Chennai Statement on the Theology of Tourism

 — Mar. 21, 201121 mars 2011

Statement issued by the participants of an ecumenical Theological Consultation on Tourism organised by the Ecumenical Coalition On Tourism (ECOT), Thailand, and the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), in Chennai, India, from 19-21 March 2011.

We live in a world which is witnessing rapid growth in tourism promoted by government and market with the predominant purpose of making profit to benefit a few. In 2010, some 935 million tourists, which is close to around 15 per cent of the global population, have reportedly arrived in different destinations in the world. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has projected a growth trend in tourism arrivals, exceeding 1.5 billion in a year, by 2020.

Tourism, grouped with oil, arms and armaments, and pharmaceuticals, has been recognized as one of the largest industries in the world. Globally around 300 million people are employed in the industry, whose outlays are currently estimated at around 10 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In Asia and other regions, tourism is viewed as a ‘smokeless’, relatively costless solution to poverty alleviation. But, as responsible people grounded in the call of the Gospel and its values, we have to consider the long term effects of such approaches and strategies against the background of inequality in sharing prevailing in the world. There are also powerful interests in the tourism industry who are promoting their agenda to benefit them economically. In such a situation, we have to make choices guided by our concern for the poor and the marginalized in society.

The tourism industry as it is structured today is a factor in third world poverty, surprising as this may appear to many. A closer examination of the negative impact of tourism would reveal that beneath the glittering images of tourism lies a darker side that is well hidden.

Government and market driven mass tourism or commercial tourism for profit, pleasure and enjoyment put immense pressure on environment, communities, women, children and indigenous people. Such tourism practices are unjust and harmful to life. Some of the major negative impacts of mass tourism are:
• Diversion of land, water and other resources for golf courses, resorts, theme parks and so on
• Prostitution and trafficking of women and children
• Global warming and climate change effects arising from air travel, cruise shipping, high energy use in tourism settings, and destruction of natural resources
• Environmental and ecological damage through inappropriate tourism enterprises and development
• Threat to cultural identity of local and indigenous people
• Denial of life sustaining resources of the indigenous people, especially their spirituality, cultural and traditional ways of life
• Revenue loss through tax concessions and subsidized land by governments, repatriated earnings and profits, and low wages
• Displacement of people and loss of livelihood on account of tourism development, and
• Human rights violations

A theological perspective on tourism

Mass commercial tourism objectifies the other for hedonistic satisfaction. Women are reduced as objects for satisfying sensual pleasures. Children become victims of paedophiles roaming different Asian and other countries. People from the local communities serve as cooks, cleaners, life guards on the beaches and so on for a pittance with no job guarantee or satisfaction, but alienation. To satisfy the tourists’ gaze, nature has been reduced as scenic objects and culture is recycled and presented. Objectification of the other is the main foundation on which mass commercial tourism operates.

Tourism promotes the wrong assumption that people have the ability to gain fulfillment through interaction with objects, like nature, beaches or objectified humans, like prostitutes, and that a subject gains subjecthood by relating with an object. In the absence of a subject to subject relationship, people are deprived of their human dignity. Interaction with objectified people or nature leads to the erosion of peopleness. All forms of objectifications are anathema to God in whose image we are created.

There is a misconception among a large section of the people that tourism can generate revenue to the country, and people can eventually benefit from it. Media play an important role in creating such myth that tourism can solve unemployment problems, especially in the countries of the Global South, alleviate poverty through economic development, earn more foreign exchange and promote cultural exchanges which are beneficial for poor and indigenous communities. As a result, economic and business planners are diverting resources which are meant for developing and maintaining basic infrastructures in a country. Such wrong assumptions should be challenged and countered by theological communities, civil society and faith based movements. Theological institutions can challenge these from a justice perspective through a well-designed course for theological and ministerial students.

The churches and theological colleges have not addressed tourism within the framework of theology, ethics, social analysis, and as an important missiological concern. Mass tourism thrives by marketing the sun, sea, mountains, rivers, landscapes, and nature in a way that is an affront to the creation of God, which is a gift to be shared by all. Mass tourism does not respect life, culture and environment because it has its roots in profit making, pleasure and enjoyment. Mass tourism brings destruction to God’s creation and thus it is an ethical, theological and missiological concern. Tourism denies the right to live in dignity especially to the poor and the marginalized people. It exploits abuses and misuses people at the margin. It also sees environment merely from an utilitarian perspective denying its integrity and wholeness. It breeds injustice and thus contradicts the testimonies of the Bible. It has become a theological and ethical imperative to challenge and critique the present paradigm of tourism, and search for an alternative.

