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Managing Tourism Growth
Issues and Applications
By Fred P. Bosselman, Craig A. Peterson, Claire McCarthy
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 1999 Island Press
All rights reserved.
The Benefits and Risks of Tourism
Contemporary tourism is a vast and rapidly expanding industry that claims to be the "largest industry in the world, measured by gross output, value added, capital investment, employment and tax contributions:" The principal reasons for its exploding growth are all late twentieth century phenomena: increased wealth (especially the emergence of larger middle classes); changed demographics (an increase in the number of retired persons with additional time to travel, especially in the developed countries); greater mobility (increased car ownership); transportation improvements (especially the increased size and number of large airplanes, combined with the reduced cost of travel); technological changes (improved communications); and maturation of the tourism industry (as evidenced, for example, by creation of more consistent standards and methods of service delivery and the proliferation of package holidays).
Whatever the reasons, the recent growth is staggering in its scope. By 1992, tourism was the fastest growing economic segment of many industrialized countries. Even more current statistics and projections reflect the growing scale of global tourism. In 1996, over 10 percent of the world's population of 5.7 billion took at least one international trip (this, of course, excludes more common in-country trips); those numbers are expected to increase by 2020 to a breathtaking 1.6 billion international travelers, over 20 percent of the expected total world population of 7.8 billion. According to the World Tourism Organization, the phenomenon is equally impressive from the economic standpoint. (See Table 1-1.)
The Symbiotic Relationship of Host and Tourist
The statistics leave no doubt that tourism is a phenomenon of increasing significance throughout the world. Certainly judging from the vast number of people who choose to spend their time and money on travel, many of us enjoy being tourists. Given the ever increasing number of communities and countries trying to attract their share of the exploding tourist market, many of us assume that tourism development will bestow benefits on the hosts as well as the visitors.
The symbiotic relationship of host and visitor has a long history. Tourism in some form has been around for thousands of years. Formal travel narratives are often said to have begun around 1900 B.C. with the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, and continued with Homer's majestic Odyssey, even though "(t)he travels narrated (there) are god-decreed and thus not wholly voluntary nor pleasurable." History tells us that special places have attracted visitors from the earliest days, and that enterprising locals have long provided their visitors with shelter and sustenance, transportation and guides—all at a price. Myths and stories teach us that the interaction of host and traveler goes far beyond a mere commercial transaction, however, and can often be an enriching experience for both.
The face of tourism has changed, however, in the last half-century. With the tremendous growth in the number of people traveling throughout the world, the impacts—both positive and negative—of visitors upon their host communities have been magnified. The challenge for the tourist is to find the "perfect spot" for a weekend getaway or summer vacation. For the host community, whether long-established as a popular tourist destination or embarking on tourism development for the first time, the challenge is to find a way to manage tourism growth in an equitable and sustainable way so that the benefits it confers will outweigh the burdens it imposes.
This book looks at ways by which host communities can ensure that tourism brings as many benefits and as few risks as possible. By focusing on ways that tourism can be effectively managed and regulated, we do not mean to detract from the role of the tourism industry itself in promoting beneficial types of tourism. Efforts of private enterprise to integrate principles of environmental sustainability are growing rapidly. The World Tourism Organization, headquartered in Madrid, and the World Travel and Tourism Council in London have vigorously championed this goal, publishing informative articles on sustainable tourism practices and recognizing successful programs.
Nevertheless, we think a study of ways in which governments have managed tourism should be as helpful to industry professionals as to community representatives. Regulation has usually come about in response to problems that were perceived to have been created by members of the tourism industry. An understanding that regulation often follows negative impacts may be an incentive for businesses to act in ways that minimize harmful impacts. Careful and thoughtful management of tourism growth seeks not only to minimize negative impacts, but also to increase the benefits that tourism can bring to host communities and visitors, and thus to the tourism industry as well.
The Benefits of Tourism
The primary benefit of tourism to travelers is a measure of personal pleasure, and there seems to be a tourist offering to fit every taste and individual interest. (See Photo 1-1.) Some just want to lie on a beach. Others may seek exposure to the arts, architecture, cuisine, crafts, traditions, or lifestyles of a different culture. Others wish to visit a place of exceptional natural beauty or a location that offers specific recreational activities, or to study a particular topic. Whatever the focus—whether going white water rafting or taking an architectural tour or photographing native flowers—it is an activity chosen to bring enjoyment to the tourist.
The most obvious potential benefits that tourism can bring to destination communities are economic. (See Photo 1-2.) For developers of successful tourist attractions and facilities, the major benefit is profit. For governments and citizens, it includes increased employment opportunities; an expanded tax base; access to markets for locally produced goods; the infusion of foreign exchange, investment (see Photo 1-3), and expertise; an ability to finance infrastructure improvements and pollution control measures that they might not otherwise be able to afford; and an improved standard of living.
Tourism growth is often a catalyst for jobs not only in the tourism industry, but also in fields that supply goods and services to tourist developments: construction, agriculture, entertainment, some manufacturing, arts and crafts. Job opportunities for women often expand with tourism development. In communities where tourism operators teach skills to local residents, these skills can often be transferred to other sectors, thus increasing productivity throughout the economy in the long term. Destination communities often embark on tourism development solely with the aim of securing such economic benefits.
When oil industry profits plummeted in the 1980s, the town of Corpus Christi in southeast Texas lost 5,000 jobs and unemployment soared to 12.2 percent. With few other visible options, the city determined that tourism was its best shot at adding jobs and reviving its sagging economy. A beach town on the Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi has no spectacular scenery or historical claim to fame to attract visitors. Instead, it is focusing its efforts on creating new attractions to draw a larger share of the convention delegates and three million Mexican tourists who visit Texas annually.
The city has gone about its tourism development carefully and methodically, ordering economic impact studies prior to expending any public funds. Before building a new aquarium, it analyzed the financial costs and annual revenues of Baltimore's aquarium. Before purchasing a famous World War II navy ship, it studied the experiences of six other cities that promote former war ships as tourist attractions. Corpus Christi now has replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria; a zoo and botanic garden; a greyhound race track; an Asian Cultures Museum and a Museum of Science and History; and a life-size bronze statue of Selena, the murdered Mexican singer.
The economic results from such thoughtful planning have been impressive. Since 1986, tourist numbers have increased almost 140 percent to a total of 5.5 million in 1997; hotel revenues have doubled; tourism-related jobs have doubled to 10,200; and tourism-related payroll came close to tripling. The average visitor, who used to stay one day, now stays for two and a half days. The city is also working to form cooperative relationships with San Antonio, Laredo, the port of Corpus Christi, and Monterrey, Mexico, to attract even more tourists.
Sometimes the economic benefits of tourism growth far exceed the expectations of a destination. Lake Powell in Arizona was created when a dam was built in 1963. Since then, to almost everyone's surprise, it has become the second most popular camping spot in the entire United States, attracting over 2.5 million recreational visitors a year. Environmentalists (including some who originally proposed building the dam) now want to drain the enormous reservoir to restore Glen Canyon to its natural splendor. But most residents of Paige, the town closest to Lake Powell, want to protect the lake from the environmentalists, as do electricity users dependent upon it as a source of energy, those cities that rely on it for water, those involved in the US $500 million tourism industry, and the Navajo nation, who fear a loss of jobs if the lake is drained.
Economic benefits also accrue directly to individual residents in terms of increased wages and a higher standard of living. A farmer in Nusa Dua, Bali (see p. 232), described the economic impact of tourism development on his life: "Before the project (in 1973), I had a hectare of coconut groves, and I couldn't afford to feed my family. If people from (my village) wanted to buy rice, we had to take a boat over to Benoa harbor and walk to Sanur. There was no road, no market, nothing. Just coconuts and the sea."
As the farmer's statement implies, tourism development has broader benefits than merely economic impacts. Properly managed, tourism can have important social and cultural benefits for destination communities as well. It can spark renewed pride in local crafts and traditions, and in some instances has spurred a revival of waning skills in traditional carving, jewelry design, weaving, embroidery, pottery making, painting, music, and dance. This has been the case with whale bone carving among the Maori of New Zealand, pottery and tile painting in Turkey, rug weaving among the Navajos of the American southwest, fiddle playing in Scotland, and aboriginal painting in Australia.
