Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw

Call For A Moratorium on Mega-Resorts

by Equations, 24 February 2009

print version of this article print version

Land Banks are Land Grabs

Going by the number and intensity of protests against displacement under
way in various parts of the world, land acquisition for infrastructure,
mining, mega tourism projects and industrial projects has become a highly
contentious issue.

Land is now the main site of struggle as popular movements confront
predatory capital, which can only accumulate through dispossession. Land
conversions for large-scale tourism complexes and golf courses are
unreasonable and irresponsible. The lure of quick cash has lead to
appropriation of all kinds of lands for mega commercial ventures like
tourism and real estate projects resulting in significantly diverting the
amount of land suitable for food production, particularly in Third World

Not only do "land grabs" by resort and real estate developers pose a rampant problem the world over, "sea grabs" for the development of commercial water-based tourism activities such as cruising, boating and diving, have also become common place. The rapid proliferation of mega-resorts that often include hotels, residential housing, golf courses, marinas, shopping centres, entertainment facilities and even landing strips for private jets, wreaks havoc on the natural environment, affects the lives and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers and fisher-folk around the world.

Tourism’s Hollow Claims

Contrary to the claims of industry and government leaders that tourism
brings progress and prosperity to poor regions, in most poor and developing
countries the lure of investment, unregulated nature of tourism and support
of global neo-liberal economic forces has resulted in the State withdrawing
from economic activities that leads to overall growth and development. The
State has taken up the role of facilitating private players. The sole
objective of these private players is to earn maximum profit at minimum
cost. The income/ profit generated from these tourism operations remains in few hands and do not trickle down to benefit the local communities.

Efforts to battle hunger and poverty, in these countries, are being
undermined by the massive land use change from food-producing land and
marine areas to tourism zones. According to a joint study by the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank
conducted in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
smallholders in the traditional farming system, who are typically poor and
unlikely to survive the aggressive wave of globalization, account for more
than 80% of the agricultural population. This shows how important the
production of staple food is for the economic and rural development in this

Instead of further boosting unproductive and unsustainable tourism and
service sectors, governments need to secure the livelihoods of small farmers and fisher-folk. As many countries in the South are already experiencing the impacts of climate change - in the form of more frequent and severe droughts and floods, for example -, governments should no longer give approval or even subsidize the construction of luxurious hotels, villas and golf courses. Such projects are not only devouring much-needed agricultural lands but also put additional stress on natural resources that in these times of warming climate must be preserved in order to sustain the lives and livelihoods of their population.

The New Colonizers

Huge tracts of arable land in some of the world’s poorest and hungriest
countries are being privatized and consolidated by national and
multinational corporations. Often, they are declared special economic zones
(SEZ) to produce cash crops or industrial goods for export to affluent
countries or entertainment zones. The most scenic and pristine coastal,
marine and mountain areas are taken over for tourism and real estate
development catering to the rich, upmarket tourists.

In response to the looming crisis, the Philippine government in April 2008
decided to temporarily halt the conversion of agricultural lands for
property development and other uses amid concerns it needs to protect its
paddy fields to meet a growing demand for rice. But it is doubtful whether
the order to put on hold the development of farmland into resort and
residential sites, golf courses and shopping malls are being properly
enforced because it would effectively counter the government’s plans to turn the entire country into a tourism zone. To achieve this goal, the Philippine Senate also passed in April 2008 the Tourism Act 2008, which makes it even easier for transnational corporations (TNCs) to take over land for tourism expansion. The Tourism Act 2008 expands the powers of the TNCs to exploit people, culture and natural resources for tourism purposes.

The Last Rebels?

’We have hundreds of kilometers of beaches that aren’t developed, and it’s
a waste,’ said the then Honduran Tourism Secretary (IHT), Ana Abarca in
2001. ’We want strong tourism. We are going after the sun and the beach.’

These hundreds of kilometers of beautiful turquoise water and white-sand
beaches, however, are by no means abandoned. A large part of this Honduran Caribbean coast has been home to dozens of Garifuna communities for over 200 years.

Such struggle for the control of Garifuna territories began over 15 years
ago. "Starting in 1992, the Marbella Tourist Corporation and foreign
investors, in complicity with local authorities and military personnel,
began usurping property rights within the Triunfo de la Cruz community.
Facing the risk of losing communal land titles, local and national
organizations came together to expose the corruption and managed so suspend the fraudulent operations."

Today, the Marbella project remains at a standstill. In recent years,
Garifuna activists have been living under a state of siege receiving
innumerable death threats, having homes burned down, and have had three
community members assassinated.

The neoliberal model for development, in which the Honduran structures of
power base themselves in, has identified the Caribbean Coast, and in
particular Tela Bay, as the perfect place to develop a mega-tourist
industry: Beautiful "wasted" beaches – as described by Abarca – populated by relatively few people (already perceived as exotic, easily persuaded, and
who can offer entertainment as well as cheap labour) make up the perfect
wish list for those within the structures of power.

Staying true to a pattern that seems to repeat itself endlessly in the
Americas when it comes to the development of a Mega-project, the opinions of the local residents has not even been considered. “We don’t want the mega tourist industry here,” says Miriam Miranda, Executive Committee member of OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), the most prominent organisation representing the Garifuna people. “Why do these people come to take our resources? They are not welcome”.

