Do More Dollars Make Sense? The Impacts of Tourism on Household and Regional Economies in Belize
Weighing in on the development side, where theory and the large majority of tourism literature have been concentrated, ecotourism is purported to minimize leakage and maximize multiplier effects because it relies on locally available labor, products, and materials. It increases economic growth, creates a growing market for the travel industry, and generates employment and income in remote rural areas where, ideally, it operates on a small-scale around locally-owned activities. Scholars, however, question such optimistic assessments and point to the leakage of profits back to tourist-source countries and poor visitor satisfaction that translates into little economic gain. Even though ecotourists tend to be more affluent and spend more money than “mass tourists,” leakages are high, local multipliers low, and there are relatively few ecotourists who, in any case, find nothing in the true wilderness to spend money on.
The range of specific criticisms raised in reference to the impacts of tourism on regional and national economies include tourism’s tendency to benefit only tourism firms and large corporations; generation of mostly seasonal and unskilled jobs; disruption of the structure of the host society; inflated food prices that induce malnutrition; high leakage; increased stratification; local economic susceptibility to rumor, disease, and national and international economic fluctuations; and local communities’ learning to see the world and social relationships in monetary terms.
This paper examines household economic security in tourism and non-tourism communities in Belize. Loss of employment in the banana plantation economy results in loss of housing and income while loss of employment in tourism sites comes with the possibility of finding other work nearby thus retaining the other basic requirements for existence. Short-term security may be improved in tourism sites but long-term security remains in question given the instability of many occupations in tourism destinations.
Keywords: Economic Impacts of Ecotourism, Household Livelihood Security
Dr Sara Alexander
Associate Professor, DEpartment of Environmental Studies, Baylor University