Managing Tourism for Development

Rapid, continuous tourism growth and the search for new destinations mean that more and more communities in the developing world are affected – positively and negatively – by the growth of tourism. This provides opportunities for economic development and job creation which benefits the poor, but there are also negative impacts, which need to be minimised.

It is frequently the natural and cultural heritage and the living culture of the local people that attract tourists. But their very sustainability will depend on coherent public and private management of the environmental, economic and socio-cultural impacts of tourism.

A tourism monoculture can adversely affect the inherent quality of the destination, as any over-dependence on a single economic activity increases the area’s economic vulnerability through its dependence on decisions made elsewhere by consumers and investors. Destination management is a key requirement for sustainability.

Tourism has become an important sector for most developing countries having already overtaken cash crop agriculture and other primary industries as the major source of national income, employment and export earnings. In Kenya, tourism has displaced tea, coffee and horticultural produce as the country’s leading export earner, as it has in Costa Rica. Tourism development played a major role in Botswana’s graduation from LDC status and has underpinned its development. Tourism has been vital in Cuba’s economy since 1990 when Russian economic support was reduced. Tourism income has assisted the Caribbean islands’ economies faced with failing banana and sugar prices. China’s adoption of tourism as a means of economic development is enabling it to attain very high rates of economic growth in targeted areas.

Tourism is not a traditional industrial sector, and is best understood as a range of responses to a particular consumer demand. The activity of tourism creates demand for a wide range of products and services purchased by tourists and travel companies, including a range of products supplied by other industrial sectors (e.g. food & beverage, building supplies, crafts and soft furnishings), which are not traditionally thought of as part of the tourism sector. The diversity of the industry and the high income elasticity in markets in the industrial and middle income countries make tourism an attractive option for many developing countries.

Tourism is marketed internationally but it is consumed at the point of production. The tourists, whether international or domestic, must travel to the “factory” to consume their holiday. This brings wealthy consumers into direct and relatively close contact with often far poorer producers. These disparities of wealth and social power are very evident and can result in unfair labour practices, the sexual exploitation of women and children, begging and theft. Tourism also brings with it pressure for cultural change and can bring disruptive local migration as people are priced off land or attracted by new job opportunities. The rate of tourism sector growth and associated impacts need to be managed if tourism is to be used for sustainable development, negative impacts need to be controlled to avoid jeopardising local communities and their social values.

The argument is often advanced that developing countries cannot exercise control over international tourism demand coming from the rich countries of the North and that the tourism industry is demand-led, making the countries of the South vulnerable to changes in demand beyond their control. However, this and many of the other disadvantages associated with tourism are actually characteristics of growth and globalisation; they can just as easily be found in the agricultural, mining and manufacturing sectors, but this argument is not advanced so forcefully there. For example, it is not clear that the leakage effect and the perceived high level of foreign ownership are greater problems in tourism than in other sectors. While there is no doubt that tourism is vulnerable to swings in demand at the international level (e.g. recession in the tourist originating countries and changes in holiday preferences) and changes in the destination countries (e.g. political instability, floods and hurricanes), it is not clear that tourism volatility is any greater than volatility in prices and demand in other exports, particularly cornmodity exports.

Many of the problems can be avoided by implementing integrated strategic destination master planning processes which meet the tenets of Responsible Tourism. This must be followed by professional destination management which is informed by indicators which respond to the key risks and concerns regarding sustainability of tourism, and also provide information which can help clarify issues and measure responses.

Lorton Consulting has substantial experience in integrated destination Master Planning. We have also done extensive work with use of indicators in planning and management of tourism destinations. Contact us if you need our professional input for your project.

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