Today marks ‘World Tourism Day’, a recognised day to celebrate the benefits which tourism brings. It’s important to remember that it isn’t all positive, however…
World tourism day, celebrated on the 27th of September and recognised by the UN, acknowledges the role tourism can play in bringing countries together culturally, socially and economically.
Whilst recognising the positive role tourism can have is important, we should also consider some of the negative effects certain forms of tourism can have on local communities. Sex tourism in particular is affecting many communities across the world. Sex tourism is typically understood as visiting a country with the intention of paying for sex, and given the often favourable exchange rates that Western visitors have when visiting developing countries, many local people can come to rely on the trade as a means for making a living. It can sometimes be one of the best options to make money for locals with little educational background. Looking at the sex tourism industry in Brazil, for instance, a week of sex work can equal around a month’s wage for a job such as a hotel or restaurant worker. And to make a little extra, sometimes sex workers will forego protection when requested and offered more money. One Western tourist interviewed by the magazine POZ said that approximately 10% of sex workers he had encountered would be prepared to accept this.
When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV, yet in many cases there is little access to condoms, or a lack of awareness as to the importance of condom use. It is for this reason that campaigns that promote condom use and availability, in combination with sexual health training, are so vital. At present, however, some communities are facing a lack of both, and this has led to increased HIV prevalence.
Of course, tourists from the West who visit countries with sex tourism in mind are negatively affected as well. One study estimated the percentage of HIV cases in the UK as a result of sex abroad to be at 15%.
Tourism has been an amazing new development which, as a result of affordable plane tickets, we almost take entirely for granted, and it is important to reflect on the gains made as a result. There is little experience more inherently magical than stepping into what is in effect a large metal tube, hurtling through space as you eat dinner and watch a movie, and arriving a few hours later on a different continent, as a new culture awaits to be explored. The effect is an internationally-minded young population and new ways of thinking to name just a few.
At the same time, the increase in general international tourism has been accompanied by an increase in sex tourism. It’s this darker side of tourism that is not very often talked about. The dependency of some communities on sex tourism is unfortunate, and the power of money often incites risky sexual behaviour. Starting to talk about such problems is a first step in helping to do something about them.