Tourism can play a role as a strategy for development, but it results in development for foreigners rather than local people. Development in this case refers to economic development, and for regions and nations with few natural resources, tourism can be a way of increasing revenues as foreigners readily spend on accommodation, food and souvenirs. While tourism can expand the economy, this is a development strategy which can result in more problems than it solves. While there are advantages to tourism in comparison to manufacturing which has risks for environmental quality, tourism can result in problems in local supply, increases in demand that drive up prices for local people, and profits which do not remain in the tourist area. For these reasons, tourism is a development strategy that should be considered carefully given the potential outcomes. This paper will evaluate these concerns considering case studies of Jamaica in the Caribbean and Malta in the Mediterranean.
It is easy to understand why tourism might be a preferred economic development strategy. Manufacturing or the production of natural resources, for example, can result in a heavy environmental toll on the land and the local population, particularly if it involves contamination of water, air or soil. With tourism, the traditional foreign direct investment is reshaped as many, many small level consumers provide direct expenditures that benefit small and medium business owners and support higher levels of employment. This does not always consider, however the fact that tourism destinations tend to have a development period, a peak, and then a declining period, as described in the Butler life cycle model and Plog’s typology of the people who go to places at various stages of development (Smith, 1990). There is an implication that a community can end up inheriting outdated infrastructure that is mismatched to post-tourist destination realities. For Jamaica or Malta, both island nations, production and manufacturing can be difficult strategies to implement for economic development purposes. There is limited space for large manufacturing sites, or the wastes that go with it. On the other hand, both countries are islands that benefit from a geographic location in a beautiful sea, and a sunny climate that supports tourist expectations of a holiday. Neither island has the infrastructure for manufacturing, and shipping is expensive; tourists, on the other hand, pay their own shipping costs, and come prepared to support businesses relating to hospitality and recreation. The additional infrastructure to support tourists can be a benefit to the local population as well, providing for outings and leisure in addition to employment or entrepreneurship opportunities.

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Jamaican tourism began in the late 19th century, but it was focused on providing for very rich consumers who could afford high style. As transportation and communications developed and became more affordable, the tourism opportunity shifted from high class to mass market (Rhiney, 2012). Negril was a small fishing town in Jamaica which became increasingly developed as a tourist destination after the 1960s (Rhiney, 2012). As one of the most remote parts of the island, it also has the least infrastructure despite the hordes of tourists who go there every winter to escape the cold (Rhiney, 2012).

Malta tourism has been growing because of the proximity to Western European markets, and the sun, sand and beach tourism branding that is appealing in the cold parts of the year (Bramwell, 2003). While in the late 20th century it was at a peak, today the luxury resorts are outdated and the vacation packages are targeted to discount consumers (Bramwell, 2003). It is therefore a destination in decline, but perhaps this is a relief for the people of Malta, who have been dealing with increased population density and pressures at the cause of the tourists.

Tourism can overwhelm a population, and it can have a negative impact on a population when it distorts supply and demand of services. For example, tourist demand or ability to pay a premium can drive up prices for every day needs and divert the local supply. This can be seen when rental accommodations are converted to short term tourist accommodations for popular platforms such as Airbnb. When local residents have to compete with tourists in the market place for items which are in limited supply, driving up prices, the result can be economically damaging for households. This is especially true when there is a great disparity in incomes between the tourists and the residents at the destination.

Another issue concerns finite resources. Negril is without water for local residents during the peak of tourist season, which coincides with an annual drought period (Rhiney, 2012). Tourists tend to use a lot of water as do resorts to ensure that the amenities are clean, and in the watering of landscaping and plants. This can create inequity when the local residents have to go without a necessity of life. Malta has also experienced greater demand for utilities and infrastructure during tourist season which puts a lot of pressure on local services (Bramwell, 2003).

Tourism can result in damage to the environment as more people often equals more difficulties for the sustainability of natural features. Beaches, coral reefs and other ecosystems can be fragile, and as tourism activity increases the beauty for which the original tourists came may be replaced by developments that are not well suited and contribute to environmental friction. Over time, the quiet recreation spots of islands such as Malta have become overdeveloped and even avoided by locals (Bramwell, 2003).

The development of tourism infrastructure requires a significant amount of capital, and that capital is often possessed by large multinational companies which specialize in resort development. While partnerships and joint ventures can assist with ensuring some local ownership, such projects involve only short-term benefits for economic development. During the construction phase there may be an influx of revenues for local businesses and entrepreneurs who sell supplies and labour to the company, and in the medium and long term it is likely that tourist development will result in jobs for local people, but the bulk of the profits from the tourism operation will return to the headquarters for the multinational company. To that end, it is not a strategy for development if the returns all accrue to foreign companies. In many cases, low waged employment is the best that can result from tourism. In those cases, particularly if tourism is also harming supply and demand of goods needed by local residents, it should be questioned whether the development strategy is appropriate.

The role of tourism as a strategy for development can contribute to the development of the economy in the form of jobs and increased demand, but this needs to be balanced with the needs of the local population. If it is not, the development strategy may succeed but not meet the objective of benefiting the local population. Tourism is a better strategy than manufacturing or similar alternatives that result in environmental damage and challenges of wastes and land use. For Jamaica and Malta, which are both islands with sunny climates, tourism makes far more sense, however there has been disadvantages for local residents. Infrastructure has been strained, creating inequities between tourists and local population. Tourists have created stresses on limited supply, including necessities such as water, as well as raised prices due to demand. Local services compete with those offered to tourists, and local residents may feel secondary to the foreigners and their spending power.

  • Bramwell, B., 2003. Maltese responses to tourism. Annals of tourism research, 30(3), pp.581-605.
  • Rhiney, K.C., 2012. The Negril tourism industry: growth, challenges and future prospects. Caribbean Journal of Earth Science, 43(1), pp.24-34.
  • Smith, S.L., 1990. A test of Plog’s allocentric/psychocentric model: Evidence from seven nations. Journal of Travel Research, 28(4), pp.40-43.