The Context of Tourism

In developing countries, tourism is promoted extensively as a means of poverty alleviation, and as an agent of economic development. The Asia-Pacific region, home for around 65% of the world's population, entices tourists from this and other regions with marketing slogans such as Incredible India, Amazing Thailand, Malaysia Truly Asia, Remarkable Indonesia, It's More Fun in the Philippines, and the others.

Today, the global tourism industry is listed as one of the four largest industries in the world. The size, extent, and impact of this commercialised industry make it a significant modern phenomenon.

However, a closer examination reveals that beneath the well-advertised images of holidays and fun lays a darker reality that is well hidden. Mass commercial tourism driven by profit and pleasure puts immense pressure on the community and environment. Communities in Asia and the Pacific experience major negative impact that is obvious to keen observers. It arises from factors such as:

  • Diversion of essential people's resources such as land, water, electricity, and other infrastructure away from the community to golf courses, hotels and resorts, theme parks, airports, and so on, that cater to tourists; 
  • Displacement of people and loss of livelihood; 
  • Low wages and reduced working conditions; 
  • Revenue loss through tax concessions, subsidised land, earnings and profits sent overseas; 
  • Global warming and climate change effects arising from air travel, cruise shipping, high energy use, destruction of natural resources; 
  • Environmental and ecological damage, including loss of biodiversity; 
  • Human rights violations; 
  • Prostitution and trafficking of women and children; 
  • Health hazards such as HIV AIDS and other afflictions; 
  • Threat to cultural identity of local and indigenous people. 

Such tourism is unjust and harmful, and itself contributes to third world poverty. Hence, another tourism is needed. 

YMCA and Alternative Tourism

The Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs is a membership of 24 countries in the Asia and Pacific. It has been conducting several programmes with objectives of a sustainable lifestyle, economic development of marginal communities, and preservation of environment and ecology. Sustainable tourism was seen as a means to implement such outcomes in a unique, interesting, and integrated way. 

YMCA is one of the most representative civil society movements in the world. This is borne out in the various works and social policies it has carried out including enabling life and peace, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, enhancing human rights, promoting fair trade, improving public health and sanitation, eradicating illiteracy, and providing emergency relief. 

With such a history, community-based Alternative Tourism becomes an obvious area for the YMCA to engage in, as one of its numerous social movement programmes promoting social change that shapes its nature and determine its existence. In fact, the YMCA has been traditionally involved with the tourism industry since its inception. YMCAs around the world have been carrying out some functions of tourism through their guesthouses and hostel programs. People from various regions have been using these facilities in the global YMCA network. Experience from this involvement, and also from other social programs, have enabled YMCA to accumulate facilities, infrastructures, management and other skills for implementing and running alternative tourism. 

At the time of its founding, YMCA was active around Europe and North America, and now it has over 58 million members and regular beneficiaries from 127 countries and some regions. This provides a massive network to help promote the exchange of information and human resources needed to respond to the requirements of supply and demand of alternative tourism.