The interest tourists evince in a destination can also foster a greater appreciation of local historical structures, landscapes, and cultural heritage, resulting in conservation measures to protect these important assets. Recent restoration of the ancient Roman baths in the English spa city of Bath, and current reparation efforts in the medina of Fez in Morocco, have both been fueled in part by tourists' interest and their dollars. The serpent eagles, lemurs, and leaf-tail gecko lizards on the island of Madagascar have piqued the interest of tourists, and now the government is working to protect the rain forests that sustain the animals. Poaching of wildlife and such endangered species as the mountain gorilla in many portions of Africa has been drastically reduced by the realization (combined with formal and informal sanctions) that the animals bring much greater economic benefits to the region as tourist attractions than as a source of income for individual poachers.
Sometimes tourism development replaces a more harmful activity. New roads are being built to previously inaccessible Mayan ruins like Calakmul and Uaxactun in Central America. While no one is positive of their precise environmental impact, it is expected to be far gentler on the land than the current slash and burn practices of the local residents.
Often infrastructure improvements that are made in order to support tourism growth—such as pollution control and environmental protection measures, improvements to roads and transportation systems, enhanced recreational and leisure facilities—also benefit the host community. The development of the Huatulco Bays in Mexico (p. 262) brought running water and electricity to poor villages for the first time. In some cases, tourism development also revitalizes commercial areas and expands the range of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities for residents as well as tourists.
Many of the potentially greatest benefits of tourism attach equally to both hosts and visitors. In any cross-cultural exchange there are opportunities for mutual education and the breaking down of cultural barriers. Even within countries, particularly large countries like the United States, tourism increasingly creates contacts among people of widely varying backgrounds.
As hosts and visitors have a chance to relate to each other as individuals (especially those who are interested in understanding other peoples' lifestyles, values, and cultures), they may begin to reconsider their stereotypes and question the accuracy of their preconceptions. Exposure to new ideas makes both host and visitor less parochial. Travel has the potential to lead to a lessening of prejudices and a promotion of a new understanding of "foreigners" for both the hosts and the visitors. At some level, tourism can even serve to increase international understanding. (See Photo 1-4.)
Another educational benefit of tourism has been the growth of interest in learning foreign languages. Jobs in the tourism industry often require that employees be able to speak a second or third language in order to serve tourists. Although visitors are rarely as fluent in the language of their hosts, the number of tourists clutching their Berlitz guides to French or Spanish or Chinese suggests that many are at least trying to master a few helpful phrases.
The Risks of Tourism
Unfortunately, these benefits are not the only or inevitable result of tourism growth. Expected economic benefits do not always materialize. When Long Beach, California, used its oil well revenue to build a massive convention center, it anticipated attracting a steady stream of trade shows and conventions. But the worldwide growth in convention center space has far outstripped its demand, and Long Beach has wind blowing through its vacant parking lots far more often than the city expected.
The construction of costly infrastructure to serve future tourists can also be a chancy endeavor. In the 1980s, the British government built an airport and paved roads in the Turks and Calicos Islands in the West Indies at a cost of some £6.11 million, with an understanding that Club Med would build a major resort. The expectation was that the benefits that would accrue from the tourism development would allow the islands to become economically independent. Unfortunately, it was years before Club Med even signed a contract for a much smaller resort.
In some cases, even successful attractions don't generate the expected economic benefits for the host community. The ever-popular New Orleans has found that of the 16,000 workers in the tourism industry, the vast majority are working in low-paying jobs. Industry experts estimate that for a major hotel employing 700 people, 92 percent of the employees earn under US $15,000 per year. A study by Loftman and Nevin of the International Convention Center, in Birmingham, England, reported that only 7 percent of permanent jobs went to local residents.
A World Wildlife Federation study of ecotourism in the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal showed that despite a 1994 visitation rate exceeding 60,000 tourists, the economic impact on household income was minimal and limited to villages closest to the main park entrance. "Of the estimated 87,000 working age people living near the park, less than 1,100 were employed directly by the ecotourism industry. Only 6 percent of the surveyed households earned income directly or indirectly from ecotourism; the average annual salary of these households from ecotourism was $600."
In some communities, international organizations seem to dominate the trade in ways that appear to exclude local entrepreneurs. A recent study by a group at the University of Arizona concluded that whale-watching tours off the Baja peninsula of Mexico returned less than 1 percent of the tourists' expenditures to the Mexican economy.
Excerpted from Managing Tourism Growth by Fred P. Bosselman, Craig A. Peterson, Claire McCarthy. Copyright © 1999 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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