases multiple paths into the future,” says Dillabough.

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