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Introduction: The Impacts of Tourism in Latin America

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DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08315760


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Latin American Perspectives

Introduction: The Impacts of Tourism in Latin America

Tamar Diana Wilson
Latin American Perspectives 2008; 35; 3
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08315760

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The Impacts of Tourism in Latin America
Tamar Diana Wilson

Tourism has been examined by economists on both the left and the right,
geographers, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists. There are
more than a dozen journals in English alone dedicated to tourism research,
most which have been established since 1990 (Pearce, 1999: 2). The World
Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, other area banks, and the
United Nations are among the bodies that have sponsored research on tourism
and funded tourism projects throughout the underdeveloped world in general
and Latin America in particular (Jenkins, 1999: 55; Clancy, 2001: 41, 53;
Lumsdon and Swift, 2001: 34), For example, the Inter-American Development
Bank lent US$800 million to Brazil in 1994 to develop tourism in the Northeast,
then US$150 million in 2004 for the development of tourism in the South; a
total of US$34.1 million to Argentina to develop tourism in the province of Salta;
and US$300 million to Mexico in 1993 to develop its tourism infrastructure. It
has also approved loans for tourism development in Bolivia, Chile, the Dominican
Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru and has proposed loans
for this industry for Guayana, Honduras, and Paraguay (Inter-American
Development Bank, 2004).
The theoretical works on tourism that I have perused tend to utilize a cost-
benefit analysis when examining the effects of the tourism industry. As might
be expected, neoclassical approaches—those that welcome “globalization”—
underscore the benefits of tourism, whereas neo-Marxist and dependency
approaches—which view globalization as a new form of imperialism—focus
on its costs. Unfortunately, most studies neglect regional differences within
the same country. Some locales are indeed the recipients of benefits, at least to a
point, while others—perhaps most—are impacted negatively. In most places there
are both positive and negative impacts, though this black-and-white distinction
overlooks shades of grey. For example, the increased employment opportunities
provided by tourism development help to solve unemployment and under-
employment problems, but many of the jobs created are relatively unskilled,
low-waged, and lacking in opportunities for advancement, similar to the jobs
in hotels, restaurants, and maintenance work held by Mexican immigrants to
the United States. Furthermore, the negative (and the positive) impacts should
be assessed in relation to the impact of possible alternatives to tourism in any
development program or balance-of-payments initiative. For example, would
industrial development have more positive or more negative impacts than
tourism development?

Tamar Diana Wilson is a research affiliate of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and an asso-
ciate editor of Latin American Perspectives. The collective thanks her for organizing this issue.
LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 160, Vol. 35 No. 3, May 2008 3-20
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08315760
© 2008 Latin American Perspectives

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Tourism impacts can be felt at national, regional, and local levels and by dif-
ferent communities within any given locality. Different classes will be affected
differently, with the national and local elites gaining more than others (Britton,
1989; 1982). Inequality is usually deepened as some become beneficiaries and
others victims of the tourist industry. As Mowforth and Munt (2003 [1998]: 99)

Some of the negative effects of tourism in the past have included the opening of
previously non-existent social divisions or the exacerbation of already existing
divisions. These can appear in the form of increasing differences between the
beneficiaries of tourism and those who are marginalized by it, or of the creation
of spatial ghettos, either of the tourists themselves or of those excluded from

The impacts of tourism can be economic, political, social, cultural, or environ-

mental. These impact categories can overlap, for example, when environmental
degradation has political and economic repercussions or when women’s arti-
sanal or handicraft production (cultural) affects the structure and dynamics of
family life (social) (e.g., Eber and Rosenbaum, 1993; J. Nash, 1993; van den Berghe,
1992: 244; 1994: 144–145) or when the visiting of heritage sites (cultural) nega-
tively affects the physical environment. In this introduction I will adopt what
Lea (2001 [1988]: 10) has identified as the “political economy approach,”
which is characterized as “negative about the effects of tourism, seeing it as
yet another means by which wealthy metropolitan nations develop at the
expense of those less fortunate.” Thus, I will generally be concerned with costs of
tourism rather than with its positive contributions to economic development.
Nonetheless, it must be kept in mind that other industries might be even more
costly economically, politically, socially, culturally, and environmentally.


Globalization, the latest stage in the development of imperialism (Petras

and Veltmeyer, 2001), is marked by the emergence of a transnational capitalist
class and the spread of transnational corporations. Both of these phenomena
are characteristic of the tourist industry in the Third World in general and in
Latin America and the Caribbean in particular. As is pointed out by Brown
(2000 [1998]: 112, my italics), tourism has developed within the constraints of
capitalism and “has been conditioned by the political and economic organization
of what is now a global system, and by the attitudes and social relations that
result from this organization.” In Reid’s (2003: 7) words, “Because of its sheer
size and power, an examination of tourism must also involve a critique of cap-
italism, and the globalizing forces it has created, and which allow it to continue
to grow unchecked worldwide.” Mowforth and Munt (2003 [1998]: Chap. 9)
point out that the international lending institutions such as the World Bank
and the International Monetary Fund are controlled by the First World and
influence the development of projects, tourist-oriented or not, in the Third
World by tying loans to specific political formulations and policies.
The metropolitan-based tourist industry, with its control of many of the
hotels, airlines, and tour companies accommodating tourists to the Third

