Does tourism help with human development?A closer look.

Cheesemaking at a micro enterprise

As someone who is new to understanding tourism and its impact on human development, I came across an academic article that asks the question which is quite literally the chicken and egg situation: which comes first, tourism or development and does one lead to the other, even though they may be correlated, at times?

    In a paper titled “The synergies between human development, economic
growth, and tourism within a developing country: An empirical model for Ecuador,” in the Journal of destination Marketing and management, the author, Manuel Rivera points out that the correlations between tourism and human development are not straight-forward. And there is certainly no direct causality from one to the other, in all cases.

            The paper examines several case studies in the Caribbean, Ecuador and other high tourist destinations and offers some compelling insights into what could work and what does not, in terms of promotion of tourism.

            For me as a policy-oriented person, this paper is interesting as it has practical applications and insights into what governments and other stakeholders should do, to have meaningful impact.

They conclude that “the study found a unidirectional causality supporting the economics-driven tourism growth, meaning that tourism growth is a product of economic growth but not vice versa,” this seems almost counter-intuitive to a lay person. It can also make sense because unless there is good infrastructure, roads, internet and other facilities, those tourists who have disposable wealth will not show up.

From a development perspective, a nuanced understanding of capabilities is key to understanding how well people live, the choices they can make and also how long the live, according to Amartya Sen and other scholars (Sen, 1992).  According to Sen (1992), individuals achieving their basic functionings leads to freedom to live well, which is sufficient for not being considered poor or deprived. Other scholars have pointed out that tourism has the potential to improve quality of life, and a greater understanding of relationship between development, economic growth and tourism is turning out to be important (Croes, 2012).

            In the community that we visited in Yunguilla, about two hours outside of Quito, the capital, there was little infrastructure until the 1980s. There was quite a lot of poverty and migration as well, to the city, for work. As several community members pointed out, there was a sense of desperation that led them to chop trees and make charcoal, which was the main source of income. However, due to efforts of a foundation that brought together some technical expertise and a greater environment conservation effort, there is now a thriving eco-tourism project, reforestation measures and also businesses led by community members that make Jams (mermaladas), Cheese as well as flowers. This self-sustaining model of community development today employs many of the young people, brings income as well as offers a vision of life for the youth, that one does not have to leave their village and go to the city for work.

            We need to take a closer look to really understand the impact of tourism on this community, but at first glance and based on interviews with local community members, tourism has turned out to be a blessing – bringing not just income that sustains the local micro enterprises and offers hope to the community, but also more importantly, offers a vision of life for the young. Tourism is turning out to be a lifeline and an opportunity builder for the young, while offering them a chance to live with and learn from their parents and grand-parents.

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