Tourism's Plague | Dr Ivan Murray Mas (Alba Sud)
On this episode, our guest is Dr Ivan Murray Mas, an activist, author, and Associate Lecturer at the University of the Balearic Islands.
He is a father, a former fisherman, and a contributor and editor of many books, the most recent of which include "Tourism and Degrowth: Towards a Truly Sustainable Tourism," and "#TourismPostCOVID19: Lockdown Touristification." Here, we'll explore the latter, "Lockdown Touristification," and discuss the themes that Ivan and Ernest Canada have written about, including the role of tourism in laying the groundwork for the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the impact of business travel in that spread, the countless jobs lost from the pandemic, and the precarious and predatory return of the tourism industry in a post-pandemic world.
Ivan holds a (Master of Science) in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Human Geography from the University of the Balearic Islands. He is involved with various social movements and collectives in the Balearic Islands, including GOB (Balearic Ornithological Group), Tot Inclos, and Alba Sud.
Tourism and life in pandemic Mallorca, Spain
Tourism as power and capitalist accumulation
Ivan’s story studying tourism and forming collectives with other critical tourism scholars #TourismPostCOVID19: Lockdown Touristification essay
Tourism as the main vector for the spread of the COVID-19 virus
2008 Financial crisis as the beginning of tourism’s unprecedented rise
Business / elite tourism as an ignored vehicle for the COVID-19 virus
Blaming the tourist vs the tourism industry
Disaster capitalism as disaster tourism
How the tourism industry is being commodified behind the scenes of the pandemic
The manner of exit from one crisis holds in it the seeds of the next crisis
Biodiversity protection as protection from disease
Contradictions in ecotourism
Going beyond tourism / towards a post-capitalist world
The role of tourists and tourism workers in changing the tourism industry
Transforming tourism means looking beyond tourism
Chris: Welcome to the podcast, Ivan.
Ivan: Hi, how are you doing?
Chris: Excellent. Thank you. I'd love it if you could share with our listeners where you find yourself today in the world and what the world looks like where you are physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Ivan: Well, I live in Mallorca. I was born here and I live in a small town. It's a village called Soller, which is in the northern part of the island.
So, I'm here in our place at home and I'm working at the university as a lecturer and this semester hasn't finished yet. So it's a bit tiring right now. So, I'm here, but I would like to be somewhere else, I guess. And here it's pretty hot right now, and here we always have strange feelings in summertime because it's supposed to be a relaxing time for most of the people, but normally, the people living here in Mallorca, is the moment when they have to work hardest because it's a tourism-based society. So, most people work in the tourism sector or other services related to tourism.
Chris: And even right now, there's, there's a good amount of tourism there?
Ivan: Yeah. I mean, this is also pretty, pretty weird because, well, you have now most of the measures seems to be a bit relaxed, but the pandemic is still here and cases have increased quite a lot. So, you have to share many, many different situations like crowded beaches and some of the most well-known tourist hot-spots, plenty of people or drinking or whatever. The airport is already over-crowded and at the same time we have all those news saying, "uh, watch out, it's one of the hardest moment of the pandemic" and so on and so forth. So, but at the same time, it's okay. We have to, to save the economy, so do whatever is required to save the economic situation.
Chris: Hm. Yeah. What it's like to live in tourism hotspots in a time of pandemic and pandemonium. Ivan, I came to you through your work with Alba Sud, a Catalan association that presents itself as a platform of exchange and joint work between professionals, academics and activists from different disciplines.
Alba Sud writes and publishes articles, essays, and anthologies on what I would call critical tourism studies. They're mostly available in Spanish, but some such as the subject of our talk today are written and published in English. They too are dispatches from the resistance. Dr. Ivan Murray, you are a father, activist, and professor at the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain. Could you tell us a little bit about how you began working on critical tourism studies and as well as with Alba Sud?
Ivan: Well, I would say that I would never expect to do my research related to tourism, but the fact of living here on an island of Mallorca which is one of the most important tourism destinations worldwide, I will say, makes everything you analyze and you try to understand is crossed by tourism.
