Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Question Of Degree: Tourism morality

I have never been to The Maldives. It is one of those holiday destinations that is a brochure-writer's dream. How many meaningless superlatives for islands set amidst turquoise seas with romantic, palm-lined, velvety white beaches can be contained in a brochure? The entire brochure thesaurus can be thrown at descriptions of The Maldives. But you won't find any descriptions about what it must be like if you are a fifteen-year-old girl who has been raped and who finds herself anticipating receiving a hundred lashes for her crime. Crime? How in Allah's name or any other name, can she have committed a crime?

An online petition that urges a tourism boycott of The Maldives has thus far attracted almost two million names. The islands' tourism minister has said that this damage to the tourism industry must stop. There wouldn't be a campaign in Switzerland to damage Swiss chocolate, he has protested bizarrely. No, there probably wouldn't be, but then the Swiss don't as a rule go around lashing fifteen-year-old rape victims.

If the petition succeeds, then good. If it means the collapse of a miserable government with a miserable tourism minister, then also good. Tourists taking a genuine stand against miserable regimes is long overdue. But will they? Or will tourism life just carry on much as normal, a blind eye being turned to inhumanity and turned instead to the grass sunshades dotted along those velvety white beaches where tourists can relax on sturdy wooden sun loungers listening to the gentle lapping of the turquoise sea and the screams of a girl being given a far from gentle thrashing?

Tourism and morality are often mutually exclusive. Defining tourist morality or immorality is a question of the degree of the possible immorality. Is it immoral for a tourist to come to Mallorca, stay in an all-inclusive and as a result primarily fill the coffers of a foreign tour operator? Whether it is or it isn't, no one is getting hurt. Not physically at any rate. No one is lending support to the main industry of a miserable regime that came into power by overthrowing a democratically elected president.

However, cast your minds back a few decades. Europe wasn't short of miserable regimes. Their level of miserableness was also a question of degree. For a time, the Greeks could boast one of the most miserable. It was that miserable that when I crossed the border by train from Yugoslavia, a young Yugoslav was dragged off the train and beaten up on the platform in full view of everyone on the train. Moments later, the corridors were full of Greek hostesses, beaming brightly and welcoming everyone to Greece. But then again, Tito's Yugoslavia wasn't necessarily a shining example of tolerance. And nor was Franco's Spain and so nor was Mallorca. Spain's fascism may by then have become a comedy, sunglassed villain of fascism but it was still fascism.

One of the less considered aspects of Mallorca's rise to tourism domination in the sixties is the moral one. The argument in favour of foreign tourism to Mallorca was that tourism would help ordinary people. That it would also help the regime was indisputable, but the regime being helped would mean an improved economy and greater wealth. And, as things were to turn out, the argument was a correct one. The moral issue was one that exercised British politicians more than it did tourists. The British Government, certainly in the 1950s, had no time for Franco, and this was why it did all it could to prevent British businesspeople getting involved with Mallorca's nascent tourism industry. Not that it deterred these businesspeople. And once it became clear that the Americans didn't give a damn about fascism (or rather, gave a very big damn about communism) and were willing to pump vast amounts of dollars into Spain, then the British changed their tune.

There were attempts to boycott tourism to Mallorca. The British Communist Party proposed one in the early 1960s but dropped it on the advice of their Spanish comrades. The National Union of Mineworkers urged members not to go to Mallorca and Spain in 1969. Amnesty International put up posters in airports in 1970 that were designed to dissuade tourists.

The fact is that tourists took very little notice, if any. Were they morally wrong therefore? Perhaps it was a question of degree in a different sense; that of the level of awareness that was much lower then and is much higher today. Will this awareness have an impact on The Maldives? Maybe it will or maybe it won't. Tourism and morality are not the same thing.

Any comments to please.

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