Tourism is one of the world’s largest Industries. Yet few of the tourist's dollars remain in the local economy. In Kenya, it was found that only $7 million of the $300 million generated by parks was returned to them.
Kovalam, in Kerala, threw open it’s beaches to tourists all over the world in the early eighties. That resulted in an unprecedented boom and the dollars greatly boosted the local economy of the small fishing village.
However, within 20 years, the boom mysteriously went bust and tourists stopped coming to the palm-lined sandy beaches of Kovalam. Local tour operators were stumped. There were no obvious economic factors at play and neither were tourist tastes changing.
Soon, they zeroed in on the problem. Accumulating mounds of waste around the village centre were chasing the tourist away. While everyone was busy cleaning the beaches to attract more tourists, there were no waste management plans for the rest of the areas. So at the end of the great tourist boom, Kovalam was just left with a lot of rubbish.
Increasing dependence on tourism
And the rest of the developing world should take note of the Kovalam example. For, tourist desires are shifting and destinations like Europe and North America are becoming less dominant in the international market. Visits to Asia, Africa, and elsewhere in the developing world have increased dramatically in the last 25 years. One in every five international tourists now travels from an industrial country to a developing one, up from one in 13 in the mid-1970s.
So, all over the the developing world, governments are pumping money into tourism infrastructure projects like roads and hotels. They are offering promotional assistance as well as economic incentives. In fact, by luring tourist dollars, they want to diversify their economies and attract the foreign exchange needed to reduce heavy debt burdens, pay for imports, strengthen domestic infrastructure, and boost social services like education and health care. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are behind many of these efforts.
Developing countries are banking on the fact that tourism can be more lucrative and less resource-intensive than growing a single cash crop or pursuing traditional industries like mining, oil development, and manufacturing. A study found that tourism is significant or growing in all but one of the 12 countries that are home to 80 percent of the world’s poor — including Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Peru, and the Philippines. Many countries rely heavily on tourism to boost their economies. In fact, for the world’s 49 so-called least developed countries, most of which are in Africa or Asia, tourism is one of few ways to actually participate in the global economy.
“Leakages” back to the West
But the economics aren’t as simple as that. Already, around half of the tourism revenue that enters the developing world “leaks” back out — through profits earned by foreign-owned businesses, promotional spending abroad, or to pay for imported labor and goods. What this means that if an American tourist comes to India in an American plane, stays in an American-owned star hotel and only buys American products (like Pepsi and Coke for example), then it is but natural that the American economy will benefit more than the Indian one. For he is also leaving behind his huge ecological footprint on Indian soil.
It has been estimated that in the Caribbean countries, up to 70 percent of tourism earnings go toward acquiring imports — from skilled staff to food and consumer goods!
Who really benefits?
Also, tourism has an uneven impacts on indigenous cultures, of which there are so many in the developing and underdeveloped orld. On the plus side, tourism revenue can help to meet the basic needs and help sustain local communities. But more often than not, many indigenous communities end up as passive participants in ventures that are promoted and run from the outside, leaving them little say in the changes that tourism brings.
Another factor is that where do the tourist dollars actually end up? Do they help the habitats on which they are dependant or do they end up only in the pockets of local elites and multinationals.
It has been estimated that in the Caribbean countries, up to 70 per cent of tourism earnings go toward acquiring imports — from skilled staff to food and consumer goods!
For example, in Kenya, it was found that only $7 million of the $300 million generated by parks was returned to them. That was found to be woefully inadequate. The story is the same with most parks in developing countries. Further, they are grossly overcrowded and charge woefully inadequate entry fees to foreign visitors.
What needs to be done?
Industry groups, NGOs and the public have to be more aware and pro-active to promote sustainable tourism.
In the case of Kovalam, in February 2001, activists and local groups launched “Zero Waste Kovalam, a project that aims to convert the village into a zero-waste community by incorporating strategies of reduction, recycling, and reuse into the various waste streams.
Similarly, local groups convinced the Mexican government to revoke permits for five hotel companies to build resorts, golf courses, and other facilities at X’cacel, a 165-hectare stretch of beach south of Cancun that is home to 40 protected species.
Governments should ensure that foreign tourists follow strict visitor rules and regulations, buy local food and crafts and stay in lower-impact lodging. For the local economy and people to benefit tourism needs to be managed and operated by local communities as far as possible.