Sex Tourism – The Sustainability Blessing In Disguise?

There is a whole lot of academic work on sustainable tourism and sex tourism however; there is a little research when the two concepts are put together. This paper attempts to do just that.  Butler (1993: 29) defines sustainable Tourism as tourism which is developed and maintained in such a manner and at such a scale that it remains viable over an indefinite period and does not degrade or alter the environment (human and physical) in which it exists to such a degree that it prohibits the successful development and well-being of other activities and processes. All these definitions of STD talks about what is called the three pillars, or ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainable development, which is economic, environmental and social sustainability, (Tourism Concern, 1992, UNWTO (2004a) However, many studies have been conducted about the rights and wrongs of different interpretations of the concept of ‘sustainable development’, and nearly every definition of every author has been criticized by others (Smit 2009). The expression itself seems to be embedded with vagueness and uncertainty, for it components can be regarded as a contradiction in terms; the first word suggesting that it is about something static, the latter implying that it is about something dynamic. In the study of socio-political sciences, development is often defined as ‘a process whereby a community, region or nation improves its economic position by increasing the quantity and quality of goods and services at its disposal’ (Ricardo, 2004). Central to this statement is the focus on economic improvement, which appears to be present in most definitions. In fact, as Mowforth and Munt (2002) observe, it is ‘the paradigm that has dominated and remained virtually unchallenged in the age of development.’ Some sociologists argue that this predominantly stems from the ‘western’ civilization’s view on progress, traditionally based on the assumption that economic prosperity is the most important parameter for quality of life, or, as Rivero (2001:111 cited in Mowforth & Munt (2003)) argues, an ‘ideology of happiness based on material progress’.  Mowforth n Munt ( 1998 p 105), goes on to argue that Sustainability in tourism, and probably in general to some extent, is not definable, except in terms of the context, control and position of those who are defining it. To this extent is it arguably safe to say that sustainable tourism has traditionally been given more focus to features connected to the environment and economic development than to the community involvement, social structures and the pure dignity and respect for a human being. The condition of economic and environmental sustainability is of course important. But referring to sustainability in terms of for example economic gain should be done without violating any other aspect of sustainability (Mowforth and Munt 1998 p 111).

After The infamous Rio Earth Summit, it is now realistically true that almost every single aspect of development activity is linked to sustainability and environmentally friendly schemes. As such are sustainable industrial and agricultural production, sustainable logging, fair-trade, CSR and sustainably managed wood plantations, hydro-power dams, golf courses and the lot (Pleumarom 1998).  This Scenario brings about the idea of sustaining the Sex Tourism industry at any destination in the world. Prostitution like Tourism which is arguably the oldest profession in the world is also a global activity and an economically viable business. It is also a considerable foreign exchange earner in countries which have experienced a sex tourism boom. For instance in The Netherlands, Sex Trade is taxed by the Government. But, the question is, is there a difference between Prostitution and Sex Tourism?  Many countries in the world has the image of been commercial sex destinations. However sex tourism exists everywhere, in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Australia or Oceania (Ashworth, White and Winchester 1988; Crush and Wellings 1983; Harrison 1994; Kleiber and Wilke 1995; Launer 1993; Naibavu and Schutz 1974; O’Connell Davidson 1996; Senftleben 1986; Symanski 1981 cited in Oppermann 1999). Sex Tourism in the modern world suggests the image of men, often older and in less than perfect shape, traveling to developing countries (in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean), for sexual pleasures generally not available, at least not for the same price, in their home country (O’Connell Davidson 1996). But in some destinations such as Bulgaria, Spain, Kenya, The Gambia, and several Caribbean and Mediterranean islands, female sex tourists are apparently more protruding than their male counterparts (Aparicio 1993; Beckmann and Elzer 1995; Brown 1992; Kleiber and Wilke 1995; Meisch 1995; Pruitt and LaFont 1995; Simmons 1998) when it comes to beach boys, locals or other tourist. Sex tourism is often summarized as to mainly engage in commercial sexual relations (Graburn 1983; Hall 1992; Harrison 1994; Meyer 1988; O’Malley 1988). Nonetheless, this is an unconcealed generalization and perhaps excludes many other cases and settings (Ryan 1998). And Kruhse-MountBurton (1995:192), argues the complex process by which individuals choose to seek sexual gratification, first within prostitution, and secondly as part of the tourist experience. On the other hand, segment can be developed in Sex Tourism that differentiates the one sex tourist from the other.  These segments are defined by Oppermann (1999, p.251) as money exchange, purpose of travel, length of time, relationship, sexual encounter, and who falls in this category of travel. When this segmentation occurs, it also distinguishes sex tourism from prostitution. At this point Sex tourist and as a matter of fact any other tourism type becomes anonymous.  The anonymity here is that it is a recognized fact that majority of tourists who use prostitutes to satisfy their sexual needs do not travel for that purpose alone. In a lot of cases, it is just a by-product or side attraction rather than the main and sole purpose. O’Connell Davidson (1996:40) termed these situational sex tourists. For instance, many business and conference tourists do make use of prostitutes on their trip while traveling away from home (Hanson 1997; Ryan and Kinder 1996). On the other hand, many tourists find sexual gratification as part of their travel and tours without seeking sex in a typical sex providers or prostitute settings. Harrison (1997) argues that all prostitution might be considered a subset of tourism. Others see the whole of tourism as a subset of prostitution (Graburn 1983). While prostitution and, at least, sex tourism are tightly interwoven, they are not the same. Hence the basic significant difference in sex tourism and prostitution is the monetary exchange solely associated with prostitution.