I mean, tourism effects all social aspects. So, if you want to study the social transformations, natural transformations, you end up studying or dealing with tourism. So, this is one of the reasons I started working on tourism. At the same time, tourism is here in a place like the Balearics. It's very clear that all power is structured around the tourism issues. Tourism is power and tourism is a capitalist way of accumulation, so dealing with tourism is dealing with capitalism.
So, something that it's pretty obvious for people living in a place like Mallorca, but that's not so clear, at least in part of the literature. So, tourism seems to be something different from capital, but it's pretty obvious that tourism is one of the forms capital adopts. In doing so, I've been involved in different social movements and mainly in the environmentalist one.
And if we were campaigning against, for instance, some type of urbanization or transport infrastructures, most of them are developed in the name of tourism. So, it's for having more tourists, for becoming richer and so on and so forth. What we see is that, uh, our society is becoming poorer and more unequal, so we try to reverse the main narrative here on the island through different collectives.
In doing so, I would say that I learn more from social activism than from the academia. So most of the things we have done in the last 20-25 years, then, I tried to organize all those ideas and to try to think a bit more on them and finally to write something on that.
When I started doing that, I realized that critical studies in tourism were very scarce, almost nothing was done. Most of the tourism studies and the literature on tourism was trying to polish the industry to make it very, very nice. And it's like the, you know, the stories of the saints. That's not what I see. So, I try with some colleagues to write another narrative. We started to bridge or merge the tourism analysis with other sources, other intellectuals, like for instance, David Harvey, Neil Smith and many others. Also, Spanish and Latin American intellectuals, like for instance, Jose Manuel Naredo, Ramon Fernandez Duran, Raul Zibechi and so on and so forth, trying to put all these questions in dialogue.
I met Ernest Canada already some years ago and because we were so little people working on that, so it was very easy to have a very good connection with him. We were very few. So, we started to share our worries and our findings and trying to put all together. That was the time when the previous economic boom and bubble during the two thousands when most of the Mallorcan tourism corporations where colonizing in the Caribbean with foreign investments, building hotels and opening many hotels in Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, and so on, so forth.
And what we attempted to do on those days was to share our knowledge from the academic point of view, but also from an activist point of view, with other academics from those places and also to establish connections with other social movements in those places.
So, that's the beginning of our relations and ever since we have had a very good dialogue and share many, many of other worries and thoughts.
Chris: Amazing. And what do you think, Ivan, has changed in the last 10 years then in regards to tourism and how it's understood both in the university and in the street?
Ivan: I would say that from 2008, 2010, things have changed a lot.
I mean, I'm talking during the 2000, but then from 2010, something like that, it's like a boom of critical tourism studies, I will say, much more connected with grassroots movements. I think it's a good moment now for these type of reflections.
Chris: Well, what a thing to be able to find the others who share your understanding and perspectives on the world and especially for people like yourself who live in the middle and in the midst of tourist cities and towns, finding solidarity amongst your colleagues in order to deepen this conversation. And so on behalf of our listeners, I thank you for your willingness to be here with us today and to continue this really important work.
Speaking of Ernest Canada, the founder of Alba Sud and yourself wrote this incredible essay, prefacing a critical tourism anthology, entitled "Lockdown Touristification," which is available on Alba Sud's website and for our listeners, that will be available in the show notes as well.
In the essay, Ivan, you and Ernest wrote how the tourism industry is deeply implicated in the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 virus, specifically as an enduring consequence of the 2008 economic crisis. Could you explain to me and to our listeners why that 12-year old crisis was so significant and how it might've led to the collapse of global tourism just over a year ago?
Ivan: Yeah. We have to look at the mirror and see that the 2008 crisis was a crisis related to the financial, real estate sector.
And after that, with the burst of the bubble, capital had to find and to look for new niches of accumulation, and tourism became a major fit, a solution for that capital. And in doing so, tourism became one of the leading economic sectors worldwide and the hypermobilities globally, expanded dramatically.
So, what we have after the 2008 crisis is an increase in extension of tourism activities. We have an expansion of tourism for instance to Southeast Asia, but also a deepening of the tourism dynamics, for instance, in the city, through the process of "Airbnbification."
