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Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel: The Paving of Paradise and What You Can Do to Stop It by Deborah McLaren

Deborah McLaren asks the most provocative question in travel today: Where is tourism traveling? And answers: down a dead-end path. She finds the problem is how transnational corporations "commodify" our urge to explore the world and how they coax us into excessive consumption even when it's the consumerist rat race we try to escape on vacation.

McLaren's analysis is persuasive though hardly new. In The Golden Hordes (1975), Louis Turner and John Ash, vanguard critics a generation ago, complained how tourism widens the North-South rift in the name of development. What McLaren adds is how ecotourism, which claims to balance conservation priorities of host societies with consumption priorities of the marketplace, further strengthens overseas control of the global enterprise. Ecotourists, same as their mainstream counterparts, fly mostly on airlines owned by transnational corporations. They inflate land values while competing with locals for onsite transportation and food. Their demand for everything from costly energy to lodge sites skews the allocation of scarce capital.

Further, the growing popularity of ecotravel subverts whatever integrity the idea of ecotourism once had. Marketers indiscriminately label everything "ecotourism." Not only the market gets confused. So do indigenous people dazzled by exposure to the purchasing power of ecotourists, no different from other tourists. Subsistence economies get subverted by the craving for cash.

McLaren, director of a nonprofit project that advocates local control over tourism, ultimately calls for basing all travel on respect for different ways of life. She argues that reform in tourism is impossible without first struggling against the consumerist grip on our own lives at home. McLaren's arguments rely chiefly on the critical writings of others instead of on first-hand familiarity with the places she wants to protect. This doesn't blunt her analysis but probably accounts for her narrow conclusion that only activism at home will prepare us for the activist role abroad that alone justifies traveling from here to there.

Meanwhile people keep traveling, and even those who accept McLaren's analysis will likely understand, in the way change comes slowly in all things, that ecotourism may be the best compromise on the way toward achieving that ideal world to which McLaren is dedicated.


ISBN: 1565491696

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