The role of tourism in facilitating economic development in the developing world has been a paradox. Today, tourism is considered as an attractive and essential tool for economic development more specifically in the developing countries due to its potential to generate foreign exchange earnings, increase income and employment. Although, tourism has assisted many developing countries to move away from a dependency on agriculture and manufacturing (Tooman, 1997 cited in Sinha, 2006 p. 2926), many developing countries are not reaping full benefits from tourism. In their quest to generate larger benefits from the tourism sector, several countries adopted carefully planned and managed tourism strategies such as eco-tourism and all inclusive systems. This essay aims to discuss the relative merits of all inclusive resorts and ecotourism in terms of their potential to bring about development in the developing world. Further, the limitations of the two forms are discussed and a case for and against ecotourism and all inclusive holidays is presented using examples from several developing countries.
Extensive literature and statistics from the World Tourism Organisation point to the importance of tourism in developing countries. There are several instances in early literature on tourism development that emphasise on the role of tourism in economic development, specifically for developing countries (Huybers, 2007 p. 2-3). The statistics from the World Tourism Organisation suggest that the tourism sector has experienced continued growth and diversification over the past two decades and has become one of the largest growing economic sectors in the world, with the exception of 2009 which has suffered a decline and this is possibly due to the recent economic crisis (UNWTO, 2010 p. 1). Also, there have been statistics published that suggest that the world’s emerging regions have witnessed particularly high growth. This is evident from the fact that the share of international tourist arrivals received by developing countries has steadily risen, from 31% in 1990 to 45% in 2008 (UNWTO, 2009 p. 2). On the contrary, Wahab (1997) highlights that in last few years it has been witnessed that there has been an increase in the emergence of the negative social, cultural and environmental impacts of tourism. This implies that there is a need for more careful planning and management of tourism development. This led to the increase in popularity of tourism management approaches such as ecotourism and all-inclusive systems.
In order to draw a comparison between the merits and demerits of these two approaches, it is imperative to clearly define them. There are a number of definitions and concepts in Tourism literature that explain what constitutes ecotourism. Fennell (2003 p. 16) suggests ‘that ecotourism is distinct from mass tourism and various other forms of alternative tourism’. Ziffer (1989) defines ecotourism as a managed approach adopted by the host country or region where in the host country commits itself to establishing and maintaining the sites with the participation of local residents, marketing them appropriately, enforcing regulations, and using the proceeds of the enterprise to fund the area’s land management as well as community development. ‘All-inclusive’ refers to the holiday packages that include everything from the cost of all meals, drinks, accommodation, entertainment, airport taxes, transfers, and gratuities in the total cost of the vacation. This form of tourism system mainly originated in the Caribbean, where the up-market tour operators, promoted these packages to US and European markets (Holloway & Taylor, 2006 p. 60).
Studies suggest that conventional mass tourism has a negative impact on the host region environment and as a result more sensitive forms of tourism such as ecotourism merged. One of the main merits of Ecotourism is that it has the potential to bring development in the developing countries as it reflects the traveller’s urge to do well. On a similar vein, Butcher (2003 p. 8) observes that the new moral tourist reflect a desire to preserve the places in the name of cultural diversity and environmental conservation. Ecotourism is based on the simple idea that the purpose of tourism is to offer benefits to the host community and not incur a cost to them. Ecotourism offers more tangible benefits to the local labour force, improves their well being and also conserves the environment. Examples from Costa Rica and Belize illustrate that eco tourism can indeed contribute to regional development and several other countries such as Ecuador, Kenya, and Nepal from the developing world followed closely. Several arguments have been put forward in favour of eco-tourism in the developing world. Though a full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, several points are worth noting. Studies suggest that eco-tourism assists the economic growth in the developing world as by creating several jobs. Several eco-tourism related job opportunities are created that help in economic development and also provide as a direct alternative to practices that threaten natural area conservation. Lindberg and Enriquez (1994) observe that often eco-tourism related jobs help in diversifying local economies and open a number of other avenues for the local population. Beeton (1998 p. 7) mentions that although many ecotourism operators are small businesses, they provide indirect employment by purchasing goods and services locally. This also increases the distribution of income in the local communities. Ecotourism also empowers the local community by promoting the use of indigenous knowledge and resources. As a result it strengthens economic equity in the country (Luck and Kirstges, 2003 p. 150). The case of Kenya’s ecotourism illustrates how ecotourism has the potential to deliver concrete benefits to the people of the host country. The central belief of Kenya’s ecotourism policies is the emphasis on involving local communities. To facilitate this, admission fees for Kenyans to visit national parks were cut back. This provided the necessary hindrance to the domestic tourism. Also, emphasis has been put on utilising the local population and community to manage the parks. This has created several opportunities for employment and has assisted in the economic development of the country (Western, 2008). Another important aspect of developing eco tourism involves good infrastructure (Beeton, 1998 p. 7). As a result, it can induce the local government to make infrastructure improvements such as better water and sewage systems, roads, electricity, telephone and public transport networks. This also helps in improving the quality of life for the local residents.
