Whether Tourism is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ has been a topic of discussion and disagreement for several decades. There are two opposing, rather radical points of view: the advocacy platform and the cautionary platform. In this essay both platforms will be explained and illustrated on the example of Sri Lanka.
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, former Ceylon, is located south of India in the Indian Ocean. Until the cease-fire in 2002, ethnic tensions and conflicts between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority ruled the country for nearly 60 years (EU 2003). Today Sri Lanka has a relatively stable economy which relies to over 50% on the service sector, particularly tourism (Worldbank 2005). Imports, especially capital goods, outweigh exports by nearly 2,300mill. US $ (Worldbank 2003). There are virtually no foreign trade barriers for the tourism sector, as foreign investment of 100% and unrestricted movement of professional services personnel is allowed (Office of the United States Trade Representative 2004). Sri Lanka as a tourism destination offers cultural tourism based on its world heritage sites, as well as active tourism and eco tourism. However the majority of tourists come for ordinary sun, sand, sea – tourism (Crick 1994; Annual Statistical Report of Sri Lanka Tourism 2004).
The advocacy platform
The idea of tourism as a tool for development originates from the 1950s and 1960s. At this time tourism literature was characterized by a positive and rather uncritical attitude, as well as an absence of any possible negative impacts of tourism (Lawton and Weaver 2002). As a result free markets and unhindered growth of tourism were advocated (Lawton and Weaver 2002). Today’s representatives of this ‘pro-tourism lobby’ (Jeffries 2001) are mostly official organizations like the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and governments, especially their tourism departments like the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. Besides emphasized economic advantages, some social-cultural benefits for a destination are (Lawton and Weaver 2002, p.273):
- the promotion of cross-cultural understanding
- the incentive value of tourism in preserving local culture and heritage
- the promotion of social stability through positive economic outcomes
Cross-cultural understanding and peace
The fact that people come into contact with other cultures and beliefs can help to dispel stereotypes and to really understand people from different countries and their points of view (Lawton and Weaver 2002). While for example residents learn about the outside world, visitors experience a distinctive culture (Besculides et al 2002). Direct exposure to individuals, who perhaps don’t meet preconceived notions, can lead to positive surprises and a more open way of thinking. Furthermore it can be a first step in understanding between nations and ultimately peace (Lawton and Weaver 2002). The WTO declared in Bali in 1996 (Jeffries 2001, p.22):
… tourism can really enhance the quality of human relationships, regardless of the ethnical, racial, religious or socio-cultural differences and has a great role to play not only in promoting mutual understanding and relations among nations but also in helping to bring about world peace.
In Sri Lanka the government supported tourism, and especially the International Tourism Year of 1967, as a “crusade against ignorance and prejudice, and also a friendship campaign” (Crick 1994, p.32). In his speech at the WTO conference in Manila in 1980 Sri Lankan vice president Anandatassi de Alwis stressed the importance of tourism for contact between people and their understanding of each other (Crick 1994).
Incentive to preserve local culture and heritage
To attract and sustain visitation, the preservation and restoration of natural and heritage sites is often necessary, as “restored sites are more attractive to tourists and therefore generate additional revenues” (Lawton and Weaver 2002, p.275; Aslam et al 2005). Prospective revenue due to tourism was also the reason for many sponsors to invest into the Sri Lankan heritage conservation project ‘Cultural Triangle Development’ (Ceylon Tourist Board in WTO 2001). Under assistance from the UNESCO major heritage sites were looked after between 1981 and 1998, leading to increasing visitor numbers and thus to increasing funds for the conservation of these sites (WTO 2001). The majority of finance is generated by the tourism sector as seen in the following figures of 1999 (WTO 2001, p.98):
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