Friday, October 28, 2005

Tourism to eliminate poverty

I commented earlier on plans to build a canal system connecting Seoul and Pusan (I was not in favor). The use of tourism to reduce poverty is related in that they superficially sound like good, even great ideas, but aren't. Dho Young-shim isn't the first person to think of encouraging the tourism industry of poor countries; the reason it isn't being done now is it doesn't work.

From the Korea Herald article:
Amb. Dho is well known and well regarded on the diplomatic circuit for her work organizing trips for diplomats to different parts of Korea and also managing the "Singing Ambassadors," but there's much more to her job.
I served as a tour guide for a group of ambassors to Naksan temple and Seorak Park. While I have never met her, perhaps, in a sense, I worked for her.

She describes an African project:
"In Nigeria there's a project called 'One Village, One Product' in which we help out a village to create one product that can be sold in the tourism market," said Dho.
The problem is, how many wooden dolls, priced for a mass tourism market do you have to make before you can go to university? How many straw elephants to buy a water filter? Skilled craftsmen can usually set their own prices but how many craftsmen can be in one village? I don't know a lot about economics but I understand that the further you get from raw materials, the more value you have. A few kilos of various ores are valuable as a doorstop. If you make a computer from them, the unit price is as unrecognizable as the computer is from the raw ore. A block of wood has low value. Cut it into lumber and the value increases but is still low. Make a table or other furniture and you have a valuable product. How many people go to Africa to buy mass produced furniture?

Tourism does bring money to a region but most flows back out. If you book a tour to China in your home country, most of that money will go to translators from the city and to the hotels on the route - but the hotels are chains owned by international companies so the money again leaves the rural communities.

There is one kind of tour that does leave substantial money in the areas it goes through; but only if it is done right. Ambassador Dho gets this one right (and it is a tour I would love to do):
One of her future projects is a bicycle trip along the Mekong River. It will start and Laos and work its way through Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand. [Brian: not Vietnam?- is my geography off?]

So far there are over 100 riders due to take part in the trip. But the kicker is that local people will be used along the trip route to deliver water, food and other supplies, thus creating small jobs for a large number.
Maybe there are other kinds of tours that would work as well; I am just against big-bus tourism and for self-guided tours.
Very few organized tours do leave the money along the route. This one sounds like it will. But consider the last phrase; 'small jobs for a large number'. Waiters and waitresses in the west can, with tips, make good money. Will the Cambodian waitstaff do so well? The deliverymen? The laundry workers? Assorted ticket takers?

The problem is, tourism is 90% low skill work. If locally owned hotels are used, that will help a little, but not to the point of sending more people to improve their education, for example.

I could well be wrong. I hope I am. Perhaps a supply of constant work will be created and people will be fed and clothed. That is a good first step; I just see it as a bottom rung kind of step with no promise that the ladder extends very far.

An important point here is that I have no better answer. Perhaps, like democracy, her solution is the worst one there is...except for all the others.


Anonymous said...

Hi Brian: Mass tourism tactics...When I was in Greece and Turkey,my tour bus stopped at every carpet maker along the way. On site, many young teenagers labouring to weave but the price could be negotiated a way down from their first price. Nancy and Liz each bought from one of these dealers as well as many others in my group. Mom

kwandongbrian said...

Should I be proud that my mom _finally_ posted a comment on my blog or embarrassed; all my blogger will make fun of me.

"Brian gets no comments! His mom has to comment!"

Actually, the comment is bang on topic: It's a good one. Is she agreeing or disagreeing with my statements? We'll never know how much of a fee the teenagers paid to the factory owner or to the bus driver.

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