Similarly, one of the main benefits of all inclusive tourism systems for the developing world is their ability to create significant numbers of new jobs in areas with some of the highest unemployment in the world (Fennell, 2003). General observations also suggest that in several instances local population value these jobs more than those provided by local businesses. If local resources and produce is used, all-inclusive systems help in significantly increase the amount of money which reaches local hands. All-inclusive tourism can generate jobs directly in the developing countries through hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and taxis. Also, developing countries can generate revenues by establishing local suppliers for the supply of goods and services needed by tourism-related businesses. Moreover, the infrastructure and facilities required to manage heavy volume of tourists can be dealt with the help of all inclusive resorts. Since this form of tourism restricts the tourists to the all-inclusive resort, it helps in minimising the negative cultural impacts of tourism as pointed out in the case of eco tourism in the next section.
The positive economic impact of eco tourism and all inclusive have been mentioned above. However, over the past few years, critics have argued that the growth of eco tourism and all inclusive holidays have implications for the local economy as they no longer reap the same benefits. This view is supported by Pleumarom (1999, cited in Sinha, 2006 p. 2927). He mentions that more than two-thirds of the revenue from international tourism never reaches the local economy because of high leakage. In order to devise strategies that would help tourism to become more effective for economic development of the region, it is important to understand the problems that are associated with the approaches.
Several ecotourism destinations are located in the developing world. These countries welcome ecotourism as they foresee a number of benefits associated with ecotourism as discussed above. However, it is important to note here that often these countries in their quest to reap greater economic benefits ignore environmental sustainability. Luck and Kirstges (2003 p. 149) argue that many of these destinations in the developing world are particularly prone and sensitive to impacts resulting from increased visitor activities which have a negative long term impact. Wheeler (1992, 1993, cited in Butcher 2007 p. 39) also supports this point of view and writes that the claims that ecotourism had made simply cover the continued damaging effects of a developing tourism industry. Often, several of these eco-tourism destinations are over used and result in natural degradation. Therefore, it is essential that development restrictions are placed to avoid any irreversible damages caused by the number and volume of visitors. Also, in order to sustain the development of tourist hot spots, and constructing eco sites, the local government and local taxpayers need to invest a great deal of money. To develop eco-tourism governments needs to improve the airport, roads and other infrastructure, which are costly activities for them. Mowforth and Munt (1998 p. 257) note that governments of developing countries are often under pressure to maximise foreign exchange and get involved with tourism activities. As a result, government spending in other critical areas such as health and education in these developing regions is restricted as most of the public resources are spent on subsidised infrastructure or tax breaks. Often the costs involved are much higher than the benefits and hence it affects the economic development negatively. Western (2008) observes that while eco tourism in Kenya have generated several tangible benefits a fair share influences local customs. He also observes that the tourism activities are often indifferent to conservation, and fail to pass on economic benefits to host communities. For example, if the restaurants and hotels catering to the tourists in these developing regions purchase goods and services from outside the region, then the money provides no indirect impact to the region. This is termed as leakage. Page and Dowling (2002 p. 169) note that more than 90% of tourism spending is thought to leak away from communities near most nature tourism sites. The main reason for such leakage can be attributed to the fact that the majority of these local economies where ecotourism occurs are small and not very diverse. To control the problems posed by eco tourism and to facilitate development in the region, governments need to emphasize implementing the sound principles and best practices of ecotourism.
