The experience of witnessing some of the world’s most beautiful and pristine environments has come with heavy costs. The serious impacts of tourism on the third world have damaged not only the environment in which people from all over the world travel to see but also has serious socio-economic impacts on the hosting countries. Finding a viable solution to mass, uncontrolled tourism that can benefit the host country is not an easy task. Being witness to so many transnational companies destroy the local environment and economy by building massive all-inclusive 5 star resorts is the underlying issue this research paper examines. There is the ability for this wealth to be brought into third world countries due to their comparative advantage. However, it is mind-boggling to discover that for the most part the capital that is generated leaks back out of the places that need it most and back to developed countries. One of the most beautiful places to visit in central America is the small country of Belize. Lying right on the coastal region of the Caribbean sea, it has a barrier reef stretching 150-miles of its coast, the second largest and one of the most impressive in the world. Throughout its history it had not been a prime destination for tourism, but over the past few decades the presence of tourism has become very prominent. Utilizing the new found tourist industry as a development strategy in Belize comes with many challenges. This includes the need to develop proper guidelines, governing bodies and policies to protect the environment, economy and culture of the country. Protecting the culture of the Belizean people includes maintaining the behaviour of the local people and their communities while incorporating the ability to develop their economy through tourist activities. This also encourages development in local communities by bringing in foreign exchange. The impacts of tourism on such a pristine environment and culture can be very damaging if they are not regulated properly by the local government. It is important to make development sustainable by involving the local businesses and drawing in foreign capital and investments for the local people without damaging their culture, environment or economy.
The economy of Belize originally had a strong agricultural focus, much like many central American economies after the reign of colonialist control. The British colonial influence on Belize had its economic focuses on the production of sugar cane. This was its primary export for a substantial period of its history. It expanded its production of agricultural products to include citrus products, bananas as well as seafood, however the agricultural sector in Belize has been in a slow but steady decline since its independence. The exporting of agricultural products brought foreign exchange into Belize’s economy, which was precisely what it was in need of. This opened up the economy to a higher diversity of jobs that would help the economy flourish. Throughout the course of the 1950’s the tourism in Belize was restricted to jungle expeditions as well as fishing, this made it an insignificant part of the economy as a whole. Around the world during this time period, it was the beginning of the idea of vacation opportunities in places such as the Caribbean. This was created by marketing the product that the Caribbean, in particular, was capable of offering; white sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal clear waters in the hot sun was exactly what was being marketed to the Western world (Belize Tourism Board, 2011). One of the attractions of the Belize tourism industry was jaguar hunting in the jungle, as this only appealed to a select group of people who would go on jungle expeditions to hunt it was not a major aspect of contributing to the economic development of Belize. The first tourist destination and hotel in Fort George, Belize opened up in 1953 and has seen the development of the tourism industry throughout Belize over the last half of a century (ibid). Throughout the next few decades the development of big hotels around Belize began to grow and draw tourists to these destinations. With the tourists came an influx of foreign exchange that helped to fuel the economy. One of the most prominent focus’ of the tourism industry was the ability for Belize to market its barrier reef as the second largest in the world. Tourism to the country significantly increased over the next few decades and through the 1970’s as Belize marketed the thriving industry of having one of the best scuba diving experiences in the world. In fact famous explorer Jacques Costeau visited Belize’s “Blue Hole”, one of the many impressive coral reefs surrounding the coast (ibid). The expanding industry of tourism eventually reached an all time high in the 1990’s and the government of Belize began to create tourism strategies for the country to help its development including advertising itself in the United States. During this time period the cruise ship tourist industry also exploded growing by 546.4% including 200 cruise ships which brought an increase in foreign exchange into the country in areas where the ships would dock (ibid). Over the past 50 years the tourism industry in Belize has rapidly grown, but with this comes many challenges to preserve and maintain the culture, environment and wildlife of the country. These have been the objectives of the government in Belize as the industry has expanded.