With regard to Butler’s definition of sustainable tourism, Sex Tourism has it pros and cons. But if it cons are not directly depleting the environment like other forms of tourism then they indirectly do. Even though it also can create jobs and income, boost foreign exchange, distribute benefits to rural areas, and generate funds for public purposes such as education, health care, preservation of culture and nature from Taxed sex tourism. How about the traditional social structures of destinations that frown upon sex before marriage, Sex with Multiple partners, Child Prostitution and Sexually Transmitted Diseases? In conclusion, this paper will find answers to the research question: Why is Sex tourism the most sustainable form of tourism development?


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4 Responses to “Sex Tourism – The Sustainability Blessing In Disguise?”

  1. Janne Liburd says:

    Interesting choice of topic. However, I do not see a research question. Why do you refer to the Rio Earth Summit as ‘infamous’?

  2. Kwaw Koi Douglas Thompson says:

    The research question is: Is Sex Tourism the most sustainable Form of Tourism? I made reference to this because you did mentioned in class that ‘with reference to Butler’s definition of STD, sex tourism seem to be the most sustainable form of tourism. However, the research question could be frame in a better way like: To what extent is sex Tourism, the most sustainable type of tourism?

    And I admit the adjective ‘infamous’ could be out of contest here but it is solely used to mean ‘widely known’

  3. Camelia Tepelus says:

    Several points for your consideration regarding ‘sex tourism’, as it seems to me that this abstract tends to neglect a critical component of modern society – law.
    The author makes an un-stated, but critical assumption: that ‘sex tourism’ is voluntary from the point of view of the person providing the sex service. Please consider:

    1. Adult prostitution – in some countries adult prostitution is legal (Germany, the Netherlands, etc), in many more countries it is illegal. In this second situation, tourists traveling for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts with locals commit a crime.
    2. Sexual exploitation of children in relation to tourism (‘child sex tourism’, or wrongfully named ‘child prostitution’) – according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, human beings under 18 have the right to be protected from sexual exploitation, irrespectively of the age of consent (usually lower) of each country. Tourism destinations are often magnets for adult prostitution (over 18), but unfortunately also for sexual exploitation of children. If law enforcement systems in the Netherlands and Germany can be trusted to enforce the min 18 yo limit, in countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa tourism has unfortunately played an important role in magnifying the criminal phenomenon of sexual exploitation of children. 85% of sexual exploitation of children takes place in hotels. Do they have a responsibility to prevent?
    3. Link between ‘sex tourism’ and the trafficking in human beings – the 20st century form of slavery that is pervasive in all countries, in the context of labor migration, forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation, etc.. I strongly recommend the author to get himself familiarized with the issue of trafficking in human beings while writing this paper. The (involuntary) role of the travel sector in the trafficking phenomenon needs to be scrutinized within this paper, before reaching the conclusion that ‘sex tourism’ is the most sustainable form of tourism.

  4. Kwaw Koi Douglas Thompson says:

    Thanks for your comment Camelia, but the thing is, this paper won’t be broad enough to consider all the issues related to Sex Tourism and STD. That’s why I tried to explain the difference between Sex Tourism and Prostitution, so that I don’t have to deal with issue of law, Human trafficking or Sexual exploitation of children in 15-25 page paper. And on a personal view, I think the term “Child Sex Tourism” is wrong. When children are involved in sex trade, most often they have procurers which makes this activity same as prostitution. But is a hard segment to define. We all know that tourist are define but their travel aim eg, Adventure tourist, cultural tourist etc, but we also know that their travel cannot be defined as the exclusive or sole activities they engage in.

    Another thing you mention in your comment is about the conclusion of the paper. I don’t plan to conclude that sex tourism is the most sustainable form of tourism. Like I mentioned before, there is a difference between sex tourism and prostitution which is unfortunately always confused with each other. Plus what i plan to write about is to compare and contrast the sustainability and “unsustainability” aspect of sex tourism (not prostitution)and with regard to STD as defined by Butler, I hope to be able to draw some sort of conclusions about the fact that sex tourism is either or not the most sustainable form of tourism.

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