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close this bookThe Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
close this folderDossier: Tourism
View the documentTourism
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View the documentAir transport and tourism: industry potentiaI to be denied?
View the documentTourism and employment behind the scenes
View the documentThe tourism sector and Lomé IV
View the documentOvercoming the socio - culturaI and environmental impacts of tourism - the verdict for the Caribbean
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View the documentThe Caribbean - Far greater dependence on tourism likely
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View the documentTourism as a development concept in the South Pacific

Overcoming the socio - culturaI and environmental impacts of tourism - the verdict for the Caribbean

by Jean HOLDER

Tourism is an environmentally dependent industry if for no other reason than that, by definition, the tourist must have a host community and the traveller a physical destination to which he arrives. To the extent therefore that the tourist destroys either the social or the physical fabric of the society that hosts him, to that extent, he is destroying the tourism activity itself. There is a view held by some environmentalists that this self destruction is an inevitable result of the interaction between tourist and environment.

The theory goes something like this.. Tourism almost inevitably develops and declines in cyclical fashion somewhat as follows:

Phase I

A remote and exotic spot offers peaceful rest and relaxation and provides an escape for the rich who live in isolation from the resident population.

Phase II

Tourism promotion attracts persons of middle income who come as much for the rest and relaxation, as to imitate the rich. More and more hotel accommodation and tourist facilities are built to attract and accommodate more and more tourists. This transforms the original character of the place from “ escape paradise “ to a series of conurbations with several consequences:

- The local residents become tourism employees and earn more than ever before.

- The rich tourists move on elsewhere.

- The growth in tourist population makes interaction between tourist and resident population inevitable, leading to a variety of social consequences.

- Increased tourist accommodation capacity leads to excess supply over demand and a deterioration in product and price.

Phase III

The country resorts to mass tourism attracting persons of lower standards of social behaviour and economic power. This leads to the social and environmental degradation of the tourist destination.

Phase IV

As the destination sinks under the weight of social friction and solid waste, all tourists exit, leaving behind derelict tourism facilities, littered beaches and countryside and a resident population that cannot return to its old way of life.

The debate

This model of tourism growth and inevitable decay is one to which countries, particularly the traditional tourist destinations, must pay attention, but which they cannot afford to accept. The world is currently at a stage in which industrialists and environmentalists often see themselves on opposite sides and the debate joined here is much bigger than the impact of tourism.

The debate is part of a wider discussion going on in the world - particularly the industrialised world - about the prospects for co - existence between environmental control and industry. It is important to recognise that these conflicts sometimes arise from a clash of “ goods “ rather than a clash of “good” and “evil”. The purpose of industry is, in my opinion, to create goods and services for the community, at a profit to the entrepreneur. In so doing it creates employment and incomes for the citizens. This interest in employment creation is shared by the entire population, the private entrepreneur, and the government. The latter also depends on industry for revenue to provide a wide range of social services in the discharge of its mandate and its obligation to look after the citizens and generally improve their quality of life. The traditional wisdom has always been the more industry the better. This point of view is now being seriously questioned. In developed societies, where the average person is already adequately fed, clothed and housed, definitions of acceptable quality of life now go far beyond meeting the basic material needs. The citizens are determining what kind of society they wish to live in which includes, inter alia, the type of air they wish to breathe, and the water they wish to drink. They are organising themselves as pressure groups to persuade or force governments to make “ environmental decisions “ which can adversely affect certain types of industrial development.

I have commented on the on - going debate to illustrate that these are complex matters in which the private entrepreneur, the citizen and the Government have legitimate, though at times apparently conflicting, interests.

The Caribbean

Tourism is an industry. All industries create their own problems. Tourism, although smokeless, is by no means pollution - free. Tourism brings problems which grow as it grows and if uncontrolled can destroy the amenities on which its success depends. The Caribbean’s economic realities, however, demand that it distances itself from those who see tourism as a necessary evil at best and whose perception of it is that it is a fickle and short - term vehicle, in transit to other forms of more respectable developmental options. The history and reality of tourism in the Caribbean is otherwise.

For the Caribbean the fairest verdict is that tourism has acted somewhat as a two - edged sword. There is a basic resentment of the industry, stemming essentially from the resentment at being economically dependent on it. This factor is of powerful significance. The basic situation of potential conflict can be intensified or ameliorated depending on national tourism policies. These include ownership and management policies, particularly in relation to promotion opportunities for local people, public access to beaches, tourism facilities and national parks, the adequacy of local facilities, utilities and services for both local residents and tourists, cultural policies, and programmes of Governments and local non - government groups. The formulation of such a policy must recognise the potential for crisis of identity in newly emerging societies which tend to alternate, in contact with first world visitors, between defiant aggression and embarrassing imitation. Some of the negative aspects of this imitation range from the rather harmless imitation of accents, through the treacherous paths of expensive life style, to other undesirable forms of behaviour. But there are positives. That tourism has brought a change in the social structure is clear. There are new types of employees and entrepreneurs e.g. entertainers, artisans, boat operators, restaurateurs. The new employment opportunities create more jobs for women and the young and therefore provide them with greater economic independence.

Tourism has also had interesting impacts in the area of race. In these islands, local whites have traditionally enjoyed a special status based on their superior economic power and a kind of voluntary segregation. However, the volume and varied types of white visitors brought into daily contact, including intimate contact, with locals, are changing local racial perceptions. This process is further accelerated by the fact that tourism has created places of local entertainment to which white visitors, local whites and blacks go, and so has probably for the first time created a social setting in which local whites and local blacks find themselves. Such encounters had previously been kept to the work environment. Social structural changes are inevitable, and considering that the Caribbeans live in societies that are as wide open socially as economically, their communities remain remarkably resilient. This is probably because Caribbean society is fundamentally very religious.

Arts and crafts

With respect to arts and crafts, conservation and architecture, the evidence is that on balance the overall influence of tourism has been positive. One has to accept that there has been some “ mass production of art “ sometimes referred to as “ airport art” . One has also to agree that tourism’s demand for things to see, do, and buy, has stimulated a demand for the visual arts and performing arts and for conservation in places where there had previously been little demand for the work of the local artists and little or no interest in the historic sites and monuments of the country. The view, sometimes cynically expressed, that artistic forms deriving from tourism demand must inherently be debased is totally unacceptable and not borne out by the evidence. The restoration of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, of the Gingerbread Houses in Haiti, of the Careenage Buildings and traditional architecture in Barbados, of Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts and other historic forts throughout the Caribbean, have all been tourism - inspired. The hotels have also set excellent examples in the landscaping and beautification of their immediate environment. It is tourism that has influenced governments to follow their example in cleaning up and beautifying the airports, the roads leading from them, and other public areas, and in creating national parks and upgrading botanical gardens formerly left in varying stages of neglect. These are public places open to all the people who must have access, and who, like the tourist, must be restrained from littering and vandalising them. People who object to improvements because they have been “ tourist - inspired “ should not be taken seriously. J. H.