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Further, in case of all-inclusive tourism since most of the all inclusive holidays are designed by overseas companies, they exclude involvement of local businesses and products. This leads to the transfer of tourism revenues out of the host country (Honey, 2008 p. 107). Since tourist pay for everything in advance to stay in large resort owned by outsiders, they have little incentive to go anywhere else in the country. Services of local poor people for instance, suppliers of goods and services are not involved in providing resources to these self sufficient resorts. This reduces the involvement of local community such as the local guides, local restaurants or pay entry fees to see local natural or cultural heritage. Also, critics observe that often the tour companies for all inclusive holidays are often based overseas and hence they do not leave much tangible benefits for the local community. Although these international companies that open all-inclusive resorts in the developing countries create job opportunities, they repatriate the profits. Moreover, in many cases the highly paid jobs do not come to the local people who get to do the low skilled/paid jobs. This is the reason why all-inclusive tourism is unpopular with local people in the developing world. The case of Gambia clearly illustrates the dissatisfaction among the local community against the all-inclusive holidays. The Gambia is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 1999, The Gambian Government banned the all-inclusive hotels (Mann, 2000 p. 97). This was due to the opposition raised by the locals and the NGOs that highlighted the negative economic repercussions on local communities. Studies suggest that although all inclusive holidays were popular among tourists, local people hardly benefited from such form of tourism as most of the local businesses were losing to the large foreign company owned resorts. However, due to the strong opposition raised by the European tour operators, the government raised the ban after a year.
The above discussion clearly highlights that both the form of tourism have their merits and limitations. It is safe to suggest that the merits of developing eco tourism in developing world are more than the all inclusive tourism. However, it is important to note that which form of tourism is better suited to bring greater development in the region is highly dependent on the capabilities and resources of the region itself. One of the pre conditions for developing eco tourism is to have a strong and solid infrastructure and support of local community. These developing countries need to tackle internal instability and provide a safe environment for potential visitors. As is the case of Jamaica, Jamaican tourism activity thrives on all-inclusive tour operators. Boxill (2004) points out that considering the fact that the country possesses a relatively good infrastructure and resource capability, Jamaica should look to develop a sustainable ecotourism strategy. The government should take measures to concentrate more on the culture and history of Jamaica, and should also emphasise on increasing the involvement of different segments of civil society in the development process. This will definitely help the tourism in the country to reach its full potential and become a sustainable industry.
Extensive literature and statistics suggest that tourism is a viable alternative for developing the economies of several third world countries. This paper highlighted that there are several merits of developing ecotourism and all inclusive holidays. Ecotourism offers more tangible benefits to the local labour force, improves their well being and also conserves the environment. Several eco-tourism related job opportunities are created that help in economic development and also empower the local community by promoting the use of indigenous knowledge and resources. Similarly, all inclusive tourism systems do not lag behind the eco tourism in terms of their capability to create significant numbers of new jobs in areas with some of the highest unemployment in the world. Further, since this form of tourism restricts the tourists to the all-inclusive resort, it helps in minimising the negative cultural impacts of tourism. However, these two forms pose serious problems for economic growth and development. Critics argue that the growth of eco tourism and all inclusive holidays have implications for the local economy as more than two-thirds of the revenue from international tourism never reaches the local economy because of high leakage. Several of these eco-tourism destinations are over used and result in natural degradation. Therefore, it is essential that development restrictions are placed to avoid any irreversible damages caused by the number and volume of visitors. The findings of this essay suggest that several countries have adapted their tourism industries in an appropriate manner in order to reap the economic rewards while minimising the environmental and social impacts of growth. Critics argue that all inclusive promotes large-scale transfer of tourism revenues out of the host country. This is mainly because all inclusive holidays are designed by overseas companies and hence they exclude involvement of local businesses and products. Countries can reap the maximum benefits of the tourism sector by incorporating domestic/regional tourism and independent tourism into planning strategies. Also, excessive focus on international all-inclusive should be avoided in areas which already have strong infrastructure capabilities. High-quality tourism strategies can bring more revenue and decrease the harmful social and environmental effects of uncontrolled mass tourism.
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