So, the real estate that was at the core of the previous crisis was recycled as a tourism commodity. Most of financial capitals that fit in the real estate sector, they shift towards the tourism one. As an example, in 2008, we had around 800 million international tourists worldwide. In 2012, was already 1000 million international tourists (in English is 1 billion).
I mean, just before the pandemic was 1.4, almost 1.5 billion international tourists. It's a geometrical expansion of the tourism activity, but it's not only about figures. So, it's also qualitative change. And it's a deepening of the tourism commodification of many places that weren't affected by those dynamics, previously.
Housing is an example. For instance, places that no one would thought about becoming a tourism commodity, like for instance, slums or other places in the world that now are subject to those type of dynamics. So this is what we had just before the pandemic.
What happened with the pandemic and it's that most of the narrative is focused on the biomedical explanation, but we have tried to focus our attention on trying to explain it in sociopolitical terms. So it's not only because of the virus. But the virus found an extraodrinary vector for its, uh, diffusion worldwide through airplane passengers.
And we have detected that the first person infected by the virus in many places they were there as tourists. Like for instance, in Quito, in Ecuador, there was a person from Madrid who went there, or the first person in Taiwan that was a tourist from Wuhan or the case of Ischgl in the Austrian Alps which is a ski resort, that was also the zero zone of the virus in Europe.
So, tourism has been extremely related with the expansion of the virus. If you have looked to the countries who could control faster and easier, the virus, all those who block their frontier, they closed their airports, like for instance, New Zealand.
But for instance, Europe here, no one wanted to close their airports until it was already too late, but not only in Europe, but also in most of the American countries and elsewhere. And if you have looked to the geography of the virus, you can see that it's extremely connected to the global cities and the global cities are those that are more connected, not only through financial flows, not only through commercial flows, but also through tourist flows.
So, tourists were those vectors who expanded the virus.
Chris: Hm. So, in 2008, the collapse of the market that, that collapse was absorbed by the tourism industry and expanded to such an extent that, that laid the groundwork for the diffusion or spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Ivan: That's it.
Chris: Wow. In the essay, you speak of the spread of the COVID-19 virus and, you know, as you've just mentioned, how it arrived in different parts of the world and you write in the essay you make the point that the initial super spreaders of the virus were actually European business executives. Now, living in a tourist town here in Oaxaca, Mexico, people who are critical of tourism love to point their finger at the everyday tourists, the ones they see on the street, the ones that are arriving from Mexico City or the United States, but they rarely see or understand the level of impact or influence that business tourism has in the world. Why do you think that this aspect of tourism is so overlooked?
Ivan: Well, I mean, it's politically constructed this type of criticism, which is much easier to point out the tourist as responsible, instead of pointing to the capitalist structures of tourism. So, that's something we have seen also, for instance in some of the social resistances against, for instance, overtourism in some cities. In some cases, citizens criticize the presence of tourists, but they don't criticize as much the dynamics of the tourism capital itself.
So, in this sense, what we would think is that the proper critique should be built against the structures of the tourism industry.
One of the things we have highlighted is that an important part of the critiques against tourism has been focused on the tourist, blaming the tourist.
This is politically constructed. I mean, it's not something that comes from nowhere, but it has been politically constructed by some of the established powers. Socially, it is easier to blame the tourist, the other. This is a very anthropological response. It's easier to do that than going to analyze and criticize deeply the structures and the social conditions that enabled that situation. Isn't it?
So what we do is build a critique against the social structures of accumulation. I mean, a critique against capitalism, against power, which is the reason why all those dynamics takes place. For instance, when we talk about business travelers, normally we don't think about tourism, but they form part of what tourism is. And the business travelers, it's an expression of global capitalism. I mean, those business travelers were traveling to Wuhan because they had off shore, their factories there, and they had meetings there and then going back to their home countries in the global cities of the North. It's an expression of those type of logics that we also criticize and in doing so the business travelers is a very interesting expression of how capitalism nowadays works. Isn't it?
