Mark Watson SESC

International Seminar on Tourism and Rights

The “International Seminar on Tourism and Rights – a Map of Contradictions” took place between 12 and 13 June at Sesc 24 de Maio, São Paulo. The conference was a chance to reflect on the democratisation of access and the impacts of tourist practices. Tourism Concern has worked with SESC previously and Mark Watson was invited to speak again at this year’s event, representing Tourism Concern and the work he has been doing over the last six years.

The seminar commemorated the 70 years of Social Tourism at Sesc in São Paulo and was an opportunity to discuss the relationship between tourism and human rights, addressing, in both a critical and positive way, the severe contradictions of between tourism, development, sustainability and human rights. The program brought together experts not only in tourism but in areas such as sociology, psychology, education, diversity, public policy and urbanism.

Discussion and presentations took place on:

Tourism and human rights

To understand how tourism develops, it is essential to comprehend specific vectors, such as the globalisation of markets and the difficulty of countries legislating in their territories, the asymmetry of opportunities, the ecological collapse and the omnipresence of technologies. Tourism can be produced, communicated and consumed in various ways, resulting in different forms of relationship between tourism activity and rights. How do these games of strength (power) develop today?

Tourism and territories: who says what is development?

This panel debated the meaning of development and the role of tourism.

“I am not a tourist, I live here” – dilemmas of the right to the city

The excessive influx of tourists to certain localities has placed the daily lives of the populations at risk. As processes such as gentrification intensify, what reactions and alternatives do local actors manifest to deal with these impacts? Which contexts allow the emergence of expressions such as “tourismphobia”? What are the interests at stake?

Tourism Concern presented our film “Casas sin familias”

The film was produced to explore the issue of mass tourism in Barcelona and its impact on the housing crisis. With 30 million tourists descending on Barcelona each year, vastly outnumbered, 1.6 million residents face increasing challenges.
Barcelona wrestles with this complex issue, caught between a desire to receive tourists and a fierce determination to preserve the daily way of life. Residents are facing intimidation to leave their homes to make way for tourist apartments, frustrations are increasing. ‘ Casas sin familias’ follows the story of Santi who works tirelessly to protect the housing rights of others while facing his imminent eviction.

Rethinking Tourism Practices
The panel presented options for improving the current model of tourism.

Mark Watson presented his thoughts, developed as the Executive Director at Tourism Concern, for over six years on the current tourism model and how it could be improved. He explained why Tourism Concern exists, the simple principles for ethical tourism
Take nothing
As a tourist, we shouldn’t make host communities poorer or worse off – such as taking land for development, water diverted to tourists or housing and accommodation pricing out local people.
Exploit no one
Tourists are wealthy, and it is easy for tourists to use that economic power to exploit more impoverished communities – examples include wealthy trekkers employing porters and guides in unsafe and exploitative conditions. Equally women, children and indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Give back
Travelling can be a positive force, but it comes with a substantial environmental cost, so tourists need to make sure that their holidays are as good for the local community as they are for them and ensure that they give something back to local people.

Mark set out where tourism currently is and pointed out that while tourism will continue to grow, only a minority of people are now able to travel. However, its adverse effects are felt, directly or indirectly, by the majority of the world’s population. This raises questions about justice; unchecked growth is exacerbated by general poor management and inadequate regulation at international, national and local level. This widens existing inequalities, exploits workforces, displaces communities, commodifies cultures, depletes natural resources and threatens future generations.

Mark set out the work he did with others in developing the Berlin Declaration on transforming tourism, which included the three core principles:

Human rights and self-determination of communities must be at the core of every tourism development. This includes the right to meaningful participation and consultation including free, prior and informed consent on whether to what extent and in what form tourism takes place.
If tourism is developed, it needs to seek a widespread and fair distribution of economic and social benefits throughout the recipient communities, including improving local prosperity, quality of life and social equity.
Tourism should be a positive and beneficial experience for travellers and hosts alike to act as a force for mutual understanding, empathy and respect.

Finally, Mark explained the purpose of the Ethical Travel guide in promoting tourism that brings real benefits to local communities. He also highlighted that the guide includes information to help tourists make better and more informed choices about their holidays.

He concluded:

  • Genuine travel/engagement is a good thing
  • That the current model of tourism isn’t sustainable
  • UNWTO needs reform – the industry will never self-regulate, so we need an international body that can regulate the industry
  • Over tourism or poor management? Both London and Paris cope with large numbers of tourists. There are ways to regulate and control the impacts of tourism.
  • Tourism isn’t always carbon-heavy, but long-haul travel is. There isn’t currently a way to fly that is sustainable.
  • Community-based tourism isn’t going to save the world.
  • More people can not travel unless existing travellers cut back
  • Given the state of the world, it is difficult to see where leadership on these issues is going to come from.

Friday 15th June
Tourism Concern joined a group of international experts to visit the SESC project at interlagos, which provided sport, educational and recreational facilities for the urban poor.

In the afternoon the group visited Parelheiros. Based on the model of “Acolhida na Colonia”, family farmers of Santa Catarina, open their houses to the visitors to experience their daily life, with the objective of sharing the know-how, history and culture. The project Acolhendo em Parelheiros is developing together with Acolhida na Colônia and Ibeac, the concept of Community Based Tourism.

They visited the property of Valéria Maria Macoratti, current president of – Agroecological Cooperative of Rural Producers and Clean Water of the Southern Region of São Paulo. Created in 2011, the cooperative was created from the desire of some family farmers to no longer produce food using so-called “conventional” methods and farm organically. Tourism Concern explained the concept of the Ethical Travel guide and provided advice and information on how to develop community-based tourism for people who wanted to visit and stay on their farms.

Monday 18th June
SESC launched their new sustainable tourism magazine and invited Mark Watson, from Tourism Concern to be the guest speaker. Mark gave a one and half hour lecture on the work he has been doing at Tourism Concern, including the campaigns that Tourism Concern have run, and the reports produced. He also gave his perspective on how tourism could be improved and the barriers to change. The campaign he had worked on around Favela Tourism and Indigenous Tourism was very relevant. This was followed by a lively question and answer session.

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