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Sex tourism has been evolving over the years to become the established and lucrative industry it is in the present day. With over six destinations all over the globe known for their sex activities and services, the demand and supply are non-seasonal and not affected by inflations and economic downturns. However, sex tourism carries many negative impacts that adversely affect the travel industry and the society worldwide, namely encouraging the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), causing discrimination, posing moral concerns and leading to crimes and child prostitution.
Even though supporters of the industry may argue that the business is indeed beneficial to the economy, this trade remains non-sustainable in the long run due to the detrimental health effects and risks it poses on the sex workers, sex tourists, as well as the environment that such services are performed in. Therefore, the government is strongly advocated to minimize the implications of the industry, or otherwise gradually eradicate the entire trade. Introduction
Women parading their bodies in windows resembling fish tanks down the streets of Amsterdam or shooting ping-pong balls out from their vaginas to entertain a crowd in Thailand’s notorious ping-pong show are all results of an established sex tourism industry worldwide.
This industry is defined as travel with the main purpose of sex, whether involving sexual intercourse, voyeurism or observation . Due to the nature of sex tourism, the key players in the industry are very broad and indistinct; it encompasses the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual) community, prostitutes, escorts, and child sex workers.
Nevertheless, the primary service provider in this industry is female sex workers, who provide services ranging from sexual intercourse to performances in nudity, all of which are to entertain a predominantly male audience. Demand and Supply of Sex Tourism Industry Prideaux, Agrusa, Donlon, and Curran (2004) stated that the emergence of sex industries in both Asia and Europe is to feed the demand of “erotic experiences in an exotic setting” (p. 6).
This demand comprises of affluent sex tourists who seek sexual activities and physical stimulation to satisfy their self-actualisation and relaxation needs. They are encouraged to engage in sex activities overseas due to the freedom given by anonymity, as well as the ability to act out their exotic fantasies. With the travel and hospitality industries developing rapidly, such as travel companies introducing exotic itineraries and airlines accessing more remote destinations, a wider range of sex tourists serve to create the growing demand in the sex tourism industry.
Thus, according to Kibicho (2005), “tourism development is responsible for sex tourism as it directly creates potential or new entrants to the profession” (p. 124). On the other hand, the supply is largely female sex workers who are uneducated, and need to escape from poverty and broken homes. They have either been conned into or willingly opted for the fastest route to earn money. Many of these workers start out in this industry at a young age and are controlled by pimps.
Due to the fear of the consequences of pulling out, they become bounded in this trade for a long time . Success of the Sex Tourism Industry Throughout the years, the sex industry has proved to be very lucrative in countries that depend strongly on tourism. For example, the end of the 1990s saw Brazil, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines and the Carribean Islands rising to claim the title of ‘top sex tourism destinations’ (Bandyopadhyay & Nascimento, 2010).
These countries have sex workers who are more oriented towards providing sexual services for the tourist than anything else (Cabezas, 2004). According to Finger (2003), approximately 100 000 to 500 000 prostitutes were available in Brazil, of which 70 000 were being sold annually, rendering the country one of the major exporters of prostitutes in the world. Commercial exploitation systems also operated through 77 interstate and 32 intercity routes within Brazil to supply the domestic industries of nightclubs, hotels, and sex tourism (Bandyopadhyay &
Nascimento, 2010). However, despite being a globally lucrative industry, sex tourism actually leads to many negative impacts. Therefore, governments should immediately act upon or implement solutions to minimise the impacts which will be highly detrimental to the travel industry and societies in the long run. Negative Impacts Travel industry The development of a sex industry can lead to adverse images created for a destination, such as Brazil’s reputation as a ‘sex playground’ and Thailand’s status of being the ‘sex capital of Asia’.
This will subsequently repel major tourist segments, for instance the business and MICE sector, while attracting other less desirable tourist segments, thereby greatly affecting the tourist arrivals and receipts. Moreover, with the effect of public media, a destination’s sensationalized sex industry will jeopardize the destination’s positioning and positive branding that its travel organizations and governments have strived to develop (Garrick, 2005; Bandyopadhyay & Nascimento, 2010).
For example, tourism organizations in Butte, Montana have made extensive efforts to reinstate the city as a heritage destination, through various advertising and marketing medium such as brochures and tourism magazines. However, the International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education (ISWFACE), an organization that supports the work of prostitutes in the name of art, has interfered with tourism marketing efforts, hence causing the city to be labelled with prostitution activities (Dando, 2009).
Another example is Thailand’s attempt at dualism – meshing its ‘Amazing Thailand’ branding image with the sex capital image together. This will endanger both the destination and tourism image in the long run, due to the unfocussed nature of this strategy (Prideaux, Agrusa, Donlon & Curran, 2004). Society Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and public health problems. Due to the nature of the profession, sex workers are put at a daily risk in contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV and AIDS, from their numerous clients.
Table 1 below shows the prevalence of STI among four different groups of female sex workers (FSWs) in Hong Kong. The results found a total of nine cases (1. 8%) of syphilis, nine cases (1. 8%) of gonorrhea, 23 cases (4. 6%) of chlamydia, and one case of HIV (0. 2%) infection from a sample size of 503 workers . Wong, Yim and Lynn (2011) observed that between 1989 and 1998, STIs increased by 17. 3% each year. Additionally, data gathered by Social Hygiene Clinics (SHC) found that 55. 1% among 2,300 Hong Kong sex workers were diagnosed with infections in 2004, a figure much greater than the general population.
Thus, the gravity of the public health problem arising from STIs is extremely serious, especially when FSWs have been considered by health professionals and policymakers as reservoirs or vectors for the spread of such infections and diseases. This problem is even more dangerous because many infected workers fail to seek medical testing or treatment due to a lack of symptoms in the earlier stages . In fact, even after seeking medical treatment, STIs may remain a threat as more and more infections are now resistant to standard antibiotics .
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