Globalization: Pleasure Periphery or Smooth Getaway?
W Hotels, a trendy subset of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., defines its own set of terms (labeled “W Words”) used exclusively to describe its products and services. The website asks, “Why use the ordinary to describe the extraordinary?” In W language, the term “Living Room” labels the posh hotel lobbies described as modern playgrounds and “Sweat” as simply another way of referring to the fitness facilities (Starwood). With new sites opening in Istanbul and Doha, W Hotels Worldwide brings tourists to the most uncommon of destinations with incense-filled elevators and an exclusive satellite radio station pumping ambiance tunes through guest suites (Starwood). There are incredible aspects of this kind of globalization- the chance to explore foreign worlds in the comfort of a five star hotel with its own vocabulary- but it raises important questions concerning who exactly gets to stay, and what goes on outside of the glamour of the hotel “living room.” Tourism, while not representative of all industries, presents a model of the manner in which globalization has affected commerce and the lives of people in all sectors. While admittedly filled with complex drawbacks, globalization (and the tourism industry, for that matter) brings an increased awareness of other cultures and an expedient transmission of ideas, both of which can be beneficial to the world community.
Tourism growth, arguably a subset of the advent of globalization, brings about interesting new business ventures for nations who can attract visitors. In an article for the journal “Brand Management,” Professor Juergen Gnoth discusses an idea of “destination branding” in which marketing a nation for tourism will bring increased foreign interest in that nation’s products, thereby increasing revenue across the board even after the visitors return to their home nations. He elaborates,
“Producers in countries with an international tourism industry have the unique opportunity to showcase their products and services to visitors, convince them of their quality and benefits, and turn these tourists into customers of their products in the respective overseas markets once they have returned home” (Gnoth 262).
This notion certainly bears positive implications, seeing as the demand for tourism worldwide in recent years has been estimated at $4,495.5 billion (264). Similarly, the more people travel, the more they are exposed to other existing cultures, hopefully promoting a stronger interest in foreign affairs and a concern for relevant international issues. While this is an intangible notion that is difficult to construct a causal relationship with, globalization and to some extent, tourism, have certainly coincided with a rise of worldwide campaigns to draw attention to various issues such as HIV in Africa (Gap’s Red Campaign) and saving Darfur. With a new international outlook, it is no wonder that businesses are trading farther and wider than ever before. “The growing importance of [tourism],” Gnoth explains, “and its potential to expose large numbers of visitors to a country’s achievements strongly suggest benefits that derive from an analysis of the links between ‘country’ as a tourism destination, the export economy and brands” (264). This notion of the way in which tourism increases awareness both mimics and complements the manner in which increasingly global markets have incited innovation.
Globalization has been a vehicle for not only promoting products, but also ideas and social consciousness worldwide. In Daniel Yergin’s New York Times piece, “Giving Aid to World Trade,” globalization is portrayed as a vehicle for rapid economic development and the spread of international cooperation. Yergin cites America’s 50% increase in foreign aid and world leaders’ responses to poverty in Africa as examples of the manner in which globalization presents a medium for change (Yergin 1). He considers opening the market to more countries as a triumph, stating, “Such improvements can attract long-term foreign investment that creates jobs and encourages transfers of technologies to poorer nations” (2). He seems to imply that the more economies depend on one another, big and small, the greater the cooperation exists in attempting to solve critical issues. Additionally, he underscores the manner in which foreign capital has pulled underdeveloped countries to higher spots in the competitive market place. He cites the success stories of India and South Korea as crucial results of globalization. W Hotels encourages foreign visitors to explore these and other cultures in order to provide the medium by which this transfer of ideas and funds occurs. The website beckons, “Step through the looking glass and indulge the dream. Play, Live, Savor and Wish for whatever you want whenever you want it” (Starwood). This statement, however, brings about a crucial question: can everyone play?
The tourism industry is filled with latent contradictions. Though it does attract foreign revenue and visitors, is it truly beneficial to the whole community? Who exactly has the mobility to go, and who is left in the dust? The notion of “destination branding” is especially vague when describing the manner in which a culture is suppressed for the benefit of its visitors and investors. Juergen Gnoth cites this impression of tourism as a happy façade masking social turmoil as the “pleasure periphery,” describing the notion of “infrastructure that has been imported, as is the case with exclusive resorts in so-called underdeveloped countries” (Gnoth 271). He admits that while tourism and branding can increase public awareness of the host nation’s products and services, the consequences of placing a beautiful façade in front of poverty-ridden masses are heavy. The Maldives, one host of an exclusive W Hotel, was ransacked by the December 2004 tsunami. Thousands of indigenous peoples were evacuated during the disaster and then further exploited by the tourism industry. Once removed, large hotel chains seized the opportunity to claim land originally set aside for the original inhabitants. According to a conference paper on Maldivian coastal management, “The December 2004 tsunami displaced 10 530 people. The December 2004 tsunami displaced 10 530 people. Three islands were totally evacuated and will not be inhabited again. Of the displaced people, 5 785 are living in temporary shelters on various islands and the remaining 2 883 are housed by friends, relatives and other benefactors” (Naseer 158). It is interesting to note that in this case, the tourism industry perpetuated what it was said to combat: overall intolerance and economic suppression.
The possibility of this particular consequence is not limited to the tourism industry. All industries must be aware of the impact of increasingly global markets. The tendency of exploitation does not decrease with an increase in trade. The openings of sweat shops in Asia and tourism’s exploitation of the tsunami are both possible results of increased globalization. According to R. Edward Freeman’s article, “The Stakeholder Theory of the Modern Corporation,” the community in which an industry exists is equally a stakeholder in the company itself. The Maldives community, which provides both the land and people necessary to make the hotel industry survive, are stakeholders in the existing corporations. Freeman presents a series of normative questions he feels should be considered by the corporations such as, “Corporations ought to be governed by…” and “Managers ought to act…” (Freeman) in order to prove a point: though the boundaries between markets may have loosened, that does not provide a reason for corporate social responsibilities to be loosened as well. The New W Hotel in Istanbul calls tourists to sample the “ultimate Turkish delight” (Starwood). The pleasure periphery painted by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. fails to reveal the current political turmoil and human rights violations occurring throughout Turkey itself.
W Hotels does a fantastic job of constructing a wonderland in which the only things that exist are luxury and comfort. A new set of vocabulary, world-class chefs, and dimly lit open spaces call visitors to escape to foreign destinations. The extent to which these tourists escape- perhaps from the nation they are visiting itself- is questionable, just as the manner in which globalization masks inner turmoil and exploits difficult issues. However, globalization cannot be perceived as either a “wholly good” or “wholly bad” economic situation. While difficult to analyze, the transmission of ideas, peoples, and differing cultures allows more people than ever to take part in worldly experiences. The awareness drawn toward global issues is more than ever before, enabling all to take part in the promotion of under-developed nations. Increases in tourism enable more revenue to flow between consumers and producers, either through the visitation itself or in “destination branding” that draws attention to a host nation’s products and services. All in all, globalization exists as both an ultimate getaway and pleasure periphery. At times, it is an exotic means of escape for underdeveloped nations from their economic plights- but how long will the vacation last?