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World (Britton, 1982: 345; 1989: 112; Crick, 2002 [1996]: 22; Lea, 2001 [1988]: 23),
intermeshes with its satellite industries in a way reminiscent of that described
by dependency theorists. Thus Cardoso and Faletto (1979: xvi) speak of “coin-
cidences of interests between local dominant classes and international ones,”
a phenomenon common in tourism development (Britton, 1982: 345; 1989:
111). The following passage from Frank’s (1969: 313) description of elites in
Latin America, written more than 30 years ago, resonates with what is hap-
pening in tourist development in countries such as Mexico (cf. Clancy, 2001):

The nationalist industrial or industrial nationalist policy of the 1930s and 1940s
is no more; more and more Latin American industrialists already have become—
or in the near future will become—associates, partners, bureaucrats, suppliers,
and clients of mixed foreign–Latin American enterprises and groups, which
becloud and obscure Latin American national interests and—more important—
which increasingly tie the personal economic interests of the individual Latin
American bourgeois industrialist tail to the metropolitan neo-imperialist dog.

Writing of the globalization process, Petras and Veltmeyer (2001: 88) describe
those “15–20 percent of Latin Americans who share a ‘First World’ lifestyle”
and “form part of the international circuit of the new imperial system.”
Underscoring the social polarization inherent in the development of this class,
Nef (2002: 64) argues:

What seems to be taking place all over the world is a transnationalization of

elites side by side with an increasing disintegration of national societies and local
communities. The internationalization of the “low-wage economy” has increased
the marginalization, polarization, and social disintegration of the wage-earning
and salaried sectors while, conversely, facilitating the formation of a new global

In both tourist-sending and -receiving countries, this new global elite is often
involved in the tourist industry.
Relating dependency theory to patterns of tourism development, Britton
(1982: 334) points out that national policies are subordinate to “foreign pressure
groups and privileged local classes” while the needs of other classes are
ignored. Elsewhere (1989: 111) he says:

Since foreign companies are most important in defining what constitutes a

tourist product, tourist services in a peripheral destination are likely to be owned
and provided by these firms. Where local entrepreneurs collaborate in the pro-
vision of these services, they will be members of a privileged commercial elite.
This is because only these groups command the financial and other resources
necessary to provide such specialized, capital intensive facilities.

In tandem with the processes of globalization elsewhere in the world economy,

the tourist industry is marked by the great influence of trans- or multinational
companies (Brown, 2000 [1998]: 18; Reid, 2003: 77). These are based in the core
capitalist countries, or the metropoles, and control such things as “package
tours, international transport, marketing, communications facilities (ticketing
and reservations), luxury hotel chains, and financial services (traveller’s
checks, insurance)” (Britton, 1989: 112). Apostolopoulos (2002 [1996]: 6) claims

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the metropolitan control over the tourism industry of developing nations

through transnational corporations (tourist plants and their advertising are pri-
marily based on metropolitan capital, transport systems are metropolis oriented,
and the structure of the industry tends towards a monopoly), along with the
relations of dependency in such vulnerable economic activity, result in a struc-
tural dependency on developed countries.

Though tourism was promoted and endorsed as a means to overcome balance-

of-payments deficits by providing foreign currency, substantial leakage back
to the tourist-sending states is one of the consequences of this type of control
(Brown, 2000 [1998]: 58, 62; Crick, 2002 [1996]: 22; Mathieson and Wall, 1982:
48–49; Turner and Ash, 1975: 116–117).
There are other types of leakages because much tourism development is
dependent on imports from more diversified economies, among them food-
stuffs expected by tourists, raw materials of other kinds, and manufactured
commodities (Britton, 1989: 112; Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 60; Pattullo, 1996: 38).
Pattullo (1996: 39) points out that, although there are exceptions, “in the dining
rooms of many Caribbean hotels, where millions of meals are consumed daily,
the tourists do not eat the mangoes and breadfruit, citrus and bananas of
every Caribbean yard. They drink orange juice from Florida, eat a banana
from Colombia, or stab pineapple chunks from Hawaii.” Although this lack of
linkages with the national economy occurs more often in small island states
than in the large diversified economies of Mexico, Brazil, or Argentina and
although local or regional linkages may be missing, necessitating imports from
other parts of the country (e.g., Wagner, 1997), the import of liquors or foodstuffs
is not unknown. For example, scotch, vodka, and salmon and other cold-water
fish are imported into Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, and Los Cabos in Mexico.
While local and national earnings from tourism, if less than hoped for or
predicted by international development banks, are a reality, host countries are
responsible for the costs of infrastructure such as airports, roads, and electrical,
water, and sewerage systems; while sometimes also enhancing the well-being
of the local population, this development is focused on making tourists com-
fortable (Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 38, 48; Turner and Ash, 1975: 117). To
finance this infrastructure governments must usually take out loans from
international lending agencies such as the World Bank or the Inter-American
Development Bank (Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 49; Lea, 2001 [1988]: 12; Inter-
American Development Bank, 2004). “Investors require that the groundwork
is prepared for them. However impoverished the living conditions of the local
population, investors need ‘modern,’ Western-style amenities to attract the
tourists” (Pattullo, 1996: 30). Nonetheless, the infrastructure may sometimes
aid the local population (Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 33; Pattullo, 1996: 32).
Government spending on tourist infrastructure diverts funds from other
industries (e.g. Brown, 2000 [1998]: 57), though these may be as exploitative of
the labor force as the unskilled, low-waged jobs in hotels and restaurants. To
attract private investors tax concessions and subsidies may be offered
(Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 49). Private rather than public ownership of tourist
facilities such as hotels may be a requirement for loans under structural adjust-
ment policies that, among other things, remove restrictions on foreign invest-
ment and privatize state enterprises (Bello, 2000: 286, cited in Reid, 2003: 98).

