Tricia Barnett: We must consider the people who live where we like to holiday


THE SLOGAN for the most environmentally friendly travelling used to be: "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints". How times have changed. The footprint we now talk about is a human rights footprint. It includes the environment, the economy and the social and cultural impacts of tourism. Those who are most affected live in the world's poorest destinations and feel powerless.

What dominates the stories we hear is people's lack of choice. Many would like tourism to continue but in a way that they, their families and their communities can benefit from. Tourism for them can be a strange force that arrives without their permission or without any prior discussion. These are primarily people from poor countries whose governments are encouraged to support tourism development in order to pay off debt and bring in foreign exchange. Too much of what is developed is fuelled by greed and profit.

Tourism's footprint accounts for huge numbers of displaced people who live on and work on the beaches where we take our holidays. It accounts for dismal wages and appalling working conditions and for the exploitation of children. And of course tourism's footprint plunders the very environment it depends on.

Those campaigning to challenge this powerful and unsustainable industry are gaining a foothold. A determined group of Bahamian islanders have successfully fought to prevent the complete destruction of Bimini by outsider hotel and second-home developers; in Zanzibar villagers now have water and access to their beach – both cut off by a new "eco- hotel", and porters' working conditions are being monitored as they come in from their Kilimanjaro treks.

But the biggest movement of all is from the world's poor who are claiming their own right to earn income from tourism and who welcome guests with genuine warmth, because they have learned to manage their own community based tourism. It is the footprint from our actions to support people's rights that we need to see more of.

Tricia Barnett is the Director of Tourism Concern. She will be taking part in the debate 'Environmental Impacts on Tourism' at the Royal Geographical Society, London SW7, today,