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Tourism: sea, sand - and land speculation

We all need a break from time to time but do we ever stop to consider the impact and negative effects on the local communities where we choose to spend our hard-earned leisure time? Do we stop and consider what kind of holiday the people who are servicing our needs on our holiday get, if at all?

The majority of employment opportunities created by tourism worldwide for local populations is that of the low-paid service sector kind. Rarely regular work, and for a few months of the year only with no health insurance or pension contributions and no promise of job security. No thought of a holiday for them – just will there be enough money to last through the lean months, to feed the family, buy new school clothes and books for the kids, or fuel for the winter?

The following observations are based on eight years of being domiciled in a part of south west Turkey.

The small town in whose administrative area I live is but one example of what is happening at an ever-increasing rate in many areas of Turkey and other parts of the world too – a headlong rush to develop anywhere, anyhow, the primary criterion to make as much money as possible in as short a time as possible and never mind the consequences. As everywhere, the few get richer whilst some of the poor sell family land during the boom expecting a one-time sale to provide benefits and long-term security for this and the next generation, expectations far exceeding realistic possibilities in many cases. Teenagers are sent to study at one of the many tourism schools or colleges in order to learn English well enough to enter the world of work in the service sector.

Traditionally, farming was the major occupation in this area, mostly small owner-occupier farms with a few animals. Crops are cotton, maize, sesame, citrus fruits and salad crops. Plus there has always been a small fishing community. Electricity arrived about forty years ago, at about the same time as a tarmac road from the nearby small market town. At that time tourism was virtually unknown, more a backpackers’ destination for those prepared to camp out or have access to only basic facilities. Now this has become a destination of choice. A week or two of guaranteed sun, cheap accommodation, food and booze, family holidays, adventure, discos and dancing. Tree-covered mountainsides with fabulous sea views are being cleared to be crowded instead with concrete holiday villages. Rivers, reed beds and formerly remote coves are being polluted by the influx of too many people too much of the time. Marinas, golf courses, all-inclusive hotels and the inevitable infrastructure needed to connect them to highways and airports; huge road widening projects, tunnels through mountains – great for GDP and jobs in the short term, catastrophe for the environment in the long term.

Now, however, the latest developments move in another direction. Prime farming land is being turned into housing estates for incomers as it is in other areas currently seen to be ‘good value’ (i.e. cheaper than Western Europe), e.g. Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania etc, etc. The western working class, or some of them, can now afford to saddle themselves with a second mortgage/home, can invest in property in order to cash in later or offer their property for holiday let and probably pay no tax on earned income in either country. There is a feeling of well-being, having succeeded in obtaining a level of affluence once only dreamed of, an affluence entirely dependent on the system continuing to keep them in paid work for years to come. The incomers are perceived as wealthy, their ‘second home’ here being much bigger and more luxurious than the locals’ single, existing and often shared, home. The difference in average wages between host country and the home country is such that it adds to the illusion of everyone in Europe being wealthy. Both sides are guilty of being unaware of the other’s actual living costs. The incomers aren’t familiar with the real (lower) monetary cost of things here or of the actual wages to be had and the locals think the visitors have unlimited money to throw around if they don’t question the prices quoted or constantly comment on how cheap everything is in comparison with western Europe; a mix which causes problems of rip-offs and frauds, imagined and real, followed by mistrust on both sides. Resentment is growing. In a national, daily Turkish newspaper there was an article recently referring to ghettoization which said, roughly translated, ‘Don’t be surprised to wake up one morning to find GO HOME BRITS scrawled on your wall.’

This aspect of ‘foreigners’, i.e. Europeans, letting their property through the internet or privately but admitting only to owner-occupation (although the truth is clear to others in the neighbourhood) has begun to be a bone of contention with local hotel, boarding house and restaurant owners who see their own business potential declining and income reduced as a consequence of unfair competition. Legitimate businesses have overheads not encountered by private individuals and undeclared income in the capitalist system is seen as theft and unfair advantage.

Outside the central area (where most development has taken place and little farmland remains) some families are keen to sell land to cash in before the bubble bursts but they can only sell it once. Once sold there is no possibility to farm it and herein lies another problem. Why would anyone want to sell good productive farmland? The farming sector is suffering from the unfair market place and falling prices for producers. Tomato crops are being ploughed into the ground. The area once prized for cotton sees less of it grown year by year. Foreign subsidised imports are cheaper for the textile industry. Unless they have a large family to work for free the farmers can’t afford to pay pickers (last year at ú4 a day) and the crop is left to rot. Some farmers and/or their children are moving into the tourism sector and allied occupations, occupations with low pay and no security. Government, however, has policies regarding tourism numbers etc., as do governments the world over, all seen as large ú, $ or Euro signs. It’s the fastest growing industry and therefore to be prized and commended. The money comes into the country; where it goes after arrival is not of primary importance. Laws have been relaxed allowing (encouraging?) the sale of land which was formerly protected from development, even in environmentally sensitive areas.

The rich get richer, the poor – well, we know about that one....

According to received wisdom, for ‘richer’ read ‘more money’, ‘more buying power’, ‘ownership’ and for ‘poor’ read ‘less money’, ‘less buying power’, ‘dependence’; a scale of measurement based on one factor only.

A brief scan of television advertising by the tourism agencies of a number of countries shows a large representation from those ‘poorer’ countries. As is to be expected, only the positive side is promoted, the advertisers seeking to trick potential travellers into seeing only what the advertisers want them to see and often carefully protecting them from seeing the ‘real’ country when they arrive by arranging suitable tours and escorted visits which skirt the worst areas, i.e. the areas where the majority of the population have to live and work. ‘Incredible India’ portrayed as rich in culture, diversity, history; ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ steeped in ancient culture with a rich variety of wildlife and welcoming nationals to serve all your needs; ‘Jordan’- history, architecture, wild, exciting landscapes and outdoor activity; ‘The Maldives’ destination for outstanding hospitality, crystal clear sea and mouth-watering cuisine. No mention or sight of the teeming millions living in abject poverty in huge slums with no access to clean water; or of undemocratic repressive regimes, or of sensitive environments being degraded to build first-world standard accommodation and golf courses, or of human rights abuses. Just bring us your money and let the ever-increasing divide grow some more.

Who’s to blame? The ‘rich’ working class of the West? No, they’re guilty of having been duped by the system they live under to believe that they have a good life, even while they’re complaining about working too many hours, worrying what will happen to their pension, trying to live up to the expectations thrust on them by the capitalist media. The poorer working classes of the countries now being subjected to tourism can hardly be blamed either for trying to improve their lives and living conditions. Why shouldn’t they have a piece of the pie?

Both sections of the working class are to be blamed for one thing though and that is for not recognising that they aren’t on different sides, they are one and the same. They all need employment, a job or a handout on a regular basis. Without this they are finished. No holiday. No home. No food. No clothes. No nothing. They are to be blamed for not recognising it is the capitalist system itself that is to blame, that causes the divide between rich and poor, of whatever level, that actively works to set one section of the working class against another, to prevent them from working together against the system. How else could such a pernicious system prevail? When the working class of the world eventually understand this we’ll be well on our way to achieving our goal.

JANET SURMAN