things magazine / about / what's new? / archive / photos / projects / order
things 15
winter 2001-02
caption link / issue index / archives
Heather Puttock
No-go areas

Patricia Goldstone: Making the World Safe for Tourism,
Yale: Yale University Press, 2001, 280 Pages, £22.50

In the final days of the last century, a native New Yorker, Patricia Goldstone, took her place in the millennial throng thrusting its way through the streets of Manhattan. She had with her a small notice that she had cut out from the New York Times. It was a State Department warning advising Americans to stay away from large holiday celebrations throughout the world, based on ‘credible targeting information’. Goldstone explains the notice was ‘possibly related to planned attacks by Islamic Fundamentalist, Osama Bin Laden’.

She continues, ‘Of course “nothing happened” on December 31 1999, in the sense of a definable act of terrorism. Something more insidious did happen. The ferment that accompanied the turn of the last century was conspicuously absent. Instead of crowding into the streets, people stayed at home and watched the distant spectacle on television.’ Terrorism, for Goldstone, is an abstract concept, its bogeyman imagery deployed, she implies, as a pernicious tool to frighten Americans into passivity.

But on 11 September, after Goldstone’s book was published, those shadowy figures came out of the imagination’s half-light and were transmogrified into real-life demons. The world witnessed a different kind of spectacle, the images of which would be forever seared into its collective psyche. America’s perceived immunity from direct terrorist attack – an incontrovertibility that rings quietly in the background of Goldstone’s findings – lay in twisted metal shards.

The phrase has quickly become a cliché, but it’s true, the world did change after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and it is with an unfortunate sense of dramatic irony that one reads Making the World Safe For Tourism; not least because the original bromide – Making the World Safe For Democracy – is the casus belli for the war in Afghanistan.

Tourism has become one of the world’s biggest industries. According to a report by the World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC) – a forum for industry leaders – it accounts for 11 per cent of global GDP, or $4.4 trilion per annum. It employs more than 200 million people, or one in nine workers worldwide, and contributes $65 billion to governments in direct or indirect taxes – 11 per cent of all tax payments; and is an important element in international trade and the balance of payments.

The WTTC now fears that a 10 per cent fall in demand could cost 8.8 million jobs worldwide. Airline businesses, already in crisis because of a global economic slowdown before 11 September, went into an economic tailspin. Canada 3000, Canada’s second largest carrier, grounded its fleet and sought court protection from its creditors; an ailing SwissAir sacrificed the Belgian airline, Sabena; and British Airways, Europe’s largest airline, made 7,000 workers redundant. The BAA, the British airport operator, also reported a slump in passenger numbers travelling through its seven UK airports, with the Atlantic market down 31 per cent in the month after the attacks.

Whether the WTTC will have its worst fears realised depends on how long it takes for beleaguered Americans to take to the air again, because when Americans stop travelling the economies of most of the world suffer: in 2000 Americans were responsible for $65 billion, or 13 per cent, of worldwide expenditure on tourism.

If we extrapolate Goldstone’s findings in Making the World Safe for Tourism, the prognosis looks bleak. In 1997 an Islamic group killed 62 tourists in Luxor as part of a campaign to bring down the secular government. In the period before the attack, tourism revenues in Egypt had topped $3.5 billion and tourism had provided employment for nearly four million Egyptians. After the shootings, the seriously depleted tourist arrivals effectively destroyed Egypt’s economic goal of fostering a growth rate of higher than 5.3 per cent for 1997.

‘For any country’, Goldstone writes, ‘but particularly for one as strategically important as Egypt, to become so dependent on tourism runs the risk of exacerbating underlying economic problems if tourism falls off, thus inflaming nationalist sentiment and possibly becoming a target for terrorism by competing powers. It is difficult to see how this is a recipe for peace’.

Yet tourism is still regarded by the UN as a catholicon for Less Developed Countries (LDCs), and the fulcrum of ‘development economics’ have, since the end of the Second World War, been galvanised to redistribute the resources of tourism to former colonies. It is easy to see why newly independent states have been pulled towards this essentially quick-fix approach. As Goldstone explains, LDCs generally have resource-based economies and are dependent on agricultural exports. As exporters of raw materials – with limited manufacturing capabilities – they are susceptible to price fluctuations. Their low level of development and high need for development capital – attended by weak infrastructures, high unemployment and high population growth – can lead to severe deficits in the balance of payments. This in turn can lead to depreciating currency rates and a concomitant reliance on foreign loans and aid. It is not surprising, therefore, that countries such as Panama, with little capital and scant expertise to develop mining resources, have used their untouched landscapes as a means of bolstering their hard currency receipts through tourism.

The flip side to this policy, however, is that tourism needs heavy infrastructure investment, which means that resources that could really tackle the root causes of poverty on a long-term basis, such as investing in housing, are deployed elsewhere. The only real beneficiaries appear to be the World Bank and other international money-lending institutions that have used the UN as a platform to advocate policies that emphasise service sector exports, such as tourism, as an important source of revenue – and as a way of quickly recouping loans.

When independent states blinked in the light of the post-colonial world, their state-owned tourist companies were the physical manifestation of development economics. Not only did they represent modernity and economic dynamism, they were a realisation of national identity and sovereignty. But the mass privatisation of these companies that began in the early 1990s has raised a moot point. Is privatisation part of the globalisation of democratisation, or is it just neo-colonisation with corporate branding?

As tourism has become more globalised, with consortia of airlines, hoteliers, credit card companies, competing for tourist dollars, PR companies have entered the fray for foreign national accounts and have become extremely adept at manipulating the type and flow of international news. Goldstone cites the example of the Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina governments who employed an American PR company to rehabilitate the anti-Semitic Franjo Tudjman and win Jewish-American sympathy for the Croatian and Bosnian Islamic regimes by a marketing campaign that completely revised history by equating Serbs with Nazis. Another strategy is that of pre-emptive peace, where PR companies declare peace before a conflict has actually finished in the hope that foreign investors will take the opportunity of rapid growth, thereby providing employment that will in turn prevent fighting breaking out again.

One wonders when strategically placed lobbyists in the US government, anxious for long haul destinations and impatient for a diplomatic solution to what looks like becoming a protracted conflict in Afghanistan, will declare peace in the expectation that investors will dive in to get a foothold in the country’s economy. (Let’s not forget that America is desperate to get its hands on the oil reserves in Afghanistan, and once nearly brokered a deal with the Taliban). One can see the brochure picture now: the sun setting over scree slopes, with mulberry and apricot trees turning orange and yellow in the valley below, and the muezzin trotting by on a donkey as he calls the faithful to prayer. Oh, and the blue beret of a UN soldier on the horizon as he protects the tourist on his/her ‘adventure travels’.

Goldstone’s text, with its nimiety of parentheses and witty asides, covers a lot of ground, but, particularly in her concluding case studies – of Cuba, Ireland and the Middle East – one feels the critique could benefit from being a little more rhetorical. In Ireland, for example, a country where Goldstone spent a lot of time as a post-graduate, her thesis drifts from analysis (of the film industry) to travelogue to memoir. You enjoy the craic but, like the rocky road to Dublin, it’s all rather uneven and you long to get on the straight and narrow again. Nevertheless, Goldstone is probably the first commentator to examine the social and political impacts of tourism within the context of the nascent globalisation debate.

things 15, Winter 2001/02

back to top of page