Report challenges claims that airline and tourism expansion benefits the economy and poorer nations
Mon 17 Nov 2008 – A new report, entitled Plane Truths, from the new economics foundation (nef) and the World Development Movement (WDM) claims that increased air travel and tourism leaves UK taxpayers out of pocket and benefits multinational tour operators and hotel chains rather than poor people. Also, as the fastest-rising source of emissions in the UK, it maintains aviation is a significant contributor to climate change that threatens the survival of some of the world’s poorest communities.
The 60-page report by the two NGOs seeks to dismiss as “fossil-fuelled fantasies” airline and government claims that continued growth of the aviation industry strengthens the economy, does not undermine the emissions reductions needed to avert catastrophic climate change and can play a positive role in the fight against global poverty.
It says that far from cheap air fares ‘democratizing’ foreign travel, the reality is that the highest earners still travel most frequently. Research by the two organizations shows that people on low incomes, who make up 32% of the UK population, account for less than 8% of all passengers on low-cost flights from the UK, while 40% of all budget flights are taken by the wealthiest people.
Claims that tourism is helping developing countries boost their economies and benefits communities in far-flung destinations is another “fantasy” the report challenges. It says the vast majority of British tourists travel to short-haul destinations like Spain or France, or industrialized countries such as the United States, while only 9% go to the developing world. When tourists do visit the developing world, it claims, 75 pence in every pound spent goes straight into the pockets of multinational hotel chains and tour operators, not to the local economy.
The report says evidence from Kenya, Thailand and the Dominican Republic suggests that if the growth in UK air travel was halted, the impact of lost revenue would represent less than one percent of GDP.
WDM claims that far from the aviation industry boosting the UK economy, it calculates that in 2007 £10.4 billion ($15.5bn) was lost in government revenue as a result of tax exemptions.
“As people worldwide feel the impact of the credit crunch, the UK Government is sleep-walking into a climate-crunch, riding high on fossil-fuel fantasies of the aviation industry,” commented Dr Victoria Johnson, nef climate change researcher and co-author of the report. “It is time for the Government to wake up. Time is short. There could be less than one hundred months to prevent catastrophic, runaway climate change. Conventional economists claim that a rising tide lifts all boats, but the plain truth is that long before the minimal benefits of economic growth, particularly from air-based tourism bringing any improvement to the lives of people living in some of the world’s poorest countries, they will be sunk by the floodwaters of runaway climate change.”
Benedict Southworth, Director of the World Development Movement said: “Poor people in the developing world will be hit first and worst by climate change and international tourism does little, if anything, to alleviate poverty – so the myths peddled by government and the aviation industry are simply a fig leaf to justify aviation expansion. Exposing and opposing these myths is essential if we are to help to prevent hundreds of millions of people around the world from losing their lives and livelihoods.”
Nef describes itself as “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being, aiming to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues.” The World Development Movement is a lobbying group campaigning against world poverty.