Geography: Posts

Q&A with Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, Authors of "Tourism and Sustainability"

Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, authors of Tourism and Sustainability, discuss the newest edition of their essential textbook.

Why did Tourism and Sustainability book need to be written?

When we first toyed with writing a book back in the early 1990s, there was something of an evangelical zeal about the promoters of new alternative tourism and ‘travellers’. There was a tendency to see these forms of tourism as intellectually and morally superior to mass tourism, and a cure for all the ills of mass tourism which was roundly demonized. That didn’t fit well with our way of thinking. It seemed unfair and unjust. Throw into the mix the fact that tourism just wasn’t being taken seriously at this point – it wasn’t seen as a legitimate area for international development agencies and there was scant critical thinking amongst academics and other social commentators – and so there seemed to be good grounds for putting pen to paper. But the clincher we think (and there are always those dangers of casting your mind back twenty years) was the disturbing juxtaposition in the right to movement and who was gaining from tourism. On the one hand there were seemingly ever lower barriers to travel and leisure opportunities from the developed world and emerging markets (tourists). On the other hand there were increasingly high barriers to movement in the opposite direction (migrants) and static or diminishing living standards of the so-called ‘host communities’. So it seemed to us that tourism was an immediate magnifying glass for a forensic look at this inequity and unevenness and the broader contours and issues of international development.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

We have taken the opportunity in writing the book to explore a range of issues that face us in contemporary society, including our own lives, predispositions and activities as authors. We are tourists too! We adopted a critical approach – both to challenge our own views and, of course, to challenge you. We don’t offer definitive answers to the questions we pose, but we hope that our style will help you to reflect on the important moral and ethical questions and issues in tourism.

What’s new to this edition?

We have retained much of the original argument for this fourth edition. Some of the issues that we covered, at least briefly, in the first edition but that were relatively ‘silent’ in the public realm are now right at the top of the global political agenda. Climate change and the need to end poverty are now daily topics of media discussion and central targets for the United Nations and member governments. The UN led ‘development goals’ coupled with global campaigns against poverty have imprinted this global challenge in the consciousness of many, and have demanded a response of agencies such as the World Tourism Organisation. We have put considerably more emphasis, and material, on both climate change and the fate of the poor in tourism.

We have been asked why we have retained the use of the term ‘Third World’, and in some cases have been admonished for doing so. Most importantly, we still see regard the term ‘Third World’ as useful short-term for the unequal and uneven development that exists between places (regions, countries, cities and even neighbourhoods within cities). It is both evocative and provocative. In part it is a reaction to the technocratic and managerial insistence on the use of certain terms as academic and industry fashions develop and change. The development industry is, arguably, like no other with the emergence and disappearance of terminology and the ability of organisations and individuals to digest and regurgitate interminable jargon.

What are some of the controversies surrounding the book?

We began this fourth edition’s new chapter on ‘Climate Change and New Tourism’ with details of the academic community’s fulsome and wholehearted rebuttal of the thesis of those who deny anthropogenic climate change. Within the tourism sector there is now no serious denial of the human causes of climate change. And yet there is still precious little evidence that tourists, and tourism professionals, agents and academics are making any effective contributions to efforts to reduce or slow global warming. Our collective willingness to fly around the globe is undiminished.

What got you interested in this?

The great and immediate thing about thinking and writing about tourism is that many of us are participants in taking holidays. We are not academics in the field of tourism, we haven’t got vested interests (in doing research and consultancy for the tourism industry) and we haven’t got a particular axe to grind. Think of us as reflective practitioners (reflective tourists). We first met in Belize City in 1992, and shared an interest in the development of Central America, including the part played by increasingly levels of tourist activity. The seeds of ‘Tourism and Sustainability’ were planted whilst enjoying Caribbean White – the local rum – and enjoying the sub-tropical dusk. The gestation period to the first edition in 1998 was a lengthy one, punctuated by sharing ideas and trying to clarify our thinking.

What experience led you to write this book?

We shared a measured scepticism to what appeared to be at the time a rather uncritical approach to the expansion of tourism, but more especially the somewhat sanctimonious view that new tourism was intrinsically good, and that mass tourism was unequivocally bad.