2. Tourism and Development in Third World Countries

(From "Tourism and regional development in Mexico and Chiapas after NAFTA," by Axel Kersten)


Before citing some recent tourism data, a general warning is appropriate:

"International Tourism statistics, despite improvements over the last decades, are fraught with gaps, divergent definitions, and a lack of uniformity in data collection methodologies, thus making comparisons difficult."

Mexico, for example, uses for its purposes a definition of tourism which is different from the one utilized by the WTO (i.e., it excludes business tourists and limits the stay to six months). According to Article 42 of Mexico's population law, a tourist is a "non-immigrant who enters the country temporarily for recreational orhealth purposes, to take part in artistic, cultural, or sports activities that are neither renumerative nor lucrative, for a maximum period of six months, non-extendable." (Quoted in Hiernaux/Rodríguez Woog 1990, 18, endnote 4.)

Nevertheless, the WTO seems to be the most reliable and comparable source of statistics due to its universal operations. According to WTO, tourism receipts accounted for more than 8 percent of the world merchandise exports and onethird of world trade in services in 1995. The percentage of tourism into developing countries has increased constantly over the past two decades. In 1995, the "third world" received about 170 million international tourist arrivals, which is 30% of the world's total. The receipts from tourism into the third world (US$ 113 million) designate "North-South-tourism" (third world tourism overwhelmingly originates in first world countries) as the second largest source of income for developing countries. In Germany, e.g., in 1991 more than 20% of the population had travel experience into a third world country (BMZ 1993, 5-8).

When tourism is not included as a single input/output category in national or regional statistics, it was seen as a combination of three sectors (Stolp 1991, 41): 1. Hotels and restaurants, 2. Commerce (retail, wholesale, recreational), 3. Transportation (public/private). Some authors have argued that this definition is too limited, however, and that it excludes the entertainment sector, travel agencies, cruise lines, theme parks and other related services (Lundberg 1995, 138).

Despite its considerable macroeconomic potential in many countries, the growing kind of intercultural tourism often caught negative reactions from critics, especially the planned developments of resort areas and other forms of mainstream tourism. Mainstream tourism is obviously a very broad category and refers to the dominating, large-scale types and forms of tourism, sometimes also described as commercial/conventional, hard, or mass tourism (Pearce 1992, 19). The following table - focusing on mainstream tourism - tries to summarize the benefits and pitfalls of tourism into developing countries in general. The table can be used as an analytical framework for assessing impacts of other forms of tourism as well (by comparing those impacts with the impacts of mainstream tourism).


Table: Positive and Negative Impacts of (Mainstream) Tourism



Economic growth (GDP increase); positive contribution to foreign exchange earning and balance of payments

Seasonality of production and employment; labor-intensive industry (mostly in service sector with poor productivity prospects); little increase in labor skills/few spin-off effects

In comparison with other sectors, tourism market is little protected; market comes to producer

Heavy infrastructure costs; inflation

Generation of direct employment and income, plus multiplier effects for different sectors of society. Economic activities directly, indirectly or inducedly stimulated by tourism are manifold

Dependencies on external markets (increased export instability) and destruction of traditional local economies (subsistence agriculture, internal service sector etc.), pressure to import to fulfil tourist's needs (leakages)

Backward linkages into national economy (use of energy, resources and other primary goods as well as use of capital goods)

Ecological damage from air and car traffic pollution, sewage, garbage and other environmental problems

Potential to create forward linkages; tourists' demand for "modern" Western standards can beget a modernization incentive for other sectors and foster entrepreneurial activity; improvement of regional/national infrastructure

Exploiting and reckless behavior of tourism companies; local resistance in large tourism areas (due to unsustainable planning; wasteful luxury hotels in poor areas; no backward linkages for locals; sex tourism etc.)

"Tourism can be seen as a form of modernization, transferring capital, technology, expertise, and 'modern' values from the West to Less Developed Countries" (Harrison 1992, 10)

Lack of information, arrogance, and ignorance among many travelers: tourism has yet to become a tool for intercultural understanding

Usually, percentage of women working in tourism sector is higher than elsewhere - Limited economic benefits: often only 35 % to 50 % of income remains in third world countries

Western consumerism and materialism creates counterproductive effects on non-Western cultures: accelerates acculturation, internal social problems (e.g., erosion of social/family values and structures), alienation from local culture.

