Tour operating

Community impact

When planning new tourist destination offers, the interests and needs of the local stakeholders and communities living on-site and affected by the projects are often not sufficiently taken into account by tour operators.

Destination plans are often presented to local stakeholders and the local population as a fait accompli, increasing the risk of tourism having negative impacts on local communities. At worst, new destination offers are linked to illegal land acquisition and evictions, with local communities being forced to make way for new resorts, parks, sports facilities or other tourist attractions without receiving appropriate compensation or opportunities to build a new livelihood. Indigenous peoples and traditional fishing communities are particularly vulnerable as their land rights are often not secured by title deeds. Further negative impacts on communities can be the inflation of housing and goods prices, the shortage of and reduced access to water and other natural resources, the loss of agricultural land and related income opportunities, destruction or degradation of local wildlife habitats, restricted mobility, and increased waste.

Poor destination planning and inadequate consultation with stakeholders can also increase the risk of economic leakage, meaning that only a fraction of the money tourists spend on holidays benefits the local communities. This is the case when most of the tourism revenue flows into international businesses (tour operators, transport, hotels), international staff and imported products (food, drinks, souvenirs).  

Community relocations: Sri Lanka
Tourism development: Myanmar
Indigenous people: India
Expulsion of indigenous people: Thailand
Land reclamation controversy: Philippines, Manila Airport
Landmark Case: Fiji, Hotel Resort Development
Mega Tourism Project: Indonesia, Lombok
Destination Marketing: Newfoundland and Labrador
Colonial legacy and racists stereotypes
Tourism growth vs. water security: Bali
Community relocations: Sri Lanka

Illegal land acquisition and community relocations for tourism development in Sri Lanka

After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, coastal communities in Thailand, Southern India and Sri Lanka were permanently relocated inland while their traditional lands were earmarked for tourism development. Fishing communities were removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels were built and beaches privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life.

Tourism development: Myanmar

High demand for hotel and tourism infrastructure construction in Myanmar has led to rising land prices, making it unaffordable for local communities.

Hotel construction is also threatening Myanmar’s heritage sites. It was alleged that permission given to build hotels in regions where cultural preservation laws apply was the result of corruption.

Indigenous people: India

Hotels close to indigenous people reserve in India

The Indian Supreme Court has ordered that no tourism and commercial activities be allowed near the habitat of the Jarawas, the ancient aboriginal tribe of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. The local administration appealed against the plans of an Indian hospitality group to build a hotel resort inside the 5 km buffer zone around the indigenous people reserve. Fears about the project mostly concern potential illnesses and diseases brought by tourists and hotel staff, as well as the introduction of alcohol, and the risk of exploitation. A trunk road through the reserve has already had major negative impacts on the community, and various tour operators are selling “human safaris" to the Jarawa reserve.

Expulsion of indigenous people: Thailand

Thailand’s indigenous people risk losing more of their land to hotels and national parks amid an unchecked tourism boom that has marginalized them, human rights groups warned on Friday.

Bangkok was the world’s most visited city for a fourth year in 2018, drawing nearly 23 million visitors, according to Mastercard. Many tourists go on to Thailand’s sandy beaches in the south and national parks in the north.

As demand for land for hotels and other tourism facilities grows, authorities are targeting indigenous land, said Emilie Pradichit, director of human rights group Manushya Foundation, which this week published a report on Thai indigenous rights.

“Indigenous people do not have legal recognition of their collective and individual land and resource rights, so they are often subject to forced evictions,” she said.

Land reclamation controversy: Philippines, Manila Airport

Development projects threatening informal fishing along the shores of Bacoor Bay 

Activists say officials are exploiting anti-Covid restrictions to go ahead with major development projects when communities are unable to protest. Around 700 families living in informal fishing communities say their livelihoods, homes and the environment will be destroyed by the developments. Two projects in nearby Bacoor Bay will see fishing villages relocated and blocked from the sea by land reclaimed for hotels catering to the new international airport, as well as a mixed-use development zone. And the plans don't allow for those residents to be part of it. They are being offered around US$400 to relocate to a site miles from the sea, disconnecting families who have fished for generations from their livelihoods. 

Landmark Case: Fiji, Hotel Resort Development

In 2018, Freesoul real estate, a Chinese-linked company, began work on Malolo Island, a 5km-long tourist island that lies about 20km west of the main island of Fiji, with plans to build Fiji’s largest holiday resort: roughly 350 bures and the nation’s first casino.

Shortly after work began, Freesoul was accused of causing massive environmental degradation, including claims Freesoul parked diggers on top of pristine reef, dug a channel 100 metres long and 20 metres wide through the reef to allow barges to bring supplies onto land, dumped the coral they dug up onto the pristine beachfront of their neighbours’ land, destroyed huge swathes of mangrove and piped sewage directly from their workers’ toilet block into the ocean.

Freesoul was found guilty of two counts of undertaking unauthorised development and found not guilty of one count of failing to comply with a prohibition notice. Sentencing will occur on 5 May.

Mega Tourism Project: Indonesia, Lombok

UN experts denounce mega tourism project that ‘tramples on human rights’

UN rights experts, on Wednesday, raised alarm over forced evictions of locals and indigenous peoples, and threats against human rights defenders, to make way for a $3 billion tourism project on the Indonesian island of Lombok. The Government’s aim is to create an enormous tourism complex in Mandalika, which is situated in Lombok’s impoverished West Nusa Tenggara Province, with a Grand Prix motorcycle circuit, parks, resorts and hotels, the experts added. 

Destination Marketing: Newfoundland and Labrador

A new tourism ad for Newfoundland and Labrador's capital city is coming under fire for what some are calling a lack of diversity

Destination St. John's released a new video ad as part of a new campaign to attract tourists from within the Atlantic bubble. However, critics remark the exclusion of Indigenous people and people of color. Instead of promoting the diversity of their destination, the ads support racism and exclusion. Destination St. John's justified the absence by the fact that scheduling conflicts ruined their plans to include the BIPOC community. 

Colonial legacy and racists stereotypes

Postcolonial Bahia: Racist stereotypes as a marketing strategy 

Tourism in Brazil thrives on the cultural heritage of its Afro-Brazilian population. But instead of authentic culture, destinations stage their streets to fulfill tourists’ expectations. For instance, the state of Bahia has become a brand that is marketed with the help of aesthetic and representative elements of Afro-culture in guide books, brochures, social media or travel magazines such as National Geographic. The good thing is, the government now has an incentive to preserve this cultural heritage. At the same time, the consumer product "Afro-culture" reproduces racism and discrimination against the Black population, being presented smiling, singing, dancing or serving in traditional costumes or uniforms.

Tourism growth vs. water security: Bali

The missing water management in Bali

Chinese tour operators were coming under increased scrutiny due to widespread “zero-dollar” tours: cheap package tours sold in China that directed customers to Chinese-owned shops and restaurants in Bali, where they were sold goods at inflated prices, often with no benefit for the local economy.

The tourism industry is the main consumer of water, accounting for about 65%. It is also the main economic sector on the island – 80% of its gross domestic product is derived from the industry. The average tourist, however, is believed to use three times more water than the average Balinese person.

Taking action 300x190

Take action

Sector collaboration

  • Get involved in local tourism planning initiatives, raise issues and suggest measures to reduce negative impacts of tourism related development on local communities. 

Impact assessment

  • Consult local stakeholders through an in-depth human rights impact assessment of potential/actual issues related to tourism development.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.