By Esther “EJ” Dupervil
In the debate on whether or not tourism is good for developing countries, I find myself siding with the argument that it may not be the best way to realize true development.
In visiting Haiti, I sat down and spoke to some locals about their thoughts on the tourism industry. The popular term associated with the development, “Haiti is open for business,” came up in conversation. Thunderous laughter followed after those around me made the statement.
The development of Haiti that is portrayed is one that the locals claim they have yet to see for themselves.
“We have no idea where the media finds these pictures sometimes,” one local said to me.
I soon realized tourism in Haiti does not benefit the masses.
It’s an issue that tourists have access to clean water, electricity, and ample food, when the majority of Haiti’s population does not.
Although I have visited some of the most gorgeous places in Haiti, I have been able to because of my socioeconomic status. The majority of Haitians has not, and most likely will not, ever have a chance to experience the side of Haiti that I know.
I am aware of the development models that argue the tourism industry will help develop other industries, which in turn will spear development in Haiti altogether. For Haiti however, that does not seem to be the case.
Yes, tourism creates opportunities to engage and profit, but the benefits from this industry tends not to trickle down to the local population.
For example, if we look at Egypt and Cuba, which are two of the most touristic countries in the world, a very small proportion of the local population benefits from the tourism industry, according to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Their research shows there is a negative economic impact due to 70 percent of all money spent leaves the country through leakages.
Leakages occur when the host country is unable to supply the needs of the industry so therefore most goods and services needed are imported to meet the market demands. When that happens the host country does not benefit much from the industry.
Tourism also has negative environmental impacts. This should be of great concern since Haiti is an agricultural country and for the last several years experienced significant land degradation and other environmental shocks. Tourism in Haiti has created great pressure on local resources that are already in short supply. Some of these resources include energy, clean water, and raw materials.
The tourism industry generally overuses water resources for hotels, swimming pools, golf courses and other amenities tourists use water for. These practices result in water shortages.
Waste disposal is also a serious problem and improper disposal can be a major despoiler of the natural environment, which includes rivers, green areas, and roadsides. Hotels, recreational areas, and other common tourist facilities often lead to increased sewage pollution. Cruise ships in the Caribbean are estimated to produce more than 70,000 tons of waste each year.
I am not arguing that there should not be any tourism in Haiti but rather a re-evaluation of what other areas that can better contribute to the development of Haiti.
In my opinion, tourism seems to be an industry that is better suited for more developed countries that has the necessary infrastructures to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism.