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In the more economically developed countries (MEDCs), synonymous mainly with the industrialised countries of the northern hemisphere there, has been an explosion in the growth of leisure and tourism industry, which is now believed to be the worlds second largest industry in terms of money generated. In order to differentiate between leisure and tourism it should be recognised that leisure often involves activities enjoyed during an individual’s free time, whereas tourism commonly refers to organised touring undertaken on a commercial basis. Development in the two areas could be attributed to changing patterns in working lives within the last four decades. Generally, people now have more disposable wealth, work shorter hours, receive longer, paid annual leave, retire earlier and have greater personal mobility. In addition, according to Marshall & Wood (1995), the growth of the tourist industry per se can be associated, in part, with the concentration of capital; the emergence of diversified leisure based companies, sometimes within wider corporate conglomerates and often associated with particular airlines. Furthermore, the development of tourism can generate employment both directly, in jobs created in the hotels, restaurants etc, and indirectly, through expenditure on goods and services in the local area. Nevertheless, although the tourist industry is competitive, which essentially keeps down the cost of foreign travel, the success of tourism in any one area can be ‘influenced by weather, changing consumer tastes, demographics, economic cycles, government policy, not to mention international terrorism and other forms of conflict.’(1) Although such factors may have a detrimental affect on the economy of a popular tourist destination (or even tourism in general, in light of September 11th 2001), the consequence of tourism in general is often three fold: environmental, social and cultural, which in turn has prompted a search for new ‘friendly’ approaches that are less destructive.
It is a well-noted fact that tourists from the developed world, or rich western nations, are in favour of visiting unspoilt natural environments and places steeped in tradition. However, Lea (1988) regards such attractions as being a sign of underdevelopment and rarely tolerated by the host nations just because they meet with foreign approval of visitors. Instead, it is the priority of the respective governments to raise living standards to acceptable levels, which means modernisation and the implementation of various infrastructures. Nevertheless, if administered effectively mass tourism could provide a form of sustainable development by meeting the needs of the present without compromising those of the future.
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Due to a significant lack of resources and technology, which aid the industrialisation process, many less economically developed countries (LEDCs) believe tourism to be an effective catalyst for development as well as increased international understanding. It offers one of the best ways to modernise and promote economic development, through infrastructure; foreign exchange; employment; investment and forming relations with the West. These 5 factors are also known to be the multiplier effect.
Tourism necessitates the building of infrastructure in order to provide the basic amenities for tourists. Many LEDCs are renowned for their lack of sanitation, fresh water supply, and electricity and communication networks. China acknowledged that its poor transport network contributed to hotel under-occupancy. However, Dove (1995) suggests that following years of heavy investment modernising airports and roads and purchasing aeroplanes and other forms of transport for public use there is now no such problem. Investment in transport infrastructure also benefits local businesses and communities. For example, the recent building of the motorway from Beijing to the city airport has benefited both locals and local businesses it not only created many jobs but there is now less traffic build-up, increasing efficiency and reduced pollution.
Tourism also brings in large amounts of foreign exchange, which many LEDCs desperately need for purchasing raw materials and machinery to ‘kick-start’ economic development. According to Warburton (1990), Tanzania, exporter of commodities such as cotton, tea and coffee, suffered from a severe balance of payments deficit due to fluctuating prices governed by the west. Consequently she could not afford to import enough oil to industrialise. However, with growing investment from western hotel chains and invariably more tourists (going on safaris and spending money), the nation appears to be more politically stable due to a healthier economy. This in itself perpetuates tourism.
Developing countries suffer from high levels of unemployment. Tourism can offer to alleviate at least some of the pressure by providing employment in catering, accommodation, leisure, transport and many other informal jobs. Dove (1995) highlights China’s recognition of the demands created by tourism and subsequently acted upon them; training courses to educate employees in ‘guiding’ and hotel work, while other workers were needed for restoration works at historic sites. A Similar example could be made of Kenya where many street vendors make a living by selling local artefacts and souvenirs along tourist routes and members of the Masai perform tribal dances in the national parks, which not only provides the tourist with a cultural experience but the participants a stable wage. In effect, the provision of a wide range of jobs boosts the local economy, as there is greater disposable income that has the potential to lead to better lifestyles and further developments.
A country opening itself to the tourist industry will invariably attract a stream of investment, as no doubt financiers will recoup the invested capital and proceed to make considerable profits. While foreigners principally oversee the construction phases and occupy the majority of skilled positions (due to superior education and previous experience), locals provide the manual labour thus minimising overheads and keeping the cost of holidays down. In the building stages, local materials like cement may be used thus reducing import costs whilst promoting local businesses and employment. The returns not only benefit the capitalists of the first world, but also improve relations between countries.
Large numbers of Western tourists going to a particular area means that perception and knowledge of that country rises. In the case of China, formerly a closed republic, since opening its doors to the west in the 1970’s, Dove (1995) acknowledges that, political relations have improved as have the number of tourists. In addition since western corporations started investing in Tanzania, Warburton (1990) believes the country has become much more politically stable. Therefore, it could be argued that favourable diplomatic relations aid the growth of both capitalism and tourism.
Economic growth has been closely aligned with the growth of tourism in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. Over the past twenty years Thailand has enjoyed one of the fastest economic growth rates of any developing country, which has enabled her to emerge as the Third World’s economic leader. According to Bishop and Robinson (1998), the annual revenue from tourism is approximately $4 billion and is the core support of the Thai economy. Although Thai officials have attributed the success of the tourism industry to the many attractions located in various parts of the country as well as the uniqueness of the Thai people, the Thai government has failed to outwardly recognise the dependency on sex tourism, which is estimated to generate about $1.5 billion every year.
Indisputably, the multiplier effect most definitely benefits economic development. However, tourism can also be used as a tool in the conservation of natural resources. Lea (1988) recognises the establishment of many national parks in Africa and their positive impacts as the subsequent revenue collected from tourism (in particular those who visit the parks) in part is given to locals in order that they protect the fragile environment and endangered wildlife instead of farming heavily and killing wild animals for whichever intents and purposes. Leader (et al, 1996) quantifies this practice through studies performed on the Serengeti National Park where the need for ‘bush meat’ has been exacerbated by the relatively low contribution tourism has made to the local economy in recent years.
Nevertheless there are a number of drawbacks to tourism. Marfurt (1997) recognises the downfalls of ‘long distance mass tourism’, which cause the decline of traditional social structures and value systems while promote the rise of criminality and prostitution around tourist centres and, encourage the commercialisation of hospitality and art. With regard to negative cultural and social impacts of tourism development Lea (1988) also argues that tourism can damage host countries socially, as it can have the adverse effect of changing language, behaviour and health. Furthermore, although the growth of tourist handicraft markets have stimulated local production in positive ways, it could be argued that as visitor numbers increase so too will demand for local artefacts which might result in the reduction of quality produced by local carpenters which might lead to the manufacture of cheap imitations, commonly referred to as ‘airport art.’ Essentially, this will have a detrimental impact on the age-old cultural practices of local skilled craftsmen and women.
Fundamentally it could be argued that, economically, Westerners reap the majority of profits as ‘the more skilled and higher paid positions are frequently occupied by non-local or expatriate labour, leading to leakages from the economy, as well as social strains among less favoured workers.’(2) In comparison locals seldom attain anything more than menial low paid jobs and are sometimes even swindled out of prospective earnings due to their lack of education and worldly knowledge. McGregor (1997), by and large, refutes the notion that local people gain from mass tourism and exemplifies the Masai tribes people of Kenya who have lived off the land since antiquity. She claims that although the Masai Mara National Park brings in approximately £40million each year, into Kenya, tour operators and airlines siphon off the majority and give little, if any, to the Masai.
Although Thailand has emerged as economic leader out of the third world category, the rapid growth and modernisation created by tourism has rapidly changed the economic and social structures of Thailand and its people. During the Vietnam War, Thailand was a popular destination for ‘rest and relaxation’ for American servicemen. Following the war, the Thai government actively promoted the growth of the tourist industry in the hope that it would contribute to the modernisation process. The government was keen to exploit some 500,000 prostitutes ‘left over’ from the war that were cumulatively viewed as a commodity that could be exchanged for much needed foreign currency.
Another social impact is that of ‘western ideals’ bestowed on the people of LEDCs (notably Thailand) and has contributed to the victimisation of many women by the sex industry. Through development of infrastructures in communications and transport, the appeal of consumerism by the mass media and through direct interaction with tourists has caused native peoples to increasingly value money and consumer items. It could be argued that materialism has led many to value possessions more then their sense of self worth. Additionally, it would be worth noting at this stage that health issues are at stake as ‘THAI International, a government funded agency, addressed the problems associated with the AIDS epidemic and the sex trade not as a threat to the nation or its people, but as a threat to the tourism industry.’ (3)
Figure 2. Examples of marketing strategies of Thailand, taken from the official
Tourism Authority of Thailand website
According to statistical evidence obtained from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (2001) the number of foreign visitors steadily increased from one million in 1973 to five million in 1990 and almost doubled in 11 years to almost 10 million in 2001. It is evident from the wide range of sources available including various sources of statistical information that Thai officials have not made any attempt to suppress the infamous sex industry, which is estimated to contribute a quarter of all of the revenues brought in by tourism. Literature remains suggestive and web sites openly promote the sex trade.
