Is Tourism Good for Developing Countries?

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SEATTLE — Tourism is a popular and important industry in many developing regions around the world. Every year, millions of tourists flock to tropical beaches in impoverished countries such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia. But, is tourism good for developing countries?

The short answer is yes. At its most basic level, tourism brings much needed foreign money into these countries’ economies. Many of these areas are historically agrarian, which tends to limit their sources of revenue and cripple their potential for development. International visitors and their hefty wallets are the perfect solution for these countries’ desperate need for foreign money. The presence of these tourists in areas with limited resources can also help improve local conditions such as roads, transportation and access to modern conveniences.

Is tourism good for developing countries in the long-term? While tourism is undoubtedly helpful for poor countries’ economies, it can also bring added challenges to these developing nations.
Tourism threatens countries when they become too dependent on this singular source of revenue. The focus on serving tourists can cause a “brain drain” as workers gravitate towards jobs that require less education and training, such as waiters and taxi drivers. The industry also reduces the native country’s autonomy as it relies wholly on external factors such as foreign consumers and the climate.

Tourism can be a useful source of income to help developing countries improve conditions and invest in the future, but these countries should be careful to lean toward diversification of their economies instead of dependence on tourism.

In addition to tourism’s economic effects, it can also have a significant cultural impact. The availability of jobs in the tourism industry can further exacerbate inequalities within a country. Regional, racial and educational factors can all serve as barriers to a person’s participation in the tourism industry. While foreign money from tourism helps people in developing countries, it may not help them all equally. Finally, the presence of international visitors and their foreign expectations in these countries can result in the exploitation of the native people and their culture.

Tourism can be helpful for developing countries, but it is hardly a silver bullet for their problems. For citizens of wealthy nations who want to help out in the developing world, funding foreign aid is a much better option than taking a tropical vacation. Foreign aid is an ethical, comprehensive and sustainable way to support development in countries like Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia. Foreign assistance in the developing world needs to go beyond the beach.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr

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