Tourism – an excluding journey

REPORT | 29 October 2008
Migrant workers at one of the many hotel constructions on the Thai coast.

SwedWatch and the Fair Trade Center have reviewed the largest Swedish tour operators to assess the way in which they are tackling the social problems caused by the fast-growing tourist industry.

Research was conducted by means of two field studies as well as interviews with the largest tour operators. Field studies, conducted at popular charter destinations, have highlighted a number of problems. Money spent by tourists from overseas is an important source of income for the local population and creates many jobs in the destination countries. In Thailand, for example, tourism accounts for a larger proportion of the national GNP than average for other countries in the world. However, this could be more. Nevertheless, little of this money actually benefits the destination country due to “leakage”, a phenomenon that is described in more detail in the introduction.

The “all-inclusive” option, a relatively new concept being offered by tour operators, further dilutes the amount of money reaching the local population. With “all-inclusive” virtually all costs for the traveller are included in the price paid to the tour operator (hotel, food, drinks, transport, etc.). Since these tour operators mostly work with large international suppliers of goods and services rather than local ones, very little of the money being spent by the tourist actually benefits the local economy. The vast majority of the employees connected to the tourist industry in Brazil are paid the statutory minimum wage. However, this does not even cover the basic needs of a family and the contracts that these wages are based on are often insecure and seasonal.

In Thailand, the hotel sector employs migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia, mostly as gardeners, cleaners, waiters and labourers on hotel construction sites. These migrant workers often live in shacks that cannot be seen by tourists and working conditions rarely meet the demands stipulated by labour legislation. Migrant workers are often employed by a middle man, a so-called “broker”, who has agreed to supply a hotel owner with workers. The contracts are often only agreed upon verbally and it is not unusual that the agreed wage is either not paid out in full or at all. Working hours are longer than the legal working hours and the guidelines concerning sick leave are not applicable. A guest work is not allowed to change employer without a written agreement from the employer, making it virtually impossible to change jobs. During the field study in Thailand it emerged that children aged under 15 were working on construction sites and renovations of hotels.

Made in collaboration with: Fair Trade Center