The revenue from tourism has grown exponentially since the 1960s. The importance of tourism has been recognized by the IMF and part of what they see as a successful economy. Accordingly, the IMF has set preconditions for receiving loans. These preconditions are set out in SAPs – structural adjustment programs. SAPs are far from innocuous, and one group that have been negatively impacted are indigenous peoples.
According to the World Tourism Organization in the 1950s 25 million people traveled abroad. In the 1960s this number was 70 million and in 1997 the number of people going to a foreign country jumped to 617 million. In terms of revenue in the 1960s tourism generated revenues in the region of US$ 6.8 billion. By 1997 that number was US$448 billion.
If a developing country wants to receive a loan from the IMF it must make certain changes. These include moving from an agricultural to an industrial and service based economy, to liberalizing the economy and to removing trade barriers. The latter policy allows transnational companies to move in and buy valuable resources in developing countries. In short, to receive desperately needed financial help countries must be prepared to see their markets and resources taken over by multinationals.
In terms of tourism, SAPs stipulate that a developing country must open up its nature reserves, build hotels and promote eco-tourism.
The result is that previously unvisited areas such as the forests and savannah lands of Africa, remote parts of the Philippines and many other places in world such as the Amazon and the islands off Koh Samui and Khao Lak that were once the home to indigenous peoples are being ‘invaded’ by tourists. Even though eco-tourism promises to tread lightly it still encourages indigenous people to leave their traditional occupations and work for tourism. Moreover, the wild life is scared by the tourists. Eco tourism disrupts patterns that have persisted for many thousands of years.
The promotion of tourism by the IMF is just another example of the pernicious influence of an organization whose primary goal is to further enrich banks and other financial institutions.