Figure.1 International Tourist Arrivals
It is evident from figure 1 that there is a slight influx in visitor numbers during holiday periods consistent with those taken in the northern hemisphere, in particular, those of more economically developed countries (MEDCs). However, there is not the significant difference in numbers, on a monthly basis, compared to holidays taken in Mediterranean resorts or even China which both experience definite high seasons between May and October, (due to more favourable seasonal weather). Visitor numbers seem to fluctuate between 700,000 and 900,000 in months throughout the year, which could be attributed to year round warm weather. It is also interesting to note that, once again on a monthly basis, visitor numbers were generally higher than those of the preceding year, up until August. When compared to the previous year there was a more prominent decline numbers, which could be in part a result from the terrorist attack on New York on September 11th. Depending upon the way in which governments react to such atrocities tourism in general could suffer as could the economic development of countries who depend upon tourism as far a major form of revenue.
Mass tourism can also damage the environment and ecosystems. Large numbers of tourists within any area of any national park results in certain characteristics, chiefly overcrowding and consequential soil erosion. This in turn may damage already fragile savannah environments; kill plant life and more importantly result in the disturbance of wildlife by interrupting the breeding habits of animals and birds. Sadly, when Amboseli National Park was created in 1970 the restrictive treatment of the Masai effectively led to the disruption of the ecosystem, as for thousands of years they have been nomadic pastoralists but practically overnight they were confined to certain areas and had to adapt to farming in those spaces. Not only did this exert greater pressure on the land but it also attracted the interest of wild animals into those areas. McGregor (1997) claims that in an attempt to protect their crops and livestock the Masai speared elephants and poisoned lions in retaliation. Other environmental concerns arise at places of historic interest such as Badaling and The Forbidden City in China. According to Dove (1995), the rising numbers of both foreign and domestic tourists seeking a cultural experience often results in overcrowding, pollution, and erosion at honeypot sites, which therefore commands constant attention, which might result in unfavourable visitor experiences.
Environmental concerns are not just limited to the land. For centuries the local communities that settled along the rich coastline of Tanzania exploited natural resources of coral, fishing seaweed and mangroves, without significantly damaging the environment. However since the introduction of tourism, populations have grown, as has their dependency on coastal resources, which has led to a number of problems. Tourists place an even greater demand on water supplies and are major consumers of other resources such as fuel and foods. Furthermore, the associated increase of sewage and effluent into the sea harms the delicate coral reefs, as does the interest of tourists in the curio trade, which has led to the removal of live coral from the reefs.
Unlike most economically developed countries (MEDCs) where, through better wages and subsequent taxation schemes, money can be invested into the conservation of national parks, LEDCs commonly lack available funds and expertise. Furthermore, through the lack of industrialisation processes of many African countries there are still many people who exist on the land, essentially nomadic pastoralists and /or subsistence farmers, and therefore make such conservation schemes difficult to implement.
Basically the dependency on tourism by LEDCs could be considered too great. Economic growth necessitates tourism as many LEDCs have very little by way of other resources, which facilitate industrialisation and financial development. Therefore they place such a great deal of emphasis on tourism because it is an excellent source of revenue and employment, which ‘kick-starts’ economic growth. However, tourism development has had many negative impacts on less economically developed countries; based mainly on the exploitation of environments, native people and their respective cultures. There are also many variables that can all too easily affect the industry; severe weather patterns, civil unrest, decreasing wildlife numbers, changing attitudes and fashions, recessions in MEDCs to name but a few. Although little can be done about external factors, of which LEDCs have little if any control over, governments (of host countries) can do more to alleviate internal factors that threaten their countries main source of revenue.
The promotion of ecotourism, which theoretically, is designed to have a more sensitive and sustainable approach to people and the environment, is believed by many to be the way forward. Curry and Morvaridi (1992) believe that the most successful tourism policies are directed at local participation and tailored towards local needs. In essence this would involve long-term investments that would ensure the productivity of resources in relation to tourism. According to Potter, Binns et al (1999) a country already successful in the development of ecotourism is Costa Rica, where the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (established early 1970’s) has created over 80 local businesses; the majority of which are locally owned. Furthermore, community participation combined with tourism has led to heightened prosperity and improvements in local education and subsequent conservation of natural resources; all of which have contributed to the perpetuation of tourism.