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Reid (2003: 99) argues that, by minimizing government intervention in the

economy, these policies have allowed multinational corporations to move into
the tourist industry. This move, into Mexico at least, has been facilitated by the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which permits U.S. and
Canadian ownership of Mexican tourist plants on the same footing as Mexican
companies (Brown, 2000 [1998]: 39).
Tourism permits not only the local elites but even petty-bourgeois busi-
nesses such as restaurants and souvenir shops (not to mention vendors and
craftsmen or women involved in the informal economy) to earn incomes.
Because of dependency on metropolitan decisions, however, their future is
never secure. There is competition among tourist destinations: “The widening
of the Pleasure Periphery . . . means that distant locations will compete, like
the Caribbean and the Seychelles; it is getting more difficult for one country to
keep its prices significantly above those of other locations offering similar
attractions” (Turner and Ash, 1975: 124). Competition involves keeping prices
down, and transnational corporations play a role in this: “Trans-national cor-
porations pit one country against another in order to get the best possible deal,
regardless of the consequences to the host country” (Reid, 2003: 30). Competition
can lead to the demise of some destinations and the emergent success of others.
That price considerations can be paramount in tourists’ decisions of where to
go, with all that this implies for wages paid to employees in the tourism
industry, is brought out by Crick (2002 [1996]: 25): “Tourists do not go to Third
World countries because the people are friendly, they go because a holiday
there is cheap; and that cheapness is, in part, a matter of the poverty of the
people, which derives in some theoretical formulations directly from the afflu-
ence of those in the formerly metropolitan centers of the colonial system” (or,
following Frank [1969], of the chainlike metropole-satellite system).
Besides aiding the inflow of foreign currency to offset external debt and
counter balance-of-payment deficits, tourism has been applauded for its
employment creation. Mathieson and Wall (1982: 77) have pointed out that
employment increases can be found in hotels, restaurants, curio shops, and
local transportation and entertainment facilities, in construction [and mainte-
nance] of hotels, and in transportation, water, and sewerage infrastructure and
may stimulate agricultural pursuits to supply foodstuffs to the industry. Lea
(2001 [1988]: 46) argues that three types of employment are created by the
tourism industry: “first, direct employment from expenditure on tourism
facilities like hotels . . . ; second, indirect employment in businesses affected by
tourism in a secondary way like local transport, handicrafts and banks . . . ;
and finally, induced employment from the spending of money by local resi-
dents from their tourist incomes.” Local entrepreneurship can be fostered with
regard to the second and third of these forms of employment (Brown, 2000
[1998]: 57; Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 38, 72). Elaborating on Samaoui’s (1979)
classification, de Kadt (1979: 30–42) divides tourism employment into direct,
indirect, and investment-related. Direct employment is found “in businesses
that sell goods and services directly to tourists” and includes Lea’s direct and
indirect employment categories. It also includes such informal-sector activi-
ties as street or beach vending, shoe-shining, begging, and acting as a tour
guide without being registered as such (de Kadt, 1979: 40; see also Pattullo,

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1996: 58). Indirect employment is generated in local light manufacturing