So, I would say don't criticize the tourist. Criticize tourism capital, or the tourism industry. So, it's more difficult. I mean, I think people need to build a further knowledge on how tourism works, which is not that easy. I mean, here in Mallorca, I would say that it's already an understanding on how tourism capital works, but it has taken some 40 years to do.
So it's not a very easy process, but I mean the global critique against capitalism, against all those type of logics and dynamic and tourism capital, now it's much more spread. So it's easier to share all those informations and those thoughts and worries among all the people that are involved on those types of social contestations.
Chris: Well, certainly as tourism becomes over tourism in places like the one where you live and in places like the one that I live in, people are becoming more worried, more concerned and all willing, more aware of the situation and context. Thankfully, they can look to work like yours and the work of Alba Sud for ways to learn more about overtourism.
One of the things that you write about in the essay, "Lockdown Touristification" is how the pandemic created the parameters and possibility for a restructuring of the global economic order. We know that during that time, the world's wealthiest people became exponentially more wealthy. In fact, as you may have seen, but just the last few weeks, some of them have gone to space as tourists or astronaut tourists, space tourists, right?
So events and ruptures such as the pandemic can inspire mutual aid at the grassroots, but it can also inspire predatory opportunities for the powers that be. This manner of economic opportunism, to put it lightly, has been referred to by Naomi Klein as "the shock doctrine" or "disaster capitalism." What do you think is happening, Ivan, in the tourism industry as a result of this global collapse and restructuring?
Ivan: Well, I mean, my glass ball, it's clouded. I can't say very much about that, but we are now very much in uncertain times. What is true is that for a social emancipatory transformation, it doesn't happen just because of the changing natural conditions.
It comes out from social conflicts and social reactions from the bottom up. So, what we have seen during the pandemic is a kind of, uh, I would say that uh, it's a bad time for those type of emancipatory projects because we had to stay at home.
We couldn't gather and social actions to take place need a gathering of the social force and making the protest emerge and expand. So this has been very hard to take place during this times. And of course, we can identify the pandemic as a clear example of what Naomi Klein defined as disaster capitalism in her book "the Shock Doctrine."
This is a disaster, and disaster is a very good time for the powers taking action for a restructuring of the social conditions in their benefit. So, what we have seen during this time of pandemic is a takeover of the state by capital.
The media was clapping the fact that the state is back, but it's not a socialist state. It's a corporate state. The state is back for rescuing capital. We are the workers of capital so, if we all die a corporation will have no one to sell their products. I mean, who will go on holidays if we are not alive? So, one of the most important things that have happened in the last, uh, year in the last two years is the takeover of the state by capital.
Most of the greatest corporations globally now are bailout or they have some stock options by the state. We have also massive quantitative expansion project by the central banks, like for instance, the federal reserve, the European central bank. This is cheap money that's going to the hands of large corporations and the investment funds and other financial capital, not going directly to the states. So, it's a huge rescue plan for corporations and financial capital.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, for the most part the banks just print money when they need to, in order to prop up this, you could say dying industry, but really dying culture of commodification and capital.
So in 2008, there was a collapse and tourism absorbed the shock, and it grew bigger and bigger and bigger as a result. And in 2020, it collapsed right, in part as a result of its own weight. But instead of seeing a transformation, we see that industry being propped up even more, being fed even more by government and certainly to some degree by the people as well, who are more than willing to go on their first vacation after a year of being locked in their homes.
Now, in the essay you and Ernest write, "It seems that they, the tourist industry are trying to bring us back to the pre-disaster situation under the same logic that led us to it." Do you mean that we will expect another crisis?
Ivan: It's not something that we know and If you read most of the leftist intellectuals that they are writing on the "long crisis" and it's a crisis that it's come earlier than the 2008. It's an expression of stock prices, but it's not only a crisis enclosed in the economic sphere. It's a systemic crisis, we could say.
In the words of Jason Moore who is an environmentalist historian, he differentiates between developmental crisis and epocal crisis. What we face right now, it's an epocal crisis. The pandemic is just an expression of that crisis.
Things in the 21st century are going to be completely different to things in the 20th century. So, we cannot look back at the mirror and see what happened before, because many things, the social conditions and the social environmental conditions are going to be radically different. So, it's not only about climate change that of course it's going also to effect everything.
