Tourism is no guarantee for development | Globalization | DW | 24.08.2013
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Tourism is no guarantee for development

The tourist industry is worth billions of dollars a year, even in developing countries. But the sector is vulnerable to crises, and few people actually make a profit. Could development aid create tourism sustainability?

Tourists at temple sites in Luxor, southern Egypt (Photo: Abderrahmane Ammar, DW-Arabic)

Tourism in Egypt: A driving force for the country's economy

The tourist industry is worth billions of dollars every year - even in developing countries. But the sector is vulnerable to crises and corruption, and few people actually make a profit. Could development aid create tourism sustainability?

Many hotel workers at the Red Sea beach resorts will be forced into unwanted holidays in the coming weeks and months - there just aren't enough guests. The Egyptian tourism industry had only just started to recover from the 2011 revolution - in 2012, the number of people travelling to the land of the pharaohs reached 11.5 million, up by 20 percent on the year before.

"Tourism is one of the most resilient industries worldwide," says Sandra Carvao, spokeswoman for the United Nations World Tourism Organizaiton (UNWTO). "Natural catastrophes and conflicts do have a direct effect on tourism, but as soon as the situation normalizes, it recovers. Then it often grows quicker than it did before the crisis."

Not many guests currently reside at the El Menzah hotel in Tanger, Morocco. (Photo: Siham Ouchtou )

The Arab Spring has taken its toll on the tourism industry

For that reason, she argues that tourism is an important engine for development, especially in poor countries. The sector accounts for some nine percent of the entire world economy, with one in eleven jobs dependent on it. That figure is reflected in Egypt, where the tourism industry is actually the country's biggest employer: 13 percent of jobs are either directly or indirectly dependent on it - not just hotel workers, taxi drivers, souvenir sellers, but also the construction industry, the carpet industry, agriculture, and feeder businesses for hotels like laundries and handymen.

Quality not quantity

But those figures don't say much about the quality of the work, points out Antje Monshausen, of Tourism Watch, part of German NGO "Brot für die Welt."

"In many cases, this is seasonal, low-quality work that barely offers any prospects," Monshausen told DW. "In plenty of developing countries attractive to tourists, a large part of the population lives below the poverty line. That shows that tourism cannot really be seen as a development engine."

The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) says that more than a fifth of the Egyptian population lives below the national poverty line. Meanwhile in Kenya, where tourism is the most important source of income, accounting for 11 percent of gross domestic product, half the population lives on less than two US dollars a day.

Maldivian fisherman rest in their boats after a morning's fishing off the beach on Guraidoo Island in the Maldives Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005. (Photo: ddp images/AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Fishermen sometimes complain that tourism threatens their livelihood

Transparency not corruption

But development is not just a question of cash. A stable political situation is just as important, as is the responsible use of natural resources and cultural heritage, factors which help to make the country more attractive to tourists. Without "good governance," and the participation of the local population in the decision-making process, the income from tourism will barely contribute to a country's prosperity.

The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) helps many governments and companies develop travel destinations, build up infrastructure, and get publicity. And yet tourism is "an area where development aid unfortunately still has relatively effect," says Klaus Lengefeld, a senior GIZ advisor for tourism and sustainable development. "Not because we don't want to, but because we aren't included."

Many governments, he says, don't like it when Germany demands transparency and good governance as pre-conditions for providing development cooperation in this sector. "Land use and land ownership rights are a very touchy subject," said Lengefeld. Companies as well as governments continually "try to get special advantages by un-transparent means, or through a false investment process," Lengefeld told DW.

The native population tends to suffer the most in these situations. "Fishermen tell us that the construction of hotels or yacht jetties often block their access to fishing waters," says Monshausen. "We also have cases of land-grabbing, where the creation of a national park often drives away the local population. And there are constantly cases of land dispossession to make way for tourist infrastructure like airports and hotel complexes."

Non-binding rules

A tourist walks along a beach littered with seaweeds and plastic bottles near the venue of the UN Climate Change Conference 2007 in Nusa Dua, on Bali island, 04 December 2007. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Environmental damage is often a consequence of tourism

In order to prevent precisely these consequences, the UNWTO - which counts some 155 countries as its members - agreed on a "global code of ethics for tourism" in 1999. It is meant to be a catalogue of recommendations for socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable development in global tourism.

It enshrines the right to tourism and the freedom of travel, as well as the industry's responsibility to its customers, the environment, and countries of destination. The rights of workers are also mentioned. In many countries, "some of the rules have become part of national law," says Carvao.

But Monshausen says the fact that the UNWTO's ten-point paper is non-binding makes it "not very effective."

"It did not define any concrete measures to be implemented," Monshausen argues. According to her, there should be a complaint mechanism that gives those affected the right to appeal to the UNWTO's ethics committee "if the tourism development in a certain area affects the livelihood and interests of the people." She also says the companies and associations that have signed up to the code should be subject to the UNWTO's supervision and warnings.

The UNWTO's annual summit takes place from August 24 to 29 in Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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