Mass tourism over the past few decades has most definitely left its growing mark on the third world in many ways. Cater explains the alternatives to this mass tourism in third worlds:
Increasingly Third World countries are turning towards alternative tourism as a seemingly benign alternative to uncontrolled mass tourism with its myriad of adverse economic, socio-cultural and environmental impacts. Most of the characteristics of alternative tourism are in direct contrast to those of conventional mass tourism. Activities are likely to be small scale, locally owned with consequently low import leakages and a higher proportion of profits retained locally. These contrast with the large-scale, multinational concerns typified by high leakages which characterize mass tourism” (Cater, 1993:85)
Sustainable tourism comes in many shapes and forms, but essentially what each policy reaches to obtain is a form of tourism that can actually benefit, rather than harm; local economies, cultures and environments in the places that mass tourism now impacts. Sustainability such as ecotourism, focuses mainly on the environmental issues but can also help in reducing poverty in a country through stimulating the economy opening up more jobs for the local people as well as decreasing the amount of leakages in the country’s tourism industry through foreign imports. The idea of environmental sustainability emphasizes the need to decrease the impacts that tourism has on the local environment through tourist activities. The ‘carrying capacity’ of a country identifies a way of finding a manageable balance between tourism and environmental sustainability, what the environment can handle before it can no longer replenish its resources by itself. This is a very important measurement when looking at the impacts of tourism on the environment, as well as the main focus of ecotourism (Mowforth and Munt, 2008). In order for any system of tourism to be completely sustainable, the development of tourism should meet the needs of the host population by improving their living standards in the long and short run, be able to satisfy the demands of the growing tourists and continue to attract them and safeguard the natural environment in order to achieve both of the other goals (Cater, 1993:85,86). Tourism in itself, is an industry that can always be relied on continuing, “while industrial countries are adopting protectionist policies in regard to the importation of goods they are not likely to impose restrictions on travel by their citizens. Travel would continue to absorb a rising proportin of personal incomes” (Chib, 1980:288). This leaves the question of how to handle and maintain tourism throughout the world up to the host countries. Many third world tourist destinations have the comparative advantage that many first world countries do not, the sandy white beaches with hot summer weather all year long, however, it is important for each country’s government to intervene with policies that will enforce sustainable tourism across the economy.
Destination areas need to determine the level and type of tourism that they want to attract and make informed decisions regarding the scale, ownership, location and timing of development. Tourists need to me more fully aware of the damaging potential of their stay and modify their behaviour and expectations accordingly (Cater, 1993:90).
In terms of the third world, in order to minimize leakages, the management of sustainable tourism is key. Tourist activities can result in larger economic gain that can cover the cost and improve the carrying capacity of a country by producing new infrastructure. This turn brings in more tourists and improves the carrying capacity by being more efficient. This can all come from sustainable development by managing tourism so that it benefits the local economies of the host countries through tourism activities.
Belize is one of the most lush tropical destinations in central America and has become a very desirable destination for tourism. The comparative advantage that Belize now has over many other third world tourism destinations is that its wildlife, environment and culture are still relatively well sustained. This is a very significant difference in comparison to the destruction that has been obtained in the third world due to large tourism based transnational corporations. Organizations such as the Belize Tourism Board work to regulate the tourism industry in Belize. This organization works with the government and the private sector to create positive and responsible development of the tourism industry to improve the socio-economic growth of Belize. The guiding principles of the BTB are that tourism is a national priority designed to bring benefit to Belize with balance among all sectors of the industry safeguards and secures Belize’s destination – positioning in the global tourism market. Local communities play a meaningful role in the tourism sector, ensuring economic, social and cultural benefits to each participating community. Also integrating the tourism policy and development programs with the national economic, social, cultural and environmental policies. It recognizes the importance of involvement with the private sector in tourism as well as protecting Belize’s natural and cultural resources (Belize Tourism Board, 2011). The tourism board has been the main policy making mechanism for the tourism sector in Belize since 1990. It works closely with the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Archaeology and the Boarder Management Agency to create tourism policies and maintain the industry in Belize. An important aspect of the BTB is its close relations with the private sector, bringing in private investments into the Belize tourism economy (ibid). By regulating tourism in natural areas, through national parks, reserves and conservation areas, the fees generated by this as an industry create direct financial support for maintaining these areas. This protects the natural areas in two ways, financial and political, the aim to gain profits from these parks benefits both the environment and the tourism industry as a whole, giving it political motivation to be supported (Britton, 1982). The need for sustainable tourism development in Belize is very predominant especially in reference to the ocean. In her research on tourism in Last Resorts Pattullo explains:
The 150-mile long Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Belize has rapidly expanded its tourist business from under 100 000 visitors in 1985 to more than 250 000 cruise and stay-over visitors in 2000. The damage to the reef, including rapid depletion of its fauna and well-being, has occurred within the time-span of the tourist boom (Pattullo, 2005:137).
If the tourism economy is properly regulated and controlled the damage to the environment will be sustainable, enabling the environment to reproduce at its own rate without further damage being incurred.
One of the starting steps to developing sustainable tourism as a vital part of the economy is being able to manage the capacity of visitors. In order to do so the country would have to take charge in employing large numbers of the local population to work in the tourism industry. It has been seen over the past ten years “tourism expenditures represent about 22% of GDP, and one in every seven jobs is related or driven by tourism. The health of the tourism industry in our country is a key economic driver and vital contributor to the quality of life for all Belizeans” (Belize Tourism Board, 2011). As it has clearly become a very important part of the economy in Belize, making sure the tourism industry is sustainable is a key concept in maintaining it to be beneficial for the Belize economy. Belize is somewhat of a model country when it comes to government policies on foreign companies owning land in their country. What typically happens with large corporations that are not owned by local people, is that they purchase very valuable land in the country and develop it the way that they see fit, to bring in the largest profits for their company. In doing so this damages the surrounding communities and does not bring any capital into the country for investment in local infrastructure or development projects. However, “the government enacted legislation in 1973 that requires non-Belizeans to complete a development plan on land they purchase before obtaining title to plots of more than 10 acres of rural land or more than one-half acre of urban land” (Travel Document Systems, 2009). Having thorough involvement in maintaining the amount and quality of the tourism that comes into the country is a key part in sustainable tourism as a development strategy. Tourism, when maintained properly, brings in foreign currency to build the economy, attracts investors and allows for many jobs to be created within the country. Belize is harboring development from tourism through enacting the Sustainable Tourism Program, allowing for manageable growth throughout the country. The project selected the areas where tourism development will take place; Placencia Peninsula and Village, San Ignacio and surroundings, Amergris Caye and Belize City. The Sustainable Tourism Program explains that:
The main idea behind the selection of these destinations is town core development and enhancement to encourage longer visitor stay by the overnight tourism sector. This project aims to engage the local communities by providing spin off benefits to the residents, and catalyze further investment and growth from the revitalized areas (Sustainable Tourism Program, 2011).
The sustainability found in tourism can work to reduce poverty through these initiatives by creating more jobs for local people and growing the economy in Belize.
The small country of Belize has a pristine environment, wildlife as well as an incredible and diverse culture amongst its people. The tourism industry can have extremely harsh impacts on all of these wonderful parts of any country but especially those in the third world. Large transnational hotel and tourist companies can cause severe damage to not only the economy of the third world through leakages of capital back to developing countries but also to the local cultures and environment. This is where the idea of sustainable tourism comes into play as an international goal. Specifically, Belize has implemented numerous development strategies through the government as well as NGOs to harbor tourism as a form of development. This involves participation in tourist activities by the local people, managing guided tours and companies, as well as taking advantage of the vast possibilities that cruise tourism can have in the areas where the ships land. Focusing on developing Belize City as this hot spot for cruise ship tourism will bring in immense amounts of foreign exchange into the local economy there. However, this can be a catastrophic disaster for the economy and environment if it is not properly regulated by the government. The Belize Tourism Board has in place the necessary criteria to be capable of managing and maintaining the well-being of not only the cities that are influenced by cruise ship tourism but also overnight tourism. This is a very important part of the economy in Belize and it is only the beginning. Managing to maintain sustainable tourism throughout Belize will help its economy flourish and grow while being able to maintain the environment as well as the wonderful culture that Belize has to offer.