I mean, it's going to effect drastically capital. I mean, if you have a look to the restructuring of capitalism, since the pandemic, everything now seems to turn "green." So, this is very much related to all those related crisis. So, it's trying to make money from the epocal crisis, but it's going to be very hard to restore the tax of profit.
So, for capital is going to be very hard. Something that we highlight is that instead of welcoming crisis, we should be very, very worried about them and highlighting the fact that those who most suffer from crisis are what are called the popular classes. So, crisis effect the poorest people in the world.
So, we should not welcome them. The current crisis has been one of the main reason for the emergence of the extreme right-wing, worldwide. So, this is an expression of the times to come. The book and most of the work we do is also a call for a social organization from the popular classes.
Chris: This other line in the, in the essay that I think is brilliant that you wrote, "that it is important to highlight the fact that the manner of exit from one crisis contains within itself the seeds of crises to come."
So, if we apprentice what's happening now in the way that maybe we didn't in 2008 or 2009, that, like you said, the popular classes can find a way of approaching the world and potentially the next crisis in an adequate way that doesn't leave all of our social power in the hands of the state or fanatics or corporations for that matter.
So, I want to, if we can speak a little bit to the notion of biodiversity and development in tourism. You know, as a result of the COVID-19 virus, we see the spread of this new disease worldwide at the same time that we find ourselves in what many people refer to as an extinction level event.
In the essay, " Lockdown Touristifcation" you, write, "the greater, the biodiversity, the lower the risk zoonotic spillover. Therefore, the main protection against the spread of these diseases lies in the protection of biodiversity. Biodiversity protection acts against the risk of zoonotic spillover. And it must be restructured on the principles of so-called 'conservation revolution' or 'convivial conservation.'"
I think this is a really important aspect of tourism that goes unspoken in the mainstream. Could you speak to this a little bit for our listeners?
Ivan: Well, we'll have to take some of these ideas from other authors, like for instance, Rob Wallace, who wrote an excellent book called "Big Farms Make Big Flu." So, if we think about the reasons of the pandemic, we go to a bat, which is the main backdrop that is the spread of the disease. But why bats have spread this disease is because of the destruction of tropical forest and the destruction of tropical forest is very much related to the expansion of the big farms for pigs and so on, but also related to the expansion of palm trees plantations. So, if we don't change, for instance, our planetary diet and the way we feed ourselves, (this means struggling against the food industry or the agro-food industry) we cannot do anything against the spread of these types of diseases.
When we talk about conservation revolution, it's in two terms. One is that we cannot pretend to protect biodiversity just by designating some areas like naturally-protected areas.
So, you protect an island of biodiversity somewhere and you forget about the rest. But this conservation revolution would imply transforming the way we produce and the way we consume globally. Not only the way we produce and consume, but how this production is organized because under the rationale of capital and profit, the only reason for organizing nature in this ways to take more and more benefits. So it's just this which lies behind the logic of capital.
So, we should think in organizing nature beyond the logic of profit. In doing so, we should think about the commodification of nature and the decommodification of biodiversity. And this is what Bram Buscher and Robert Fletcher talk about the convivial conservation.
So it's living with conservation, living societies and communities with biodiversity, not destroying biodiversity, but living with biodiversity, which is the role that tourism plays in all of this. Tourism is promoted like a tool for biodiversity protection, but there are many contradictions. One of the contradiction is that through tourism, biodiversity is commodified.
And for instance, in many cases, particularly in the Global South, in doing so, many local communities are displaced because of the protection of biodiversity - biodiversity completely disconnected from the other dynamics and from the social dimension. So, it's like changing the goal of biodiversity protection linking it to the social needs of the local communities. And for doing this, it should be decommodified. So, that's very, very . Short explanation, but tries to make some, some of the points.
Chris: Ivan, I understand what you're referring to as ecotourism, but not the glorified ecotourism that most people know. Instead, the greenwashed ecotourism. From what I gather, there's often a forced displacement of local people and culture, usually in order to create nature reserves. It reminds me of the way that indigenous people in Anglo-North America have been dislocated and forced onto reservations for centuries.