Source: My compilation with references from: Nuscheler 1995, 298; BMZ 1993, 5; Lundberg 1995; Nash 1996, 21-2; Harrison 1995, 19-34; Sinclair/Tsegaye 1990; Lea 1988; Pearce 1989; Hiernaux/Rodríguez Woog 1990.


Considering the above, it becomes obvious that most of the benefits of (mainstream) tourism are economic ones (often on a macrolevel), while the negative impacts of tourism are frequently of a sociocultural kind (and on a microlevel). Within one given tourism project, those positive and negative results may very well coexist (Kadt 1979, xiv). Many sociocultural benefits and pitfalls of tourism, however, are not measurable or quantifiable in monetary terms and thus sometimes left out of evaluative efforts. Especially sociologists and anthropologists have heavily criticized the sometimes socioculturally destructive forces behind mainstream tourism. On the other hand, one should refrain from merely demonising tourism, which is counterproductive and redundant (Nash 1996, 119). Because it is such a major factor in the world's economy and because (similar to other major industries and "modern" economic activities) it faces major political, socioeconomic, cultural and (as a major consumer of energy and resources) ecological problems, finding sustainable ways of tourism is the necessary task. The official German development agency (BMZ, a counterpart to USAID) concludes:

"It is high time to develop sustainable forms of tourism in the destination countries of the third world. For that, culturally, environmentally, and socially sound as well as participatory tourism strategies are necessary."

Discussions about more or less "alternative" forms of tourism in the third world have enriched the "tourism and development" debate in the past 20 years. Alternative tourism topics cover a range of themes such as cultural and heritage tourism, ecotourism, sustainable tourism development, tourism and the environment, parks and protected areas, rural and communitybased tourism, indigenous peoples tourism and barrierfree tourism, all of which demonstrate the complexity and diversity of this evolving field in tourism studies, and some of which are clearly overlapping concepts (cf. the collection of Smith/Eadington 1992, in particular Pearce 1992). By comparing some general features of alternative tourism, it becomes clear that the concept strives at minimizing some of the potential drawbacks of mainstream tourism and relies on the broad participation of local communities. According to Pearce (1989, 101-102 who refers to a study by Cazes 1986), the features of alternative tourism can be differentiated by its distinctive values, processes, and forms:

ˇ         the values of alternative tourism are based on the locals' emancipation, self-determination and integration as well as on the tourist's search for, spontaneity, enhanced interpersonal relations, creativity, authenticity, solidarity, and socioecological harmony.

ˇ         the processes involved depend on a fair partnership between external and local entrepreneurs, and organizers at all stages of development (research, legal/financial support, construction, management, profit-sharing)

ˇ         the social, spatial, ecological, and architectural forms of alternative tourism reflect the mentioned values and rely on the use of local management and employees as well as on local materials and traditional forms of architecture.

If successfully launched, alternative tourism projects should be less socially disruptive, increase local participation and economic benefits, and foster a higher overall tourism acceptance by the host communities (Pearce 1989, 102). Due to these potentially favorable impacts of alternative tourism, this kind of tourism has also been named sustainable tourism, thereby apparently implying that mainstream tourism often is not sustainable (Cf. Nash 1996, 119; Kadt 1992; Boo 1991).

Although tourism potentials vary from country to country, third world tourism has often been seen as a possibility to launch "development" and/or "modernization" for particular countries (Kadt 1979, ix; Nash 1996, 128-129, Harrison 1992, 10). This kind of development can also be (depending on and parallel to the kind of tourism applied) either mainstream or alternative. And although Pearce argues that "the development literature generally ignores tourism", he states that "its growing economic and social significance and use in development studies over the last three decades" (1989, 10) proves that the issues of tourism and development are highly interwoven, no matter if one favors a neoliberal/neoclassical, a neo-Marxist or a "structural" approach to international development theory. An evaluation of tourism should always be considered within the context of the different stages of development countries may have reached and should also put into context and be compared with other efforts of "modernization" in that given country .

In Mexico, then, the case of tourism and development is especially complicated since the country is almost comprised of "two countries in one". On the one hand, there is the richer and modernized (mostly Northern and Center) part of the country and on the other hand the poor and marginalized (mostly Southern) areas of the country with the Chiapas' and Oaxacan highlands often considered to be an extension of Guatemala rather than part of Mexico .