Land Ethic and Tourism Development

Leopold’s Land Ethic pertains to global or universal values inherent to cultures in different regions, states, and communities all over the world. I might say that we are relatively immature here in the United States in developing and realizing this ethic towards the environment. As is exemplified by Chinese, Indian, and Maasai speakers, many cultures have a more inherent value placed on land and the environment. This has existed for centuries in most Eastern cultures and is exemplified much more powerfully in Eastern religions than in the many forms of Christianity.

All of these speakers understand the importance of land/sea ethics and, thus, we can see that these values transcend race, religion, gender, and any other categorical division me might create. While both Eastern and Western cultures certainly value land, the motivations behind this value placement can be very different. For example, most Western cultures have historically valued land for its extrinsic properties that individuals can use and exploit for their own shallow benefits. On the other hand, most Eastern cultures have historically placed more intrinsic value on land, accepting the complexities of natural systems rather than attempting to place numerical values on environmental entities and processes.

From these broad conceptualizations of East versus West, we can begin to grasp the complexity of visitor motivations inherent to the tourism industry. While tourism has the potential to break down cultural stereotypes and barriers, we can see its antithetical potential to reinforce these stereotypes and create breeding grounds for conflict between tourists who seek very different experiences in their travels. We can also see the potential for conflict between tourists and tourism providers. In his article, Leslie comments extensively on the difficulty in changing individual behaviors related to tourism and touches on the role that media plays in being counterproductive to these efforts.

“However, the primary concern of the enterprises involved in tourism is sustaining the company concerned. So in an increasingly competitive marketplace, coupled with the ongoing recession in northern hemisphere countries and the potentially small profit margins, any perception that being more responsible will increase costs for a company is likely to negatively influence the expansion of RT [Responsible Tourism] opportunities.” (Leslie)

This quote speaks to my own reservations regarding global tourism development, as I have expressed in many different contexts throughout this program so far. Because of the huge economic gains to be had from tourism (exemplified in the UNWTO Tourism Statistics), we often overlook its associated negative environmental and cultural impacts. The Maasai in Africa are a disturbing example of the displacement and relocation that can be associated with tourism development. Although, the actual development of physical infrastructure in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti Plains may be minimal, it was determined that the presence of the Maasai was unsuitable in an environment with so much ‘natural’ potential for tourism visitation. Thus, the Maasai were forced to relocate and companies like ‘On the Go Tours’ moved in. It is hard to imagine the creation of safaris and the operation of gas-powered vehicles on the Serengeti Plains being more sustainable than the pastoral shepherding practiced by the Maasai for thousands of years. This is just another example of the misplaced economic priorities and inequitable distribution of benefits often associated with tourism.

““Community conservancies only benefit the committee members who are paid hefty allowances” lamented Sydney Quantai, the Chairman of the Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation and Management (KCWCM).” (Ouma) Exemplified here is the issue of local elites benefitting from tourism activities in developing countries, withholding economic benefits from less fortunate citizens. A recent trend is seeing these local elites partnering with multinational tourism operators to engage in community-based projects meant to enhance local well-being. “Usually, such projects are in the form of public infrastructure such as schools and dispensaries. But though they are useful and necessary, they do not provide subsistence, income neither do they secure livelihoods to community members.” (Ouma) I believe this statement could be extrapolated to many outreach and mitigation projects currently being undertaken by the tourism industry. “The lopsided situation is set to continue as the high and increasing level of market power exercised by large, vertically-integrated tour operators gets entrenched.” (Ouma)

This brings me back to the need for tourism suppliers to more comprehensively evaluate their positive and negative impacts to avoid exploiting local populations. The primary barriers to more responsible tourism in my mind are twofold. First, the ‘western hegemony’ of tourism demand, as discussed by Milne and Ateljevic, must move towards a more responsible environmental ethic. This presents a substantial difficulty given the competitive and exploitative attitudes that are entrenched in much of Western culture. We are raised to believe that competition is essentially human nature and, thus, most of us spend our lives trying to differentiate ourselves from others. This competitive barrier must be breached in favor of a culture predicated more strongly on cooperation.

Second, our primary view of the world in Western culture is from an economic perspective that constantly seeks to place numerical value on goods and services. This perspective is inherently opposed to the valuation of the environment as well as cultural heritage. As long as we continue to operate within these constraints we will never be able to place enough value on environment and culture to essentially ‘de-value’ the shortsighted claims of the need for constant and consistent economic growth. While we are certainly making small steps in the right direction in considering our environmental, social, and cultural impacts, our current operational model may not be flexible enough to allow us to move past the “daily struggle between conflicting values and directives,” to hammer out new holistic frameworks that truly allow us to “plan and manage tourism resources for the good of all.”

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