These islands of conservation are suddenly missing the people that helped cultivate and regenerate the very biodiversity that tourism seeks to save. Is that right?
Ivan: Yeah, that's right. And we have plenty of cases, but at the same time, we should say that there are other cases, other experiences where conservation takes place at the same time that the local communities live in those areas, living convivially, living with nature, or it's difficult to say the word conviviality in English it's... Uh,
Chris: people don't use it that often, but it's a beautiful word because it means to literally "live together."
Ivan: Yeah. That's it it's living with, living together. So, there are other cases, like for instance, a rural community-based tourism experiences and indigenous, tourism-led initiatives. And, well, I mean, it's not that everything that is happening in the biodiversity tourism-related activities is a process of capital accumulation and capital absorption and accumulation by dispossession and so on, but we have to look at critically and try to look for the contradiction. That it's something that I think it's important. Tourism happening in a natural protected area doesn't mean that it's tourism beyond capital. Maybe it's the other way around.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I remember reading a few years ago. I think it was a book by Wade Davis, the anthropologist, talking about how studies have shown over and over and over again that the survival or regeneration of biodiversity in a place where humans live or near where humans live is contingent on the diversity of human culture and human language in that place.
So, even if you have tourism development in a place, even if it's eco-tourism or sustainable tourism or responsible tourism... if that tourism brings in tourist languages, such as English or Spanish, if it slowly reduces or removes the local languages, that is the diversity of local human language then as those indigenous languages disappear, the biodiversity in the place goes with it.
Ivan: Yeah, that's right.
Chris: Ivan, I have two more questions.
Chris: I'd like to speak a little bit about another subject that you write about in the essay regarding social movements. You write that, "undoubtedly, the response to the current situation the COVID-19 pandemic goes far beyond tourism. It requires a global political intervention of a post-capitalist nature to put a break on the current neo-liberal disorder and the dead end that most of humanity is heading towards." What do you see as being the most necessary steps forward in this regard? Either on a global scale or on a local scale?
Ivan: Well, I think on of the most important things now it's that, social movements globally should reorganize and make a global claim for their demands. One of the most important one is about the vaccine. I mean, it's completely unfair that in the Global South, the vaccines are just delivered to very various slight portion of the population.
So I think that's one of the most important things. Then, what we should have in our agenda is try to put control on all this public money that it's put on the table for the global rescue. I mean, it's a global project with public money for rescuing the economy. So, why not taking this for a restructuring of the global economy, particularly having in mind that this is like, you know, the gate to other changes that are going to happen during the following years.
So, climate change is not a movie. It's not the a Hollywood movie. It's something that is already happening here right now. We see forest fires in Siberia, heatwaves in Canada and North America and Europe. So, all these things are happening and we only listen to the news about the facts happening in the Global North but what's happening in the South, we have no idea. But now that's effecting the Global North, it seems that it has become more serious. So, I think that all that public money should be used for a radical transformation. So, the money is already there. And so in this time, we make a call for post-capitalist transformation.
So, post-capitalist, transformation means that we should thinking organizing our societies, beyond capital. I mean, it's not about destroying all the small activities or medium activity of family business and all that. But for instance, the energy sector cannot be handled private corporations. When we talk about energy, we can talk also about, for instance, the human health cannot be in the hands of big corporations and all that.
So it's, I think we should reframe completely our societies. And this is why we say that it goes beyond tourism and something we see started, with the pandemic, the digitalization of the economy has also triggered. And in relation to this digitalization is the process of robotization of work. So many works are going to be lost globally.
So for this reason, we think that it's extremely important to connect many of the social struggles, I mean the environmentalist one, the feminist one, the indigenous one the peasant struggles with some tools. And one of these tools with a very political force is for instance, the basic income. If we have a global basic income then these struggles can be organized at different levels, but I think that if work is destroyed, uncertainty is not gonna disappear.