A Tale of Impunity

Yucatan activist Nancy de Rosa, the coordinator of the Society of Akumal’s
Vital Ecology (SAVE) and long-time campaigner against environmentally
harmful resort and golf course projects, raises the alarm loud and clear
about yet another vital turtle nesting beach, another mangrove forest,
another stretch of important coastal area in Mexico being threatened by a
mega tourism project. According to Nancy de Rosa, ,since 1998, SAVE has been trying to protect the fragile ecosystems along the Quintana Roo Coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula, south of Cancun from unsustainable development.

The unique landscape includes water-filled caves and caverns (`cenotes’),
mangrove forests, beaches and reefs. But tourism development now appears out of control. There are presently 17 golf courses operating along the eastern Mexican coastline, 5 are under construction, and more may be in the planning stage.

A `Tale of Impunity’ documents the history of this notorious project - an
environmentally devastating mega-tourism complex of the Bahia Principe Hotel Group— Gran Hotel Bahia Principe and their mega-golf resort development Naj K’aax that comprises of three hotels – Bahia Principe Akumal, Coba and Tulum
–- and a real estate development including a 27-hole golf course. Despite all evidence and reports being produced by SAVE, local and federal authorities have not only failed to properly investigate the case; there are also reasons to suspect that government officials are collaborating with Bahia Principe in order to discredit and intimidate the environmental watchdogs.

"Private" Hill Stations

In Maharashtra, India "free India’s first and largest private hill station"
is being flaunted in lavish advertisements. Spread over 5,058 hectares, the
hill station Lavasa, being promoted by Lavasa Corporation, is coming up on
the backwaters of government-owned Warasgaon dam in the Western Ghats. The company’s dreams, however, have become a nightmarish experience for 18 villages from where the land has been "acquired" to develop Lavasa.

Firstly, these 18 villages are mostly inhabited by tribals and their lands
here are termed as ceiling land. According to the law of the land, such
ceiling land can neither be transferred nor sold. But the Maharashtra
government has issued special resolutions to ensure that the ceiling land
can be acquired for developing Lavasa. Secondly, most tribal families whose
lands have been acquired have either been cheated by local agents or their
land records changed, received cheques that bounced, or the few who hold on strong to their lands are being threatened and live in constant fear for
their life. Thirdly the Corporation has already constructed one private dam
resulting in there being no drinking or irrigation water downstream for
farmers. Lastly, Lavasa has not taken any environmental impact assessment
(EIA) clearance. Lavasa’s spokesperson defending the move says "this is a
tourism project situated at a height of 1,000 metres above sea level, hence
does not need an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance. "

Fuelling Organized Crime

It has been common knowledge for many years that big money from the global shadow economy (e.g. drug, arms smuggling, human trafficking) has
significantly boosted the construction of mega-resorts. In 1980s, Japanese
anti-golf course campaigners warned that the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, was a significant factor behind the resort and golf course boom in the Asia
Pacific region. And Polly Pattulo writes in her book `Last Resorts – the
cost of tourism in the Caribbean’, "Tourism coexists with organized crime in
a kind of symbiotic relationship, and the US State Department reports also
emphasize this link between tourism, money-laundering and offshore-banking."

She further reports about numerous shady business deals on Caribbean
islands, involving real estates , hotels or villas, casinos or catering
firms as well as airlines, "each one an intrinsic part of the tourist

Similar links are becoming more and more evident in Goa, on the Western
Coast of India, where mafia, drugs land sharks linked with Russian tourists
made a heady cocktail.

As in the Caribbean, the Southeast Asian tourism industry provides the
perfect infrastructure in which organized crime can flourish. The daily
network of planes, cruise ships and yachts makes it easy for smugglers and
other criminals to operate. Resorts and real estates boasting marinas or
landing strips for private planes make it particularly convenient to
illegally trans-ship people and goods across borders. As Phuket in southern
Thailand has become known as a hub for traffickers, for example, Thai police last year imposed stricter controls on marinas in Phuket in order to curb the illegal trade.

It is time to demand an end to the global mega-resort and real estate boom. Land and natural resources are part of our collective commons and should belong to all people in a country. They must be preserved and used wisely to benefit local communities, particularly in these times of crisis and

For further details and to endorse this campaign, write to:

- 415, 2nd C-cross, 4th main
- OMBR Layout, Banaswadi
- Bangalore 560043, India
- Telephone: +91-80-25457607/25457659
- Fax: +91-80-25457665
- E-mail: campaigns at
- URL:


tourism investigation & monitoring team (tim-team)
- P.O. Box 51 Chorakhebua
- Bangkok 10230, Thailand
- Email: timteam02 at
- Webpage:

Signatories are:
- Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team), Thailand
- FernWeh Tourism Review (iz3w), Germany
- Forest People’s Programme, United Kingdom
- Global Anti-Golf Movement (GAG’M coordinated by tim-team/Thailand,
- Third World Network, Friends of the Earth Malaysia,
- Consumers Association of Penang/Malaysia
- Global Network for Anti-Golf Course Action (GNAGA)/ Japan,
- Helping Our Peninsula’s Environment (HOPE)/USA,
- GAG’M liaison initiative UK —Desmond Fernandes)
- KABANI - the other direction, India
- Salvamento Akumal de Vida Ecologica (S.A.V.E.), Mexico