industries, handicrafts, agriculture, and food processing (de Kadt, 1979: 38)
where such linkages exist. Investment-related employment includes construction
of tourist facilities as well as “capital-goods” industries (de Kadt, 1979: 40); it
would also involve the construction of infrastructure—roads, sewerage, water,
and electricity systems of benefit to tourists and often locals as well—and the
maintenance of these. Construction of tourist facilities often involves massive,
if usually temporary, in-migration of laborers from other parts of the country,
with its attendant social impacts, as well as employment generated by goods
and services supplied to the construction workers (de Kadt, 1979: 42). The
problem is that much, if not most, direct and indirect (and even construction)
employment in tourism is low-skilled, poorly paid, and seasonal (Brown, 2000
[1998]: 58; see also Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 81). As Reid (2003: 28) points
out, the lower-end jobs in the tourism industry leave “workers scraping out
an existence at the margins of society.”
Adapting Atkinson’s (1984) treatment of manufacturing enterprises to an
analysis of the tourism industry, Shaw and Williams (2002 [1994]: 173–177)
conceive of tourism employment in terms of dual-labor-market theory (see
also Doeringer and Piore, 1971). There are core and peripheral workers. Core
workers are well-paid, full-time, often professional or managerial workers
who are “functionally flexible”—“able and willing to move between different
tasks” (Shaw and Williams, 2002 [1994]: 173). Often they come from outside
the region or even the nation (e.g., Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 80; Lea, 2001 [1988]:
48). Peripheral workers are low-skilled, low-waged, and valuable—given the
seasonal nature of tourism—for their high turnover and, thus, numerical flex-
ibility. Numerical flexibility is increased by employing part-time, temporary,
and short-term contracted workers and by subcontracting out certain jobs
(Shaw and Williams, 2002 [1994]: 175–176). Shaw and Williams point out that
small family firms involved in such things as small-scale accommodations or
souvenir shops (to this can be added restaurants, bars, boat trips, etc.) respond
to seasonal fluctuations in demand through self-exploitation during peak
periods: “Rhythmic fluctuation in demand will be met by a willingness to
work very long hours. The small-hotel owner will be up early to cook guests’
breakfasts and will still be working late at night to prepare food for the next
day or to welcome late arrivals” (177).
Many, if not most, peripheral full-time, part-time, and temporary positions
in the hotels are held by women. Mathieson and Wall (1982: 80) maintain that
because of the characteristics of work in the tourism industry, including its
seasonal and janitorial aspects, “women employees outnumber men three to
one.” Shaw and Williams (2002 [1994]: 181) argue that the existence of women
needing employment and the possibility of paying women lower wages than
men help to shape the core-periphery divide between workers. The impor-
tance of women laborers in the tourist industry is brought out by Enloe (1989:
33–34): “When people go on a holiday they expect to be freed from humdrum
domestic tasks. To be a tourist is to have someone else make your bed. . . .
Thus chambermaids, waitresses and cooks are as crucial to the international
tourism industry—and the official hopes that underpin it—as sugar workers
and miners were to the colonial industries.” Poor local women thus provide

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services to wealthy national or international tourists, representing not only

class but gender subordination. This is a pattern replicated, however, in alter-
native industries, such as transnational assembly plants, where work may be
even more marked by drudgery, servility, and even sexual harassment and
exploitation (Fernández-Kelly, 1983; Tiano, 1994; Wilson, 2003). The low
wages of the women who work in the tourist industry provide a subsidy to the
owners of tourist accommodations and thus to the tourists themselves: Third
World workers (both men and women) subsidize First World populations.
Host governments do not intervene to boost wages because of the competition
between countries for tourists and the need to keep prices low in order to
succeed in this competition (Shaw and Williams, 2002 [1994]: 44).


Crick (2002 [1996]: 24) has pointed out that “international tourism . . . is
conspicuous consumption in front of the deprived.” The tendency for the
deprived to resent or desire to take part in this conspicuous consumption is
known in the critical literature as the “demonstration effect” (de Kadt, 1979: x,
65–66; Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 142–143; Nettekoven, 1979: 140). It may
include resentment against the expatriates involved in tourist occupations
(Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 145), whether as employees or as small business
owners. One of its effects is international migration for employment in core
countries (Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 145; Nettekoven, 1979: 140).
Seaton (1997: 310) has reconceptualized the demonstration effect in terms of
the concept of relative deprivation, the tendency to evaluate one’s own socioeco-
nomic conditions with reference to the conditions of others. Seaton hypothesizes
that the magnitude of relative deprivation felt depends on the differences in
rewards received by the group vis-à-vis other groups in society (e.g., locals or
expatriates employed in economically remunerative positions in the tourist
industry) and with reference to tourists, the visibility of such differences, and
“the perceived legitimacy of these differences in relation to the professed
moral order of the social system in which the differences are observed to
exist.” Tourism is especially visible because of the special provisions in terms
of lodging, food and liquor consumption, and recreational facilities that a
low-waged local population cannot hope to enjoy.
Feelings of relative deprivation cause resentment directed either at the
tourists themselves or against the government; which one is the target
depends on the local socioeconomic ideology. According to Seaton (1997: 311),
in egalitarian, socialist societies such as Cuba, resentment will most probably be
directed against the government, seen as responsible for the lower standards
of living of the local population. In pluralistic, laissez-faire societies such as
Mexico, where individual responsibility for one’s economic position is
stressed, resentment will be deflected from the government and directed toward
the tourists, perceived as “advantaged groups” (Seaton, 1997: 312). The increasing
social and economic polarization noted by many scholars of tourism (e.g.,
Britton, 1989: 103; 1982: 335; Crick, 2002 [1996]: 23–24; Enloe, 1989: 34; de Kadt,
1979: 48; D. Nash, 1989: 45; Reid, 2003: 28; Shaw and Williams, 2002 [1994]: 44;