So, people will have to have a basic income for making their lives, otherwise social injustice is going to be unbearable. If we live in a situation of extreme social injustice, then anything can happen. This is one of the things we think are very, very important. The other thing is our activities, our production system will have to reorganize in terms of productivity. For instance, will affect tourism one, because most of the materials that for instance, fossil fuels that have enabled global capitalism to expand to the level we have faced in the last years has been feasible, tends to very cheap oil very cheap metals and so on and so forth and a cheap atmosphere that has been already overpolluted. But now it's time of, of the end of all these cheap resources.
So, imagine, the tourism industry with expensive oil paying 3000 euros for a flight from London to Mallorca. Who would go to Mallorca? The rich ones, but tourism is a massive business, a mass tourism business, is the economies of scale. Without that it doesn't work. So, all the industry, not only the tourism sector, but all sector would have to reorganize radically. So, we are facing a very interesting time, but also it's a time for radical transformation of all our lives.
I mean, we're talking about some economic spheres, but it all our social dimension.
Chris: Hey, I really appreciate your willingness to say " will have to..." these industries and the people in the world both locally and globally will have to change and not just would have to...
Ivan: No, but something that is important is to bear in mind the class dimension. It's not that we have to do that in the same way, but we will have to reorganize, but taking very much into account the class differences. So, I think this is something very important because many times, most or some environmentalist discourses avoid the class dimension and it's like, "okay, we have to reduce our ecological footprint."
Okay. Thank you very much, but we earn our family 200 euros and we can hardly pay our bills. So what do I have to reduce? I have nothing to reduce. I cannot live on that. So this is something that we have to pay a strong attention on that.
Chris: Absolutely. You know, global air travel amounts to something like 3-5% of annual climate change, which is substantial, but it's said the majority of that climate change consequence or impact is caused by business travel, by elites essentially.
So, often when we speak of this need for change and, and this, this moment of radical transformation, we often, at least I do, uh, from time to time forget about the role of tourists and the role of tourism workers in this change, in this transformation.
In the essay, you and Ernest point out that millions and millions of tourism workers lost their jobs and, in part, because there was no protections around their work, that the vast majority of them were freelancers or considered disposable labor. Now as tourism starts to return, however precariously, these people will seemingly get their jobs back or some of them or other people will take their jobs.
But those jobs will be filled and maybe not like before, but certainly to some extent. And so what can tourists and tourism workers, what part can they play in this kind of radical transformation?
Do they simply refuse to work in tourism? Do they simply refuse to take vacations?
Ivan: Interesting question and difficult to answer. In relation to the tourism workers, I would have to say that they have been organized for a long time, basically claiming better job conditions. What we have seen in the last 20 years in relation to the process of neoliberalization is that tourism work has been one of the most precarious sectors.
And precarization has been one of the key elements of the tourism industry. Without precarious conditions, tourism capital would have not all the profits and benefit they have in the last years. So, I will say that tourism workers have been organizing in the last year claiming better job conditions and this means less hours and better pay.
In tourism, what we have also is that it's a very gendered activity. Most of the workers are women. Okay. So, they have less power in negotiating than men because it's a very patriarchal sectors, again, particularly in the Global South. But we have to say that after some campaigns, the workers in the tourism have been starting to plan for these better conditions.
What's happening with the pandemic is that many workers, as you say, lost their jobs because they had this type of contract that they can dispose people without paying for that.
And now that the activity is restarting in some places, jobs are filled again, by the same people or by others. What we have seen is that in some places where those workers had some type of social protection, like for instance, in Spain, with a plan for an income secured by the state, workers are empowered and they have like this type of precondition for negotiating if they want to go back to their jobs or not.
We have seen some news in from the United States and other countries, European countries about restaurants, like for instance, McDonald's and others that cannot recruit workers and they, they don't understand why and workers say, "okay, if you pay better, maybe I will take this job. But as far as I, I get some kind of payment from the state on, this is enough for me. Uh, I will not take this shitty job."
We have related this experimentation as an example of what could happen with the basic income and with the basic income, uh, workers will have more power of negotiation in front of the corporations.
So, that's an interesting example. Another way tourism workers can organize is through controlling their activities. This is one of the main claims of the union laborers in the 19th century is not working for someone, but becoming your boss. I mean, working for yourself, but this also has other contradictions, because then you can become a self-exploited worker and working for others and so on.
