Geography of Tourism

Rioting Threatens Zanzibar’s Tourist Economy

Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island in the country of Tanzania, is still reeling from widespread rioting in late May. At that time, members of an Islamist separatist movement allegedly set fire to two churches and clashed with the police. The Zanzibar government accuses the leadership of Uamsho, or the Islamic Revival Forum, of ordering its followers into the streets to cause havoc. Uamsho leader Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed denies the charges and has condemned the rioting, but also insists that he will not rest until Zanzibar is liberated from Tanzanian rule. Ahmed claim to be following a peaceful path to separation, stating that “We need a referendum about the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Let the people decide whether or not they need this union.”

Zanzibar’s secular government is concerned that the unrest will damage its tourism industry. Tourism is currently responsible for roughly a quarter of Zanzibar’s gross domestic product (GDP) and generates almost three quarters of its foreign currency. Some 200,000 foreign tourists visit the island each year, about 70,000 of whom are British. Officials in Zanzibar’s government were thus distressed when the “British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued an advisory statement, cautioning British tourists visiting Zanzibar to be cautious in the places hit by violence, telling them to keep away.” In response, the island’s President Ali Mohamed Shein intensified security and then “banned public gatherings that are bent on discussing the future of the Union, advising the people to wait for the Constitutional Review Commission which is entrusted with the task.”

Zanzibar was long linked to Oman but became a British protectorate in 1890. It was briefly an independent state in 1963 and early 1964 before joining Tanganyika to form the new republic of Tanzania. Relations between the mainland and the semi-autonomous island have long been strained. Zanzibar’s leaders stress the island’s autonomy and its status as a state, irritating Tanzania’s leadership. The resulting terminological debates can be intricate. As the Wikipedia reports, “In 2008, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete tried to silence the matter when he addressed the nation in a live conference by saying that Zanzibar is a state internal but semi-state international.”

Religious tensions exacerbate Zanzibar’s problems. The island’s population is reportedly 95 Muslim and five percent Christian, and Islamist organizations are increasingly influential. Christian leaders claim that their followers are under pressure to leave the island, and they allege that plots have been established to destroy all Zanzibari churches. Islamists youths have on occasion have attacked bars, further jeopardizing the tourism economy. Under Islamist pressure, Zanzibar’s government outlawed homosexual relations in 2004. Two years later, a major controversy erupted when the Islamist group Uamsho threatened to hold massive demonstrations after rumors began to circulate that the island’s government would officially commemorate the birthday of the late Freddy Mercury, the gay leader of the British glam band Queen. Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi (Zoroastrian) parents in Zanzibar in 1946.

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A Disneyland for the Philippines’ Sex City?

A prominent Filipino politician is seeking support from the country’s Department of Tourism for his lobbying effort to establish a Disneyland theme park in the Clark Freeport Zone, a massive (4,400-hectare) trade-oriented redevelopment area that occupies the former U.S.-run Clark Airbase in central Luzon. According to Representative Carmelo “Tarzan” Lazati, “This endeavor, if successful, would bring in more visitors to the country and make the Philippines as one of the best, if not the best, tourist destinations in the world.” Although the Clark Freeport Zone does boast advanced infrastructure and a superb airport, the establishment of new “Disneyland” in the region seems unlikely. Tourism in the Clark area is currently focused on commercial sex in nearby Angeles City, as the brothels that once catered to American servicemen now attract an international clientele. Such a business hardly seems in keeping with the wholesome Disney image.

The local sex industry recently made headlines in the British publication Mail Online. One of its recent headlines screamed, “Not again! ANOTHER Wiener (and politician) faces calls to resign after ‘posing with prostitutes’ in Philippines.” As the article outlines, New Mexico county commissioner Michael Wiener was recently photographed with four “bar-girls” in his arms by Seattle-based photographer John Keatley, who was in Angels City to “document the thriving sex tourism industry there.”  Weiner denied any wrong-doing, stating that he “’just wanted to take a quick tour,’ comparing it to people wanting to see the casinos at Las Vegas, even if they didn’t gamble.”

