Tourism—A Global Industry
By Awake! writer in the Bahamas
WHEN did you last say to yourself, ‘I need a vacation’? Perhaps you felt that you just had to get away from your everyday stresses. Have you ever traveled to some far away destination for a vacation? Consider this: As recently as just over a century ago, the majority of people on earth did not take regular vacations. Additionally, most spent their entire life within a few hundred miles of the spot where they were born. Travel to far-flung destinations for pleasure or education was the prerogative of a very small group of adventurous or wealthy individuals. But today hundreds of thousands of people are able to crisscross the country where they live or even the globe. What brought about the change?
After the industrial revolution, millions of people became involved in manufacturing goods and providing services. The result was greater earnings and eventually more disposable income. The forward leap in technology also created machines that took over much of the labor-intensive work. This afforded many people more leisure time. With these factors in place, in the mid-1900’s, the advent of more affordable mass transportation opened the floodgates of tourism. Then, by beaming images of far-off places into homes around the world, the newly invented mass communication industry stimulated the desire to travel.
The result was a rapidly expanding global tourism industry. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) forecast that the number of people traveling internationally would increase from 613 million in 1997 to 1.6 billion by the year 2020—with no slowdown in sight at the time. This upturn in demand was matched by a corresponding increase in the number of businesses, resorts, and countries providing services for tourists.
Many Countries Enter the Tourism Market
Ideally, tourism is a win-win arrangement. The consumer escapes his normal routine and is pampered, entertained, or educated. But what is in it for the providers? International tourism is a ready generator of foreign currency. Most countries need foreign currency to pay for goods and services that they must import.
In fact, a WTO report stated: “International tourism is the world’s largest export earner and an important factor in the balance of payments of many countries. Foreign currency receipts from international tourism reached US$423 billion in 1996, outstripping exports of petroleum products, motor vehicles, telecommunications equipment, textiles or any other product or service.” The same report stated: “Tourism is the world’s largest growth industry,” and it represented “up to 10 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.” Little wonder that most countries, now including even some from the former Soviet Union, are in—or are scurrying to enter—the international tourist industry.
Government revenue accrued from tourism is being used to improve infrastructure, provide higher standards of education, and meet other pressing national needs. Virtually all governments are concerned that their citizens have employment. The jobs generated by tourism help meet this need.
To demonstrate the effect that tourism can have on a country’s economy, consider the example of the Bahamas, a tiny nation of islands stretching across the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico between Florida, in the United States, and the island of Cuba. The Bahamas has no large-scale commercial agriculture and almost no industrial raw materials. But these islands do have warm weather, pristine tropical beaches, a small population of about a quarter of a million friendly people, and proximity to the United States—assets that have been combined to produce a thriving tourist industry. But what does it take to provide tourists a pleasurable and safe vacation?
Satisfying Modern Vacationers
When international tourism began, the experience of visiting a foreign country was rare enough to satisfy many travelers—this despite the hardships of travel at the time. Today, however, mass communication allows many to sample far-off destinations on television without leaving the comfort of their home. Resorts are thus now challenged to make an actual visit an outstanding experience while providing the comforts of home or better. Additionally, since many tourists travel frequently, destinations often compete globally.
This has given rise to spectacular attractions and resorts. Consider, for example, one very large luxury hotel in the Bahamas. “The property has been designed to blow you away,” says Beverly Saunders, director of organization development at the hotel. “But we aim to go further. We want your interaction with our hosts to blow you away also.” How do such resorts cater to the needs of their guests?
Behind the Scenes at a Resort
“When our 2,300-room property is full, we may have between 7,500 and 8,000 guests to satisfy at one time,” says Beverly. “The logistical challenge is enormous. The organization required to satisfy the needs of all these guests is the same as running a small city but with additional challenges. We must have foods available that our guests are accustomed to eating at home. But if their experience is to be memorable, we must also offer exotic dining and recreational opportunities. In many resorts 50 percent or more of the support personnel are devoted to food and beverage services.”
Still, as I. K. Pradhan observes in his essay “Socio-Cultural Impact of Tourism in Nepal,” “of all the factors which determine real pleasure and enjoyment while travelling, there is no other factor more important than the way guests are treated by the local people and the feeling of security which they experience.”
How do the successful tourist resorts around the world maximize satisfaction in these areas? “Training, reinforcing desired behavior, coaching, correcting—a never-ending quest to deliver consistently high-quality service,” is how an executive who oversees training for the leading resort in the Bahamas answered that question. “Most Bahamians are naturally good-natured. But it is very challenging to be outgoing, pleasant, and smiling on the job all the time. That is why we instill the need to approach whatever the role they play with the same professionalism that would characterize a doctor, an attorney, or an insurance agent. We use uncompromising international standards for every function that makes up the overall tourist experience. The harder we work as a team at achieving these standards, the more seamless and consistently high the level of performance will be.”
The Other Side of the Picture
If you have traveled, have you found that despite thorough planning, there always seem to be costs that you did not foresee? Tourism providers are having the same experience.
The “tourism industry can bring many benefits to our developing society,” observes Pradhan, quoted earlier. However, he notes that without proper measures, “incurable social problems can also crop up.” He adds: “[We] need to be properly prepared with adequate awareness about the various impacts of modern tourism.” To what problems was he referring?
“Nations that cater to large numbers of tourists almost always experience serious, albeit unintended, dilution of their traditional ways of life. In some places local culture has been obliterated.” This is how Cordell Thompson, a high-ranking Bahamas Ministry of Tourism official describes one common side effect. Thompson speaks with pride about all the beneficial effects tourism has had on his country. Yet, he admits that living in a country where vacationers constantly outnumber—or represent a large portion of—the population has produced many other unforeseen effects.
For example, some who work with tourists find that eventually they begin to imagine, erroneously, that the visitor is on vacation constantly. The resident can attempt to imitate this imagined life-style. Others are not affected in such a way. But by spending a great deal of their leisure time in the visitors’ playgrounds, they eventually shed their traditional life-style. Sometimes the facilities built for tourists become so widely adopted by the populace that the community centers of the indigenous culture eventually wither and, in some places, die.
Many popular international tourist destinations are torn between opposing forces. They welcome the beneficial income derived from streams of visitors. Yet, they stagger under the weight of social problems spawned by industries created to satisfy tourists looking to indulge illicit cravings.
Because some of the greatest benefits of modern tourism produce effects that threaten its very continuance, an expression that is being heard with increasing frequency is “sustainable tourism.” It demonstrates that some are coming to the realization that the short-term benefits of some profitable tourism practices threaten to ‘kill the goose that lays the golden egg.’ Some difficult issues will have to be addressed if the industry is to be sustained indefinitely.
The effect of tourism on the environment, the impact on indigenous cultures, the compatibility of the goals of profit-oriented resorts and megaresorts with the national objectives of the host countries—these are some of the often competing concerns that will have to be balanced in the days ahead. In recent months, concerns about safety and security have taken a serious toll on the travel industry, and these must eventually be addressed. How they will affect the growth of modern tourism in the long run remains to be seen.
The next time you decide to get away from it all and unwind at a resort far away from where you live, you may not take for granted this global industry—national and international tourism.
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