The Ethical and Enviromental Dilemas of Tourism

Cleveland Airport
Leaving Cleveland AirportPunta Cana Airport
Arriving Punta Cana, DR

Here I am on my first sunny fun filled day in the Dominican Republic. We are staying in an all inclusive resort due to the fact that my sister-in-law is getting married and my husband’s family never stays anywhere but all inclusive resorts. To tell the very honest truth, this style of vacation is not my style at all. Give me a back pack and $20 a day and I am happy as a clam. The $3K week vacation just makes me… I don’t know what it makes me.

I feel like I am missing out on something. I feel guilty. I feel like I went all this way and I should be able to see more of the culture than the cheesy girls in the airport in the “historic” cultural costumes. But I have promised my husband that I will make the most of it, and here I am, making the most of it.

The most is certainly enjoyable, let me tell you. But still, as the bus drove us from the airport to the resort and we passed house after house that had been cobbled together from naked cinder block, rusted corrugated sheet metal and weather beaten billboards, that little guilt just creeps back into my relaxing vacation. I just spent more on a luxury trip than these people make in months. What right do I have to traipse here under such pretenses?

House in Punta CanaI am also longing for the scenes that pass me by. A group school children all clad in matching blue school uniforms runs down the open-air balcony hallway of a slum grey apartment building. A fenced off street corner that serves as a plant nursery (I would be in heaven there). I see skinny cows and fat goats and bars where Presidente beer is served at plastic white tables with plastic white chairs. A group of handsome and dark skinned men play pool in an open front building. One waves at me as the bus glides by. I wave back because I want to be a part of that and instead the bus moves on towards a palatial resort where my every need will be catered to save this one.

The Dominican Republic is well aware that it is the pristine landscape that causes rich tourists to flock to their beauty rich but money poor country and they fight hard to protect it. Even in this resort where excess is the name of the game, there are signs asking that we not excess too much in deference to the surrounding environment and efforts to preserve it. And yet how can this place not with the air conditioners that run constantly and guests who are served every drink in disposable plastic cups.

And so all of these put forward the question, is it right. Is it right to visit these people who have so little and take advantage of their situation? Is it right to cloister myself away in the resort when there is so much to see out there? Is it right to travel so far to see such a beautiful place only to be slowly destroying it in making the trip?

In the end, the bus driver, Sal, assuages my guilt a bit. He says “On behalf of my people, I wish to thank you for coming to my country. You may have noticed that we are a poor people and we would be poorer still if not for you coming here to visit us.”

Even on vacation, you trade one negative for a positive. But at this point in time there is not anything I can do about it. Sister in laws must get married and this is where she will be married (and having been a bride, I know that it is a wise thing never to stand between a bride and what she wants. People have been known to lose limbs that way). I will have another drink and perhaps plan my escape in the morning.

2 thoughts on “The Ethical and Enviromental Dilemas of Tourism
  1. Ashoka’s Changemakers and National Geographic Need Your Vote: Select the World’s Most Innovative Uses of Geotourism

    Join Ashoka’s Changemakers and National Geographic in the Geotourism Challenge, a worldwide search for leading innovations that help destinations benefit from tourism while protecting the assets that make these places special. Transformative ideas have poured in from 84 countries that demonstrate ways for tourism to do the most good and the least harm.

    Now it’s your turn: Log onto and select your three favorites from the 15 finalists by June 11. All finalists are invited to attend the National Geographic and Ashoka’s Changemakers Change Summit in Fall 2008, and the three winners will receive $5,000 each.

    Your voice is vital. Vote today!


  2. Kathy on

    I also just returned from an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican and completely share all the writer’s misgivings about participating in this kind of tourism. How much does it benefit the people? In Mexico whole villages are removed from the shores of the ocean where the air is fresh and the temperatures modulated so resorts can be built. They then have jobs at the resorts but does this economy create a better life? They raise their families in the hot inlands and travel to the ocean to work long, low-paying jobs at the resorts to cater to tourists who have almost exclusive use of the beautiful ocean landscape, leaving litter and a few pesos behind. Tourism benefits off-shore corporations but the people who call the country home? I’m just not too sure about that.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge