Like him or loathe him, George Monbiot is an essential read if you want to understand the world around you or the politic that dictates your daily life. I thoroughly enjoy George's work which provides an incisive critique on the power cliques that we trust to deliver a safe environment, democratic accountability or a peaceful world. He also sends a powerful message to Consumers that they have a responsibility for the world around them!
As I was examining George's work recently I came across an article he wrote in 1998, entitled 'Whingeing Poms'. The premise of the article suggests that instead of making holiday complaints, UK holidaymakers need to consider the environment of the countries that they are visiting and the effect of tourism on the local economy and the people.
I have absolutely no argument in the suggestion that Consumers need to consider these issues but I would also argue that where a promise is broken, that Consumer should enjoy the rights afforded to them in law - that is the underlying principle of Regulation. However, I also believe that Consumers not only have a responsibility to explore but to also educate themselves on human rights abuses and indeed their own behaviour and 'footprint' within an 'exotic' destination.
Following the outbreak of illness amongst UK holidaymakers (there was a hint of the Travel Industry mantra that it's only the Brits who complain - this is actually not correct!), in which he described their illnesses as 'upset stomachs', George quoted the late Brenda Wall as apparently stating:
"“It’s become a nightmare,” Brenda Wall of Holiday Travelwatch moaned. “For the very first time a third world country has become a number one travel destination and the infrastructure can’t keep up with it.”
Hmm George -'moaned'? Really?
I was about at the time of these Domincan Republic 'stomach upset' illnesses and many revealed, Shigella, Salmonella and Campylobacter along with a litany of shocking so-called 5* failures!
The story that Brenda told was that of ordinary working people, working for 50 weeks of the year, for that precious 2 weeks, offered with all the gloss and pazazz that any company could pack into its brochure!
There were many things you could say about Brenda, but moaning was not one of them.
This was a lady who worked for many years in one of Birmingham's busiest NHS hospitals within the gastroenterology department. She was just an ordinary person who in 1994 found herself in a similar extraordinary situation on an exotic holiday in the Caribbean and had acquired 3 notifiable diseases. So incensed was she that she discovered the Package Travel Regulations and challenged the might of a Travel Company and won! Her success led to many ordinary people finding her and using her new found skills to challenge these coroprate monoliths; it was a story of the rise of a new form of Consumer activism which still continues today!
As she developed this Organisation she began to understand how Travel Corporations work and how ordinary people in these destinations were also victims of a so-called Corporate ethic.
Before she died, she wanted HolidayTravelWatch to try and ensure that Consumers also realised that they had a responsibility in the holiday that they chose and to think carefully about where they are travelling to.
To emphasise this point, she and latterly through me, fully subscribed to the ethic promoted by Tourism Concern.
Since Brenda's death we have sought to:
- Persuade Consumers to think about Human Rights/Destination Politics/The affect of Tourism on the local population as part of how they chose a holiday;
- We have asked: 'How Green is your Travel? The Flight Debate' - here we suggested that Consumers were waiting for political leadership whilst highlighting the evidence of consequences on the environment and how the Travel Industry reacts to criticism;
- Highlighting 'Responsible Travel' from 'closed shop' resorts to the effect of introducing holidaymakers to a shattered destination after a man-made or natural disaster;
- Promoting Ethical Organisations involved in issues from climate to travel to human rights;
- Raising concerns on the death of Corporate Responsibility;
- Asking the question as to 'How ethical is your Travel?' where we highlighted displacement, low wages and the excellent work of Tourism Concern;
- Highlighted issues on the sale and purchase of 'blood diamonds';
- Provided expressions of concern and highlighting the morality of 'holidaymaking' on Sri Lanka during their war;
- Highlighting the Sri Lankan government actions on water protests by local people and suggesting that holidaymakers should think before they legitimise a government with their tourist £;
- Suggested that Consumers should think about destinations and whether they are being used as 'foot soldiers' in the promotion of UK foreign policy;
- We called for the boycott of tourism to Burma and highlighted the alleged roles of the Travel Industry;
- Highlighted the Kenyan sex trade and called the Kenyan Minister to task!
We have also taken:
- A leading role in challenging the Aviation Industry on the issue of Contaminated Cabin Air which not only affects passengers but also the daily work environment of cabin crew and pilots;
- Along with others, we have opened the dialogue the cruise industry would rather you did not hear on 'Crimes at Sea' and called for a greater Regulation of that industry, whilst also working with colleagues with wider 'environmental' or 'employment' of crew concerns;
- We have tackled the Travel Industry's march toward a greater self-regulatory position and demonstrated through telling the holidaymakers story why government should not abdicate its responsibility to protect the weaker stakeholder - the Consumer!
- We also work with fellow campaigners and highlight to holidaymakers issues on toxins whether that is on land based or marine based holidays
In his article, George makes very valid points indeed on how tourism can leave local populations high and dry and how illnesses are rampant amongst the poorer districts of a destination; the question in 2014 is this - have the issues highlighted by George improved since 1998?
I don't think so, as this report from the BBC reveals; in August 2014, the Chikungunya Virus in the Dominican Republic already accounts for 50% of the cases in the whole of the Caribbean! Will you find any reference to such a risk within any travel brochure - of course not! What does the Foreign & Commonwealth Office say? They declare that most visits are 'trouble-free' and with regards to the Chikungunya Virus, 'cases...have been reported'!
I could not possibly condemn George for his article; that was 1998, it was a different time, a time when perhaps Consumers were more innocent.
Despite the actions of Brenda Wall and this Organisation & others, Consumers are subjected to the daily seduction of corporations on the promise of the 'must-have' or 'must go there' - a home from home is what is promised!
These corporations are supported by governments, designed to grease the wheels of Industry. As we see year in and year out, the Travel Industry is only interested in bums on seats, the balance sheet and the Consumer and those who supposedly benefit from tourism can simply go to that other exoctic paradise; hell! If I am wrong, then they can always prove me wrong!