How Ethical Tourism and Group Economics Can Help Solve Global Inequality

When the NBA restarted its coronavirus-suspended 2019-2020 season, it also gave players the option to wear a custom message on their jerseys.

This took place amid the growing uproar surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others that sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Many players chose to wear messages of support or protest.

In that context, Andre Iguodala’s jersey sporting the words ‘Group Economics’ seems unusual. But as the Heat veteran explained, the message indicates a solution to all the things people were protesting against.

When a community exercises their collective influence to create a secure economy for themselves, they build generational wealth. Supporting a black-owned jewelry business or hiring from the local African-American community are among the ways to help break free of systemic inequality.

Yet inequality isn’t unique to America. The World Bank’s GINI index holds 50 countries doing worse than the US in this regard. Many of the nations with dire measures of inequality are popular travel destinations.

And ethical tourism can help support group economics in those countries.

Tourism’s moral imperative

Travel is one of the most enjoyable uses of your discretionary income. The experience of novelty creates more happiness than mere material possessions. Even more, it stimulates the mind to learn and can transform you in meaningful ways.

But when we travel, we also have an impact on our destination. We wield influence in choosing which establishments we support and how we spend our money.

The average tourist doesn’t give much thought to that impact. Without realizing it, they can easily end up patronizing businesses that are actually owned by foreign investors or local elites.

Such ownership profiles are less likely to prioritize issues such as sustaining the environment, preserving the authenticity of cultural heritage and values, or reinvesting profits in the local community and infrastructure.

When tourists don’t consider their influence on the country they visit, their travels have a one-way benefit. They enjoy the experiences offered, but their money ends up perpetuating existing inequality.

In the long run, that works out to the detriment of the industry in general, creating problems and diluting the quality of experience for future visitors. It’s why you should care and practice ethical tourism, even if it doesn’t directly affect your short-term stay.

Supporting local communities


Throughout the world, economically disadvantaged groups tend to be comprised of those who aren’t well-versed in the language of capitalism.

For these people, there are no quick fixes to the problems of inequality. They need better education and opportunities to make a living, which an injection of cash doesn’t solve. It’s an issue that can only be improved upon incrementally by chipping away at it across generations.

The term ‘group economics’ itself might not mean anything to them, but the concept translates no matter where you go. It’s based on the universal principle of having skin in the game.

The local community has the most at stake and given a chance, local entrepreneurs and artisanal craftsmen are most likely to give back and improve conditions.

Increased cash flow gives them the ability to hire from within the community, creating jobs for their fellows. Their actions serve as a model of success and can increasingly be marketed to local audiences to great effect. At the same time, they become accountable to higher standards of quality.

Making a difference

As a traveler, you probably invest time and effort towards planning your itinerary: where to go, what to do, where you’ll eat and go shopping. How much of that planning involves vetting the ownership and practices of the establishments you’ll patronize?

Some of that information is available on the internet. You can determine if a business is locally owned and whether they give back to the community by hiring locals or supporting initiatives or infrastructure development.

But keep in mind that the disadvantaged are under-represented online. Sometimes, you have to keep your eyes and ears open and learn about your destination on the fly.

Learning the language helps. So does engaging with the locals in conversation. Want to know which businesses are practicing group economics, and therefore most deserving of your support? Just ask the people on the ground.

It’s easier not to practice ethical tourism and ignore the inconvenient truth that continuing to extract one-way benefits from a country’s tourist industry is not sustainable.

Remember that the Greek word ‘ethos’ means high moral standards. It takes work to do what’s right and fair.

Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard, put in the work to figure out where our tourist dollars are going, and help fight inequality as we travel.

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