Call for action

We, the participants from Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand, call upon the churches, related organisations and theological institutions to analyse and critique the current unjust tourism structure and practices prevailing in many parts of Asia and in other regions to make people aware of the need to evolve alternative tourism practices that are just and pro-poor people.

We also call upon them to critique tourism from the vantage points of the subsistence communities, indigenous people, women and children, and create awareness about it through workshops and simple courses for churches and NGOs.

We acknowledge the importance of critically reviewing the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pursued by the industry. In the name of CSR, poor and marginalized communities are given false hopes and driven to more pauperization and deprivation.

We urge the Senate of Serampore (University), the Association of Theological Schools in South East Asia, Asian Theological Association and other theological schools in the region to address the issue of tourism by integrating it in their theological curriculum.
The curriculum needs to be designed in such a way that students are stimulated to engage in transformative tourism to promote mutuality, solidarity and the real discovery of human community taking into consideration the different Asian contexts.

We recognize the potential of tourism as pilgrimage. Pilgrimage tourism has the potential for changing the present unjust tourism practices. Tourism driven by economic interests need to be replaced with the focus on the promotion of a genuine encounter that will trigger an ethical engagement to promote abundance of life for everyone. But, we are aware that such a change will require dedicated preparation on the part of the communities and the tourists.

We call upon the governments, markets, religious groups, and civil society movements in Asia to work for tourism as pilgrimage which has the potential of ushering in a revolution in the tourism industry and help promote an authentic experience of tourism.


1. Develop a curriculum by regional theological institutions for ministerial candidates. Colleges and seminaries must be encouraged to offer it as a credited course, or as an interdisciplinary course.
2. Integrate tourism in other disciplines such as Christian Ethics, Social Analysis, Women’s Studies, Tribal/Dalit theologies and Christian Ministry.
3. Create workshop modules on tourism.
4. Start a scholarship program that will encourage research scholars to pursue the issue of tourism.
5. Exposure programs for theological students under the supervision of alternative tourism organizations, like ECOT, and Kabani in India.
6. Training for theological teachers in order to handle the course and to evolve methodological tools for analyzing the negative impact of commercial tourism from a theological perspective.
7. The Senate of Serampore College (University) must work on a tourism curriculum for implementation from 2012 academic year. Form a group out of this consultation to pursue the tourism curriculum for the Senate of Serampore. Organize, by the end of this year, a theological consultation in India by the Senate of Serampore College (University) to follow-up and finalize the tourism curriculum, and publication of a related theological resource book.
8. Request ECOT, YMCA, YWCA and the WCC to collaborate with churches and theological institutions in organizing more regional and sub-regional consultations and writers’ workshops.
9. Request the National Council of Churches in India to integrate the issue of tourism in all its commissions (program departments).
10. There is also a need for critiquing the churches’ collaboration with the tourism industry in light of its negative impacts. Christian publications, the liturgy, and the pulpit can draw attention to these. Churches and related movements must be encouraged to issue a public statement on World Tourism Day.
11. Church-run tourism training schools, especially in places like Indonesia, must be made aware of the need to critique the present mainstream tourism activities and to make changes in their syllabus so as to train a new generation of young people promoting community-based tourism.
12. Welcome the offer of the Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE)-WCC to disseminate the outcomes of this consultation and also to work on its offer to provide other assistance to follow-up the decisions of this consultation.
13. Express gratitude to the United Church of Canada, the Karibou Foundation of Norway, and other partners for providing resources for this consultation and its follow up.
14. Publicize and disseminate the outcomes of this consultation as wide as possible, including to theological institutions and umbrella groups.


Caesar D’Mello, ECOT, + 66 53 240 026,
Christopher Rajkumar, NCCI, + 91 9422293599,
Philip Mathew, APEN, +91 9945578898,

Posted: Mar. 21, 2011 • Permanent link:
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