Real estate seems to be a thriving business in Angel City, as the area seeks to attract retired men from the wealthier parts of the world. As a result, city officials consistently stress the friendliness of the local inhabitants. A recent news article on an Angeles City-based tourism site, for example, trumpets the fact that the “The Philippines ranked 8th in the list of the ‘World’s Friendliest Countries’ in the ‘Expat Explorer Survey 2011’ conducted by banking giant HSBC.” As we shall see in a forthcoming GeoNote, such a ranking is little cause for celebration, as the “Expat Explorer Survey” is deeply problematic index.

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Airlift of Tourists from Gilgit in Pakistan

Until recently, remote Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly the Northern Areas) was regarded as the safest part of Pakistan, a place where foreign tourists could still travel. Peace came to an end earlier this year with violent Sunni-Shia sectarian clashes. Mounting tension led to the establishment of an “indefinite curfew” in the town of Gilgit on April 3, as well as the suspension of traffic on the Karakoram Highway that links the region to the rest of the country. As a result, 120 tourists were stranded in Gilgit, most of them from Japan. The government of Pakistan responded by airlifting the travelers to safety last week, using a rugged C-130 aircraft, designed to land on unprepared runways.

On April 9, officials relaxed the curfew in Gilgit between the hours of 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm, stating that “people would not be allowed to wear jackets or chadar during this time period” (a move designed to prevent suicide bombings). On the same day, opposed protest rallies in the city by the Shia group Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) and the Sunni organization Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASJ) almost resulted in open bloodshed, due to “fiery speeches … from both sides with speakers blaming the other party for committing atrocities against people of their side.” The ASJ is now demanding that Gilgit-Baltistan be merged with Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir region, a move that would dilute the power of the region’s Shia (mostly Ismaili) establishment.

(map courtesy of Daniel Feher, at Free World Maps.Net. The map in question is available here.)

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Geopolitics, Wildlife, and Tourism: Botswana’s Tuli Block

Map of Tuli Block in Botswana Geopolitical conflicts often prove as harmful to wildlife as they do to humankind. Occasionally, however, discord between states can turn a border zone into a “no-man’s land” where wildlife can thrive. The prime example of such an unintentional reserve is the so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North from South Korea, a 2.5-mile (4 km) wide strip of land noted for its diverse and plentiful fauna. Many other examples are found in the historical record, particularly in aboriginal North America, were buffer zones between the territories of competing tribes were often noted for their abundance of wild animals. In some parts of the world, faunal legacies of long-vanished geopolitical buffers still exist. One example is Botswana’s Tuli Block, a wildlife-rich strip of land along the country’s southeastern border with South Africa.

The Tuli Block originated in a three-way struggle during the late 1800s among British colonialists, White Afrikaner herders (Boers), and the indigenous polities of southern Africa. At that time, the Tswana people were forging a kingdom in the region; Afrikaners were pushing north in search of new grazing lands; and British imperial agents were scheming for expansion. In 1885, Britain established a protectorate over Tswana-speaking Bechuanaland, the territory that would eventually form the core of modern Botswana. Tswana kings (or chiefs) continued to rule under British advisement, although their power would soon be whittled back. In 1895, concerned about the incursion of Afrikaner immigrants into his domain, King Khama III ceded a section of his borderlands to the British South Africa Company, the ambitious firm founded by the empire-builder Cecil Rhodes. Khama III figured that Rhodes could keep out the Boers, while Rhodes reckoned that the land would make a good route for his envisaged “Cape to Cairo” railroad.

Tuli Block on Google EarthThe Tuli Block proved too rough and rocky for railroad construction. Before long, the company sold the land to White commercial ranchers in vast tracts—large enough to leave room for both cattle and wildlife. But livestock production proved only marginally profitable even in good years, and suffered deeply during recurrent droughts. Eventually, land owners turned to a new source of livelihood: game ranching. As originally envisaged, game ranchers would supplement their cattle operations by charging tourists to see—or shoot—wildlife on their property. In a short time, the “game” side of most ventures became more profitable that the livestock side; currently, as one travel-oriented website puts it, “Cattle ranches are fast becoming an endangered species with wild animals becoming the norm.” Most proprietors now manage their properties to enhance habitat rather than stock. As the Botswana Game Ranching Handbook puts it, “In terms of enterprise diversification, game ranching offers a better alternative than livestock farming. Ranchers can sell game for hunting, use their ranches for photographic safaris, game viewing, education and tourism.”

Tourist Map of BotswanaThe Tuli Block has not featured prominently in Botswana’s tourist promotion literature, which tends to focus on large national parks and wildlife reserves farther north. But tourist authorities are now reassessing the region’s potential. Owing to its proximity to South Africa, the Tuli Block can attract relatively large numbers of short-term visitors. Local game ranchers hope that infrastructural investments will enhance their tourism operations. Poor cell-phone reception and treacherous roads are considered major impediments. Many Tuli visitors, however, appreciate the adventure afforded by the rough environment.

As most of the Tuli Block remains in private hands, ranches occasionally change hands.  Several parcels appear to be currently on the market. One is a 17,287 hectare (42,000 acres) plot that features “two large old-fashioned ranch homesteads with pools…, 25 fully developed boreholes and 8 large earthen dams to supply water for the game.” Its resident wildlife are reported as follows: “Impala 3,000, Blue Wildebeest 150, Red Hartebeest 40, Eland 60, Zebra 100, Gemsbuck 30, Waterbuck 300, Kudu 1,000, Giraffe 15, Leopard 20, Bush pig 30, Blesbuck 30, Warthog 300, Ostrich 7, Bushbuck 50, Klipspringer 20, Spotted Hyena 25, Cheetah (nomadic), and Hippo 15.” The asking price is a mere $6,325,000. (In Palo Alto, California, that sum might get you one acre, four small houses, two robins, three sparrows, and a rat.)

Tuli Block game ranchers face several challenges in managing such large territories. Invasive cactus species have degraded large areas of land; removing such plants is laborious and unpleasant. Owing to the abundance of elephants, tree trunks must be wrapped in wire if substantial groves are to survive. Wildlife numbers must also be monitored if management plans are to be accurately followed. Yet labor in the sparsely settled Tuli Block is in short supply, and ranches often operate on thin margins. One strategy is to turn to well-off young people from wealthy countries who are eager for adventure, keen to do their part to conserve habitat, and willing to work for free. International service-learning organizations arrange such trips; one group, Projects Abroad, is currently running a conservation project in the Tuli Block, just over the Limpopo River from South Africa. As it happens, my seventeen-year-old son participated in the project this summer. He had a tremendous experience and was thrilled by the abundance and diversity of the local wildlife, although he did complain about the cactus cutting.


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St. Vincent’s Venezuelan Alliance and High-End Tourism

Political alliances are not always what seem, given that member states can join for different reasons. Consider ALBA, the “Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America,” founded by Hugo Chavez and designed to counter the influence of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. The leaders of the core ALBA countries, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, are all noted for their anti-American rhetoric and opposition to the political and economic agenda of the U.S. The organization’s executive secretary recently framed its goals in unequivocal terms while speaking in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C.: “The existence of the alliance has provided sorely needed relief to over 70 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean from the predatory and parasitic trade and debt relationships imposed by U.S.-led imperialism.”

Such rhetoric, however, is not always acted upon. For Venezuela itself, the United States remains its top economic partner. And in the smaller ALBA countries, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in particular, the anti-American agenda of the alliance means little. As The Economist explains, St. Vincent’s membership in the club follows largely from economic considerations:

Not all of [ALBA’s] members are anti-American firebrands …. Some, like St Vincent and the Grenadines, are simply small Caribbean island nations looking for friends on all sides. In 2005 Ralph Gonsalves, its prime minister, brought the country of around 100,000 into PetroCaribe, Venezuela’s subsidised-credit scheme for oil exports. Four years later he signed up for ALBA itself. St Vincent has benefited from the relationship with cheaper fuel for electricity and with machines used in the construction of a new airport.

Membership in the alliance brings subsidies to cash-strapped St. Vincent and the Grenadines and allows Chavez to chalk up another member in his ostensibly anti-U.S. geopolitical block. As such, both sides see benefits to the arrangement. But Saint Vincent remains a parliamentary democracy, and Chavez’s politics have limited electoral appeal. In 2009, the country’s voters decisively rejected a plan to drop the British monarch as its official head of state, despite support for the measure from both major political parties. St. Vincent also has no desire to antagonize either the United States or the global economic elite, in part because high-end tourism has emerged as a mainstay of its economy.

Ironically, membership in ALBA enhances St. Vincent’s ability to reap profits from well-off tourists. The Argyle International Airport, under construction since 2008, is the cornerstone of the country’s economic strategy, as it will be able to accommodate the large jets needed to expand tourism. The civil engineering obstacles on the rugged island have raised the costs of the project to a staggering forty-four percent of total GDP; when the global economic crisis jeopardized funding, St. Vincent threw in its lot with ALBA. The resulting alliance has brought in the Cuban labor and the Venezuelan machinery and fuel necessary to complete the airport, promising a heightened flow of vacationers to a country that is already geared toward the top end of the market.

Wealthy tourists are attracted not so much to Saint Vincent itself as to the Grenadines, an archipelago stretching south almost to Grenada. The Grenadines include many small, idyllic islets perfectly suited for exclusive resorts. A number of the islands are privately owned, allowing privacy, seclusion, and ease for the well-heeled. A simple internet search of “St. Vincent private island” yields a number of tasteful websites promising paradise. Further development may be forthcoming. An advertisement in Private Islands Online, for example, offers Petit Nevis, a 71-acre speck of land, for a mere US$15,000,000. As the copy-writer explains:

There is a natural harbor in front of the island that is frequented by the many yachts that cruise through the Grenadines each year. The island is unoccupied and perfect for commercial development. . This part of the Caribbean is a haven for sailors and yachtsmen and some of the most beautiful boats in the world can be seen here. So, it’s a perfect location to cater to a very high-end clientele.

The future of Petite Nevis has generated controversy locally, in part because of the island’s historical role as a place to process whale carcasses. In fact, whale are still occasionally killed locally and flensed on the beach. But even if a sale of the islands brings resort development, it is unlikely that Petit Nevis’s clientele will ever be as “high-end” as that of Mustique Island, another private idyll in the Grenadines. As we shall see in the next post, Mustique is one of the most exclusive properties on the planet, a playground for the glitterati. Rather ironic that it should be located within the ALBA zone of countries ostensibly devoted to vanquishing Yankee imperialism and building “21st Century Socialism.”

*The same ironies apply to Cuba itself, where a tourism-focused economic strategy has led to the development of economic inequalities so significant that some observers describe the island’s current situation as one of “tourism apartheid.”

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The Surprising Geography of International Tourism

International tourism can be a lucrative business, prompting competition for visitors’ dollars. But as the map posted above indicates, the global tourism market is geographically focused. Most border-crossing vacationers head for three broad regions: Europe and the eastern Mediterranean; an arc stretching from Tokyo to Singapore; and coastal cities of North America. Only three Latin America locales—Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires—make the top fifty list, and only by a thin margin. No South Asian or Central Asian cities appear (Delhi and Mumbai come in at 53rd and 55th respectively). Sub-Saharan Africa is not represented at all in the top 50, and only Johannesburg (67th) and Cape Town (82nd) make the top 100 destinations.

The map, derived from Euromonitor data, contains some surprising information. Few people in the United States have heard of the southern Turkish city of Antalya, yet with more than eight million visitors in 2008 it ranked in the seventh position. Nor is Antalya the only popular tourist site in Turkey; Istanbul ranked tenth, Edirne (Adrianople) 45th, and the obscure Mugla 39th, surpassing Rio de Janeiro and Berlin. Equally unexpected is the strong showing of Bucharest, Romania. According to the Euromonitor data, Bucharest’s 3.1 million visitors in 2008 easily surpassed Athens’ 2.3 million, and far overshadowed the 1.7 million tourists who traveled to Florence. If any reader can explain Bucharest’s showing, please do so.

On the eastern side of Eurasia, the biggest surprise is the strong draw of south China and Southeast Asia. Four cities in the Pearl River estuary make the list: Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Shenzhen, which did not exist before 1979, attracted more than three million visitors in 2008, barely trailing San Francisco. Thailand’s presence in international tourism is huge, with Bangkok ranked as the world’s third most visited city, trailing only London and New York, while Pattaya ranked 23rd, Phuket 31st, and Chieng Mai 78th. Further south, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore ranked fifth and fourth respectively, besting both Paris and Dubai.

International tourism figures, however, can be deceptive. London and New York have particularly high numbers in part because they serve as gateways to other destinations in Europe and North America. Europe’s numbers are boosted by the small size of its countries, which draw even short-distance travelers across borders. Many of London’s fifteen million visitors in 2008 simply came to shop. As Euromonitor reported, “in late 2008, the pound weakened significantly against the euro, encouraging Eurozone visitors, especially from France, to do their Christmas shopping in London.”

A number of countries outside of the tourism mainstream hope to capture some of the rewards spread by free-spending visitors, and seek help from the UN to do so. On October 24, 2010, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) launched its annual meeting on Iran’s island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. Iranian officials expressed hope that the meeting would jump-start their country’s vacation trade. As Iran’s Press TV reported, “experts believe Iran has enough potential to turn its low-profit tourism sector to a lucrative source of income.” Kish Island, a free-trade zone, already attracts almost a million visitors a year. Its potential for further development, however, may be limited by the Tehran regime; the Wikipedia article on Kish is illustrated most prominently by a photograph of its “ex-casino.” But Iran’s short-term prospects are probably better than those of another UNWTO conference participant, Zimbabwe. According to a recent article on a global travel site, tourism is poised to act as “an accelerator for recovery for Zimbabwe,” owing largely to the fact that the country just “secured a seat on the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Executive Council.”Considering the current state of Zimbabwe’s politics and economy, such thinking may be a tad wishful.

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Tourism in Somalia?

Anarchic and war-racked Somalia is not a likely tourist destination. A 2004 article in The Economist described Somalia’s Minister of Tourism as having “perhaps the world’s hardest job, but very little to do.” The country “had not had a single acknowledged tourist in 14 years,” despite the fact that, that “brave tourists can find unusual bargains in Mogadishu,” including $10 hand grenades and Howitzers selling for a mere $20,000. The Tourism Minister’s response to concerns about violence were not wholly reassuring: “I’m sure tourists would leave Somalia alive and I’m hopeful they wouldn’t be kidnapped… At least, we would try to make sure they were not kidnapped, although it can happen.”

Somalia’s tourism industry has not exactly blossomed in the six years since thatarticle appeared. But several internet travel sites maintain pages on Somalia, giving information on hotels, attractions, and weather. Those who plan a trip to the Horn of Africa will find little encouragement at these sites. “Tripadvisor” lists a visit to the Bakara Market as one of the two “top-rated things to do” in Mogadishu; its single customer review describes the market as “a dangerous, hostile and filthy, dirty place … a gun and weapon filled outdoor hell hole … strewn with animal parts and guts thrown in piles everywhere and anywhere… Other more gross scenes were also witnessed … corpses of human bodies, mostly dead from disease or starvation were being butchered and sold as animal feed for the dogs and hyenas kept as either pets, watch-dogs or as a food source.” Going to the central market to openly buy human flesh to feed pet hyenas? The grotesque exaggerations stun the mind, yet this passes as Tripadvisor’s single comment on the Mogadishu region. Other sites give a rather more sanitized view. “Bakara’s street food are mouth watering and delicious and made with the most simple and the basic condiments found in Somalia,” states the Somalia Tourism page of “MapsofWorld.” Whether mouth-watering foods will be enough to attract foreign visitors to the Bakara Market is another question.

Tourism in Mogadishu may be a joke, but the same is not true everywhere in the country. Within its officially recognized boundaries, Somalia includes credible attractions as well as a professionally run tourist infrastructure. Organized tours allow visitors to snorkel and scuba-dive in the Gulf of Aden, see some of Africa’s best-preserved cave paintings at Lass Geel, and explore a medieval walled city supposedly noted for its 90 mosques. The more venturesome can sign up to “experience nomad life” while interacting closely with Somali herders. Such adventures require advance work. Apart from ethnic Somalis, everyone must obtain a visa to enter these regions – but Somali visas, obtainable at Somalia’s embassies abroad, are not accepted. The tourist hot-spots mentioned above are located in the northwest, and to travel there one must possess a Somaliland visa, obtainable only from the Somaliland missions in London and Addis Ababa. Within Somalia, only the breakaway Republic of Somaliland is stable and peaceful enough to foster a tourist trade.

Maps, governments, and international agencies tell us that Somaliland does not exist; according to a recent article from a U.N.-associated news agency, Somaliland is merely a “semi-autonomous region” of Somalia. In actuality Somaliland is fully independent. The writ of Somalia’s government means nothing within its confines. All that Somaliland lacks is official recognition.

Somaliland itself is not without political problems, as we shall see in tomorrow’s post. Prospective tourists might want to wait until after the June, 2010 elections before booking flights to Hargeisa. But however troubled Somaliland may be, it is a model of good government compared with the rest of the country that it supposedly belongs to.

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