An ethical political ecology of tourism in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh: engaging with Indigenous and gender concerns
Tourism geographies reflect the uneven consequences of new economic relations, activities and resource uses for people and places. This research applies an ethical political ecology framework to engage with the complex relations between multiple actors engaged in the emerging tourism economy of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. CHT is a postconflict region where tourism has recently been developed by government institutions, the military, and political and economic elites, bringing about environmental, cultural and economic changes for the Indigenous peoples who live in this mountainous region. CHT is promoted as a tourism destination of extraordinary natural beauty and ‘exotic’ culture, yet tourists, tour operators, guides, and administrators are largely insensitive to the implications of tourism for the people and places of the CHT. This research is based on a feminist ethnographic research methodology involving a series of in-depth interviews, participant observation and key informant interviews undertaken in 2017. The research engages with how Indigenous peoples are positioned in the development of tourism and how the economic and environmental transformations accompanying tourism have contributed to profound cultural, political and economic changes. Tourism, together with other developments in the CHT, has seen the enclosure of resources owned and used by Indigenous peoples, as well as the extraction of key resources, such as timber, rock, gravel and sand to build tourism-related infrastructure and facilities. Historical processes of control, marginalisation and discrimination established in the colonial period, and persisting through the post-colonial and post-conflict periods, have contributed to highly uneven outcomes from tourism for Indigenous peoples and local environments in the CHT. Land grabbing and the restriction of Indigenous peoples’ access to and control over resources and the practice of their livelihoods are leading to many adverse outcomes for Indigenous communities, although some positive outcomes are apparent. Women’s involvement in the tourism economy, through the production and sale of craft products, has brought some economic and social benefits, notably in terms of increased incomes. Moreover, Indigenous peoples’ participation in homestay tourism has also generated economic opportunities for these communities, albeit at a small scale. This research demonstrates that Indigenous community-based ecotourism can have positive benefits, however, challenges remain in terms of the threat of harassment, environmental impacts, and the military control and capture of economic benefits. The research concludes that the increased involvement of Indigenous peoples in decision making, the recognition of their land rights and support for Indigenous-led tourism ventures would support more ethical tourism in the CHT. This would help ensure tourism develops rationally and enables more responsible, respectful and reciprocal tourism relations to be realised.