But we have some examples, for instance, the Bauen Hotel in Argentina, which is a workers co-operative who take over the hotel after the Argentinian crisis in 2003 and they manage the hotel by themselves. So, they put their conditions. They had the fair pay for everyone and so on and so forth.
So that's an example of how workers could organize. For instance, if you are touring with tourists, you can form a kind of a worker's cooperative for touring, establishing better conditions for you and a different relationship with tourists, for instance.
And the harder thing is what happens with tourists. A tour by definition is a break time from all your obligations. You are not a citizen anymore. You are a tourist. You take out all your clothes and you become a like an alien. So it's important to work on transforming ourselves and the others when we behave like tourists.
We should be, first of all, citizens where you are and then tourist or whatever. So, being a citizen is key in this case. And of course, if we want to transform tourism it is not enough through the transformation of the tourism structure, but also transforming people as tourists this is also crucial aspect, I would say.
Chris: Wow. So much of there. So, we focus on the importance of organizing as workers first and then working towards deeper understandings of the industry, of the context of the world that the industry exists in and how we might affect change in that way.
I remember last year, there was an article about an oil workers union that decided collectively that they would risk or lay down their job security in order that the industry or their very jobs might go green. So, going from oil workers to, I guess, clean energy workers to solar panel installation experts or something to that extent.
So, while it doesn't necessarily approach the question of consumption, it's clear that even, well, some people within the industries contributing most to climate change are ready and willing to change knowing what's upon us.
Ivan: Can I say something?
Ivan: Yeah. Yeah. It's in relation to what you were explaining now about this union labor. If we want to transform tourism, we have to look beyond tourism. I think this is extremely important to look to what other groups, collectives, activities, whatever are doing. Because then we can take examples that might illustrate ways where to go.
So it's not just about looking at tourism itself, but how things that are happening elsewhere might take as an example for transforming tourism. And this is something that I will say is not happening very usually because we tend to be very much focused on tourism. And if we want to transform tourism, it's transforming society and we have to look at all aspects of society.
And if there is something interesting elsewhere, why not taking it as an example?
Chris: Absolutely. Finding the edges and horizons and intersections of worlds. Meeting and speaking with other people, sharing experiences in order to nurture solidarity across social movements. And coming to know other worlds that are not ours, but that we share, right?
Ivan, that brings us to the end of our time together today.
You have offered us a glimpse into how tourism of all kinds is deeply implicated in the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 virus and that the unwillingness to consider such things, the willingness to ignore them holds in it the seeds of crises to come.
Tourism development, as you mentioned, infringes on the wild places from which this virus and many others like it sprang and by resisting tourism, by honoring biodiversity, by organizing collectively that we can subvert the habits that turned the epidemic in Wuhan into a global pandemic.
I want to thank you on behalf of our listeners for your time, for your work with Alba Sud and at the University of the Balearic Islands. I can see that much of your conviction comes from you being a father to a young child who is probably already growing up in an overtouristed place.
I want to also thank you, Ivan, for joining us in English and speaking a language that is not your mother tongue.
The official language of tourism is undoubtedly English. And so this is I think, a little olive branch from other cultures, from overtouristed places and peoples, from you there, Ivan, in the Balearics to our listeners on all sides and all corners and in all parts of the world.
Ivan, are there any final words you'd like to share with. Anything regarding your work or the work you do with Alba Sud?
Ivan: Well, actually just to let you know that you can download our last book, "Lockdown Touristification" free of charge from Alba Sud, and there are other studies that are also free.
And we are organizing frequently workshops and some meetings also in relation with a broader coalition transforming tourism. You are welcome to join us in this task. So, and thank you very much for the invitation.
Chris: It's a real honor for us to be able to have you on so thank you, and all of the information around Alba Sud, their events and publications will be available through the End of Tourism website in the "show notes" and "homework," as well as the essay "Lockdown Touristification" which as you said can be downloaded for free in English.
Thank you. Thank you again, Ivan.
Ivan: No, you're welcome.
Chris: I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
Ivan: Yeah, you too! Ciao.