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Turner and Ash, 1975: 203) can only lead to deepening feelings of relative
deprivation, perhaps including resentment also against local elites who profit
from tourism. In the context of international competition, social polarization
is either reinforced or increased along with pressures toward reduced wages in
the labor-intensive tourism industry. Concerning socioeconomic polarization,
Turner and Ash (1975: 203) note: “It may be taken as a general rule that any
economic boom (resulting from the rapid development of tourism and other
industries) occurring within unjust social and political structures can only
serve to increase the injustices of those structures.” The injustice of social
polarization can translate into feelings of relative deprivation, and tourists—
often spending far more than they would in their home countries—present a
visible contrast with local poverty. Socioeconomic inequality is inherent in the
tourism industry: “If the tourist is to pursue peculiarly touristic goals, others
must perform more utilitarian functions. To put it more succinctly, others must
serve while the tourist plays, rests, cures, or mentally enriches himself” (D. Nash,
1989: 45). Such a servile relationship to conspicuous consumers can only increase
feelings of relative deprivation, especially in the context of a polarized economy
in which most of the low-waged workers’ income may be spent on low-quality
housing in squatter settlements and on basic foodstuffs in stark contrast to the
luxury accommodations and foodstuffs consumed by tourists.
Socioeconomic apartheid, as in Cuba, where Cubans are denied access to
hotels, bars, restaurants, and “dollar shops” unless accompanied by a foreigner
(Pattullo, 1996: 83), is common on many of the Caribbean and Latin American
beaches (de Kadt, 1979: 45; N. Evans, 1979: 311, 314). Pattullo (1996: 82) points
out that while in law beaches in the Caribbean are public, in practice hotel
security will deny locals access. This is also true in tourist centers such as
Cancún and Los Cabos, where the luxury hotels are aligned along the seashore
and prohibit entrance to locals, despite beaches’ being constitutionally guar-
anteed as public patrimony (see Wilson, this issue). De facto socioeconomic
apartheid is also reinforced in tourist centers in the less developed world in
general and Latin American and Caribbean countries in particular by the over-
whelming costs involved in enjoying tourist restaurants, bars, discotheques,
and other entertainment facilities. Low-waged locals are essentially locked out
of these tourist facilities by their lack of disposable income even if security
guards or business managers do not make them unwelcome. Land inflation is
also common, putting legally acquired property ownership out of the reach of
much of the local population (Pattullo, 1996: 35; Mathieson and Wall, 1982:
88), including the middle class.
Local hostility toward and resentment of the tourist industry is also
fomented by the displacement of peasants and fishermen to build hotels or
marinas (e.g., Clancy, 2001; N. Evans, 1979: 313–314; G. Evans, 1994: 841–842;
Reid, 2003: 32; Mowfort and Munt, 2003 [1998]: 236–242; Reynosa y Valle and
de Regt, 1979: 118–123; Wilson, this volume). Feelings of relative deprivation
bolstered by de facto socioeconomic apartheid and the dislocations of locals
from their properties, with or without fair remuneration, may become a basis
for local organizing against governments even in laissez-faire countries such
as Mexico.

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Among the social impacts of tourism are the above-mentioned in-migration

of expatriates and people from other regions of the country. There are also
impacts on gender and generational systems; young people are especially
subject to the demonstration effect (Nettekoven, 1979: 140; Lea, 2001 [1988]:
66). Some of the most obvious impacts are on the sex/gender system of the
host country. One of these is the provision of direct (hotels, restaurants) and
indirect (e.g., formal and informal retailing, informal-sector vending) employment
for women, which may have repercussions on family economy and structure.
Second is the emergence of sex/romance tourism. Studies in Mexico and elsewhere
in Latin America and the Caribbean have shown that women’s income-earning
often causes changes in household dynamics (e.g., Benería and Roldán, 1987;
Chant, 1997a; 1997b; 1991; Eber and Rosenbaum, 1993; J. Nash, 1993; Roldán,
1988; Safa, 1995), with power being gained by women and/or lost by men.
Tourist centers providing employment for women may also have a higher
number of female-headed households, as employment permits women to
leave conflict-ridden marriages (Chant, 1997a; 1997b; 1991; see Wilson, this
A higher-than-average proportion of women’s employment in tourist centers,
often involving women’s in-migration to these centers, has been documented
both in Mexico (Chant, 1997a; 1997b; 1991; Kennedy, Russin, and Martínez,
1977, cited in Reynosa y Valle and de Regt, 1979) and in San Carlos de
Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina (Schlüter, 1999). However, there is also much
in-migration of men, especially during the initial and often continuing con-
struction period (see Wilson, this issue). Women artisans, selling weaving and
pottery, also obtain increased income though their sales to museums, tourist
outlets, and tourists themselves (e.g., Eber and Rosenbaum, 1993; J. Nash, 1993;
van den Berghe, 1994; 1992). Women’s control of an independent income often
leads to conflict within the family, as the male’s breadwinner role and control of
household resources are undermined. Women may also be physically attacked
or even killed (J. Nash, 1993). The results of intrafamilial conflict may be an
increase in female-headed households as women opt out of unsatisfactory
marriages, decide to delay marriage, or choose to remain outside of legal mar-
riage altogether (e.g., Benería and Roldán, 1987; Chant, 1997a; 1997b; 1991;
Eber and Rosenbaum, 1993; J. Nash, 1993; Roldán, 1988; Safa, 1995). In sum,
though household income will increase with women’s earnings, such earnings
can cause a restructuring of the household.
In political economy critiques of tourism (e.g., Crick, 2002 [1996]: 29;
Pattullo, 1996: 65) Frantz Fanon (1963: 153–154) is often quoted as follows:

The national bourgeoisie organizes centers of rest and relaxation and pleasure
resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the
name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry. If
proof is needed of the eventual transformation of certain elements of the
ex-native bourgeoisie into the organizers of parties for their Western opposite
numbers, it is worth while having a look at what has happened to Latin America.
The casinos of Havana and Mexico, the beaches of Rio, the little Brazilian and
Mexican girls, the half-breed thirteen-year-olds, the ports of Acapulco and

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Copacabana—all these are the stigma of this depravation of the national middle
class. . . . The national middle class will have nothing better to do than take on
the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its
country as the brothel of Europe.

Turner and Ash (1975: 203) endorse this analysis: “When Fanon spoke of the
conversion of countries into brothels, he was not resorting to mere rhetorical
exaggeration. We have only to think of the Mexican border towns or Cuba
under Batista to see the truth of his assertion.” Although prostitution may
already exist prior to the advent of tourism, it appears to increase as tourism
increases and “is part and parcel of much tourism development in the Third
World” (Crick, 2002 [1996]: 29). Sex tourism in Latin American and Caribbean
countries is a growing phenomenon. In Mexican tourist centers the designation
of a “red light” district is common, while lap-dance and stripper clubs may be
found sprinkled among the discotheques, souvenir shops, and tourist restau-
rants in places like downtown Cabo San Lucas. In Southeast Asia, governments
may even turn a blind eye to prostitution because of the foreign currency it pro-
vides (Hall, 2002 [1996]). Prostitution may be engaged in because of feelings of
relative deprivation. This may be the case in Latin America as well.
Sex tourism, including sexual relations with boys and girls from the age of
10 or 12 to 18, has received scholarly and media attention with regard to Costa
Rica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba (O’Connell
Davidson and Sánchez Taylor, 1995a; 1995b; 1995c; 1995d; Bremer, 2004; Iliff
and Case, 2004). The Dominican Republic ranks with Thailand and the
Philippines as a major destination for sex tourists from Europe and the United
States: all three are known for their “exploitative sex industries” (Pattullo,
1996: 90). Prostitution, including child prostitution, has returned to Cuba since
tourism was reintroduced (partly in response to the fall of the Soviet Union)
in the late 1980s; both tourism and prostitution had been absent since the
Revolution of 1959, after which the existing prostitutes had been trained for
other work in accordance with revolutionary ideals (Cabezas, 1998; Fernandez,
1999; O’Connell Davidson and Sánchez Taylor, 1995a).
Sometimes sex tourism shades into romance tourism, under which there is
no direct commercial transaction for sexual relations but gifts, including
money, may be supplied by the tourist over a relatively long time period. Male
sex/romance tourists are present in all the countries named above; women
sex/romance tourists have been documented not only in the traditional sites
of female sex tourism—Barbados and Jamaica—but also in Cuba, the Dominican
Republic, Venezuela, and among an indigenous group, the Otavaleños, in
Ecuador (Cabezas, 1999; Meisch, 1995; O’Connell Davidson and Sanchez
Taylor, 1995c; 1995d; Sánchez Taylor, 2000; Phillips, 1999; Pruitt and La Font,
1995). Homosexual sex tourism is not uncommon in these countries.
Both sex tourism and romance tourism impact local gender relations and
family structure. Those romanced often hope to immigrate, and some do visit
their clients abroad and marry them (or hope to do so) (Cabezas, 2003;
Phillips, 1999: 199; O’Connell Davidson and Sánchez Taylor, 1995b; 1995c). In
Jamaica (Pruitt and La Font, 1995: 432–433) and Barbados (Phillips, 1999: 198)
local women refuse to have relationships with men who have sought out
female tourists. Women who prostitute themselves are marginalized from

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normal family life in accordance with madonna-whore gender ideologies in

Latin America (e.g., Cabezas, 1999: 110; O’Connell Davidson and Sánchez
Taylor, 1995c; LeVine, 1993) and generally rejected by local men as potential
wives. There are exceptions to this, however, at least in Cuba, the Dominican
Republic, and Mexico, where a sex worker’s identity is often not fixed but
fluid and involves entering a temporary status/occupation that one may enter
and then leave (Cabezas, 2003).


The question of authenticity and its links to commoditization through

tourism has inspired a vast literature (e.g., Cohen, 1988; Graburn, 1976; 1984;
Greenwood, 1989 [1977]; Grünewald, 2002; Hughes, 1995; Kroshus Medina,
2003; Moreno and Littrell, 2001; MacCannell, 1999 [1976]; Popelka and Littrell,
1991; van den Berghe and Flores Ochoa, 2000). Commoditization and authenticity
are constant themes in the pages of the prestigious Annals of Tourism Research.
The problem of authenticity and its retention or loss through commoditization
is concerned with at least three types of cultural manifestations and the
impacts of tourism upon them: (1) material artifacts, including folk and ethnic
arts; (2) performances (e.g., village saint’s days, Christmas posadas, and other
ritual events); and (3) everyday activities viewed as exotic, including work
routines such a market vending or fishing. Thus fishermen on Lake Patzcuaro
in Michoacán, Mexico, throw their famous butterfly fishing nets in exchange
for tips from tourists who photograph them, even though there are no longer fish
in the lake, their performance being both a “staged authenticity” (MacCannell,
1999 [1976]) of what was once real work and a commoditization of the
picturesque. Arguments about authenticity and commoditization range from
the claim that commoditization destroys the cultural meaning of rituals and
performances for local inhabitants (Greenwood, 1989 [1977]), indigenous or
otherwise, leading to their transformation and possibly to their extinction
through the observation that real performances are never accessible to tourists,
who see only staged versions (MacCannell, 1999 [1976]) and truncated
artwork and handicrafts, to the argument that aspects of culture may be revi-
talized not only because of their money-making potential but as an expression
of ethnic identity (e.g., Cohen, 1988; García Canclini, 2000 [1993]; van den
Berghe and Flores Ochoa, 2000). Lumsdon and Swift (2001: 198–199) discuss
tourism impacts that can lead to contamination of indigenous cultures and their
eventual disintegration or, alternatively, to their “fossilization” for the benefits
of tourists, the latter of which they claim is occurring in the indigenous
communities of Amazonian Brazil and Peru.
Given that cultures are always in flux and borrowings from other cultures
common, there may be an “emergent authenticity” (Cohen, 1988) in cultural
practices, whether material or behavioral. Thus in Oaxaca, Zapotec tapetes—a
closed-necked sarape first produced in the 1960s for sale to tourists—sometimes
incorporate Navajo, Northwest Indian, or Peruvian motifs gleaned from books
(Popelka and Littrell, 1991: 405). The problem, however, is that the forces of
globalization embodied in the influence of tourists both as buyers and as templates
lead to the McDonaldization of society (Ritzker, 2000), whereby mass-produced
products and services replace, for example, local clothing, foods consumed,
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and traditional handicrafts—especially those without a local market. Van den

Berghe (1995: 576) notes that “poor Chamula women who sell their weaving
to tourists in San Cristóbal [Chiapas] dress their children in cheap, second-
hand Western clothes imported in large bales from North America.”
In some circumstances, tourism can call forth a renaissance of culturally
unique productions (e.g., Eber and Rosenbaum, 1993; Kroshus Medina, 2003),
however altered for the market they may be (Popelka and Littrell, 1991). Too
often the local elites become middlemen who siphon off most of the profit
from indigenous people’s handiwork and command the money-making busi-
nesses in the tourist economy with, however, “some trickle-down effects for
Indians” (van den Berghe, 1994: 145). There are, then, issues of class and ethnicity
in estimating the cultural impacts of tourism on the Third World and its Fourth
World peoples, with some scholars holding out hope for cultural survival,
revival, or reemergence and others lamenting the homogenizing influences of
global capitalism and/or exploitation of indigenous peoples by local capitalist
elites, sometimes joined by expatriates.


Carrying capacity, with regard to tourism, has been defined as “the maximum
number of people who can use a site without an unacceptable alteration in the
physical environment and without an unacceptable decline in the quality of
the experience gained by the visitors” (Mathieson and Wall, 1982: 21). It is
essentially the point beyond which the addition of more people will lead to the
degradation of the environment. Saleem (1994) argues that this degradation
can have physical (including ecological as well as built-environment), social-
psychological, and economic dimensions (see also Mathieson and Wall, 1982:
21–22; Reid, 2003: 178–179). Economic carrying capacity is threatened as
tourist resorts add more and more visitors in the interest of profit making;
social-psychological carrying capacity is reached when the local population
feels overwhelmed by the numbers of tourists; physical and environmental
carrying capacity is breached when use begins to interfere with the environ-
ment’s capacity for regeneration (Reid, 2003: 178).
Mathieson and Wall (1982: Chap. 4) have examined the environmental
impacts of tourism at length and found them to be both positive and negative.
Among the positive are the conservation of natural resources though the
establishment, for example, of national parks, archaeological sites, and historical
monuments. This is apparent, for example, in the establishment of the 1.3-
million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve south of Cancún and the preservation
of Tulum and Chichén Itza, among other archaeological sites, in Mexico. Negative
impacts on flora and fauna, as well as air and water pollution, problems of
sewage and trash disposal, and erosion at campsites and along coastlines are
common. Among the destructive impacts on fauna are the disruption of breeding
patterns and of turtle eggs by ATV drivers in Cabo San Lucas and of the coral
reefs in Cancún and in Belize (see also Brown, 2000 [1998]: 48). At Machu
Picchu, Peru, which 300,000 tourists visit each year, there has been increasing
litter, damage to buildings, and erosion of footpaths: one reaction has been to

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outlaw the taking of bottled water to this archaeological site, “presumably to

reduce the number of empty plastic bottles discarded by visitors” (Lumsdon
and Swift, 2001: 144). The violation of carrying capacity has been framed by
Mowforth and Munt (2003 [1998]) as an issue of sustainability: with the degra-
dation of the environment (whether social, economic, or physical) tourists
abandon the sites where this degradation is occurring.
Tourism, despite its sometimes adverse environmental impacts, can, however,
“be one of the most benign and sustainable uses of the natural environment,
compared to competing uses such as forestry and mining” (Reid, 2003: 115).
This may at least be the case with eco-tourism but may be less so with large-scale
resort development, where air, water, and environmental pollution are serious
concerns. A notable feature of the tourism industry, in common with many other
industries, is the influence of big capital—whether national or international—
and its exploitation of the local labor force. The first three articles in this issue
explore the more exploitative aspects of tourism. In her article on tourism in
the Dominican Republic, Amalia L. Cabezas points that in the case of former
colonies, tourism can continue and reinforce patterns of dependency and even
impede the acquisition of foreign exchange and the creation of better forms of
employment for the local population. The structural adjustment policies
imposed on the Dominican Republic by the World Bank coincided with the
development of tourism on that island, and when, in the early 1980s, tourism
began to generate more than half of the country’s foreign currency, much of
this was drained off. As on most other islands in the Caribbean, the top jobs
in the tourist industry are held by expatriates. Cabezas points out that
while high-tech services are provided to tourists in luxury resorts, the commu-
nities where the low-waged laborers live lack electricity and other basic infra-
structure—a stark contrast that reinforces the inequalities found between the
tourist-sending and the tourist-receiving countries.
Examining the impacts of tourism in Mexico, I argue in my article that whereas
Mexico has achieved its goals for tourist development—diverting internal
migrants to growth poles outside the major cities, increasing employment
opportunities, and augmenting foreign exchange—tourism development has
had negative aspects. Although middle and upper management positions are
usually filled by Mexican citizens, tourism development and structural adjust-
ment policies have led to an increased exploitation of low-waged laborers,
especially women. The economic inequalities between tourists and the local
population that serves them produce a de facto economic apartheid.
In their article, Alicia Swords and Ronald Mize focus on the consumption
of labor, including the work of maids, waiters and waitresses, tour guides,
entertainers, and others, by tourists with a view to showing that colonialism
and/or unequal development exacerbate inequality. Evidence from Puerto
Rico since the 1930s, when the United States fostered tourism on that island,
and from Mexico since the 1980s indicates that in both countries tourism
services are gendered, labor is exploited, and economic apartheid is apparent.
The next three articles show that niches can be carved out in the spaces left by
national and international capital on both the individual and the community level.
This raises the question whether tourist-host relations must be exploitative
and, if not, how long nonexploitative relations can last. “Ethnic tourism,” through
which tourists from core capitalist countries cast their gaze on indigenous,

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often poverty-stricken peoples with little political power, can be defined as an

exploitative relation, but does “roots tourism” display the same dynamic?
In her article on African-American roots tourism in Brazil, Patricia Pinho
argues that rather than searching for the “Other,” African-Americans in Brazil
endeavor to make contact with the same—brothers and sisters in the diaspora.
She comments on the “asymmetry that permeates the relationship between
blacks located in the North and the South of the American continent” as it
occurs in tourist/native relations in Bahia. Among the inequalities are those
arising from the fact that some can afford to travel and others cannot, from the
desire to exchange local traditions for the modernity of black power and civil
rights movements, and from the differential power of representation through
books and documentaries. Pinho concludes that, despite the inequalities
between African-American tourists from the North and the black population
of Brazil, roots tourism represents “a transnational channel of communication
and circulation” that permits the possibility of “overcoming the current geog-
raphy of power.”
Even within “ethnic tourism,” which Walter Little in his article defines as
“the promotion of ethnic others for touristic consumption,” those relegated to
a back seat by massive tourism development plans can carve out spaces—
however temporary or limited—for themselves. Little points out that female
Maya handicrafts vendors are encouraged to attract the “tourist gaze” but are
not included in the multinational Mundo Maya tourism development plan
and not recipients of tourism development funds. Examining the way these
indigenous women vendors “make do” in attempting to give an authentic
“cultural performance” while moving toward their economic goals, Little
argues that in order to minimize the dissonance of their position they joke
about the social disparities with which they are faced and the way in which
they are represented. Their participation in the development project is volun-
tary, and Little concludes that it is not a struggle against tourist development
but rather the reservation of a niche for themselves.
Roberto Bartholo, Mauricio Delamaro, and Ivan Bursztyn present cases of
“responsible” tourism development—development that takes the needs and
desires of the local community into account—in northeastern Brazil. They call
for an “alternative tourism” that is environmentally and culturally friendly
and emphasizes heritage and traditions, and they claim to have discovered
this type of tourism in two Brazilian communities. Whether big capital may,
in the future, invade and destroy this grassroots alternative tourism or
whether an internal differentiation into capitalists and low-waged proletari-
ans or semiproletarians may occur are questions left open.


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