REPORT #91 August 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
Tourist places around the world are struggling with tourism. On the one hand, tourists bring much needed revenue to bolster the local economy. On the other hand, tourism brings massive strain on local resources. In places were local tourism has been usurped by central country capital politician/businessman deals; the shift from a local based tourism has gone from local improvement and economic development, to lining the pockets of absentee country capital big money. The subsequent damages effect both the living standards, environment and revenues of the locals. A case in point is India, where New Delhi big business connected operators have usurped the small local bus operators and small family run guest houses in the Himilayan small communities. The small communities have lost the intransit small scale tourist business, which has now been taken over by big business and massive tour bus operations that come and leave within hours. The trash, sewage and pollution problems are left for the locals to deal with as best they can. Their small scale revenue base gone to the big city and business operators with political connections.

What is advertising in the tourism game? Do you think clean water is good advertising? Do you think the ability to ride your bicycle around the port Belize City without fear and in safety and comfort is good advertising? Do you think panhandling is good advertising?

In some places like the Florida Keys, residents are fed up with being unable to just get up, get on the road and run down to the local supermarket for a gallon of milk. Traffic congestion on the one inter-state highway through the Keys is a real problem if you are a resident. How much is too much? What niche of tourism should you shoot for? Should you go for volume and transient traffic, or stick to upscale expensive lower volume tourist traffic?

Many communities struggle with the need to guide and understand tourism. In Idaho for instance, there are only a limited number of white-water rafters allowed down the Salmon River in any given season during the year. They must also bring out all their trash with them. Failure to do so involves heavy fines and in the case of white water operators can result in loss of license.

In Jackson, Wyoming, voters voted a 2% lodging tax. The Florida Keys also have such a local tax to fund the local tourism advertising budget. I believe the knew Village Councils Act in Belize gives villages in the tourism industry in Belize the power to place a tax for local tourism improvement. It should be done by Referendum at the village level though. Village Councils would organize their own campaign and vote on the subject. If it passed, they then vote in a by-law authorizing the tax, penalties, and arrange the collection and separation of funds from general Village revenue.

Tourism in a village, or town, creates jobs with low rates of pay. Due to the influx of labor and migrating aspirants looking for work, this boosts the local population beyond what the village economy can handle. What follows next is predictable. A shortage of suitable housing ensues. Rents go sky high, in competition with tourist rents. Working people can no longer live in the tourist village. Congestion, violation of local zoning laws and a downward spiral, involving more crime, panhandling and poverty. More businesses flood in on the local low end of the tourism economy, such as; T-shirt shops, trinket vendors and the ambience of the locality is gradually cheapened and ruined by the influx of people from elsewhere in the country. At what point do you draw the line? How do you control the influx of people to protect the ambience of what attracted the tourists in the first place? Who will pay for the increases needed in schools, parks, clean drinking water supplies, garbage collection and disposal, extra police forces and protect the environment, along with population growth control in a balance with nature and the geography.

Some of the interesting places to visit are in Switzerland, which has centuries of tourism. Their small tourist communities are kept pristine, small and controlled. How they succeed, I do not know? Do you pass a tax to repair damage and general wear and tear, that tourists cause? Do you limit the number of workers from other parts of the country to reside in the village? If so, how? I wonder how Switzerland does it?

Quality is as important to tourism as any other advertising budget. The handling of local village tourism can be the cause of some difficult debates. But the mistakes can be disastrous, not only from the economic viewpoint, but also civic infra- structure and environmental problems. If you wait too long and lose your quality, all the rest will be just pollution and garbage with social problems and ills.

by John Lankford
That was an excellent and thoughtful post from Ray, a great question-raiser.

I've become convinced tourism, which can be on its positive side the best stimulator going, also has to be directed, much like a powerful airplane or a massive ship, or, for that matter, any large or small business. To just advertise and let it happen, hoping to snatch some benefits, leads to disaster. But good management leads to stupendous financial benefit.

On the positive side, there is the direct money input. At the second stage, I often say "tourism is export at retail without shipping." A great number of the things tourists consume, and buy can be manufactured locally. Even if a cheap ersatz souvenir is actually fabricated in Asia, imported, and sold to a tourist, however, an increment of foreign-source (the tourist's) money is channeled to a local person as profit on the transaction. Much better, however, is in-country production to the extent practicable. The reason is, that can and does lead to development of larger-scale, exporting industry. In Belize, the Marie Sharpe enterprise is one fine example. That gardener lady's hot pepper sauce, first popularized by exposure to tourists, is now on supermarket shelves in the United States.

But we have to try to curtail the potential detriments. The best method I have seen is by designated tourism "districts" with limited and controlled access and impact. Depending on what attraction is being marketed to tourists, methods vary. The essential point is to maintain control, "fly the airplane" rather than letting it fly away with you.

Drawing on successful examples, I have proposed development of something called "Theme Country" in Belize, and also proposed it to an impoverished lumber town in Oregon as "Theme Town." The essential element is maintenance of control and management, necessarily with the cooperation of government.

Cruise ship lines found it necessary to acquire land, build deep water wharves, and build compounds in some of the Caribbean islands, so their passengers could experience the real cultures of those destinations unhampered by moochers, drug dealers, rip-and-runners, muggers, and other such trash. Legitimate artists and artisans cannot present their offerings to fascinated visitors in an atmosphere plagued by such. The answer was to exclude any not accredited from the compounds.

The Disney people built an entire artificial, but pleasant and immensely popular, environment in a Florida swamp. They micromanage it toward the objective of delivering a multifaceted, but in every respect congenial and intriguing, tourism experience.

In Las Vegas, built in a desert, frankly -- organized crime invaded a frisky railroad depot and built an estimable entertainment destination. The methods, in some respects, were as crude and distasteful as some of the people they found it necessary to exclude. In the process, they learned about "tourist police." They took that concept to the tourist district they established, for acceptable and also nefarious reasons, in Havana. From there the concept spread to Mexico, which moderated it somewhat, but maintained its efficacy. The rule is simple: the tourist whose behavior ranges from the sedate to the moderately rowdy is shepherded and protected, and predators are excluded by such means as need be. Again, being candid, the Mexican form of moderation of the method took, among others, the form of spraying coca-cola up the restrained offender's nose rather than "disappearing" him or crippling him. This is all an unpleasant subject, but security has to insist, and to prevail, in order to maintain an orderly zone in which to sell tourists the fantasy experiences they want to buy.

In New Orleans, a company I directed for a while did busborne sightseeing tours, including a night club tour. As raunchy as the nightclubs on our alternative "wild" night tour appeared, (the illusion), the reality was perfect safety. Again, enforced by the club owners, not us, by methods stern enough to guarantee prevalence, but, in order to avoid court appearances, no sterner. But the bottom line was security wins, and the variable was only how far the predator wanted to test that line. Again, Disney security procedures are probably the best ones to investigate and emulate. The crowd- and incident-control procedures used by the New Orleans Police Department during Mardi Gras are another acknowledged wonder.

By creating, by zoning methods, particular thematic tourism districts, or, alternatively, creating them from scratch in the bush so as not to discomfit established residents, and subduing the ambitions of predators. At this time we may have access to trained, professional security police from Cuba, obtainable as we obtained a platoon of physicians, for this purpose, pending further training of our own.

We could have, in Belize, a grouping of districts and cultural experiences most of the world would be unable to match, with the traffic impact channeled, secured, and moderated by the inherent necessity of selling no more access than facilities could handle. We have three distinct Mayan cultures alone. We have the Garifunas. We have archeological districts tourable per se or as stages for pageantry like the "Unto These Hills" perpetual pageant in Cherokee, North Carolina. See A famous exemplar is colonial-model Williamsburg, Virginia, viewable at , the official homesite.

The Costa Maya festival beginning Tuesday, August 17, in San Pedro, a burgeoning event, offers an "annual-event" alternative, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, coming, having high impact for a short time, and then departing, leaving the town to the residents again.

Many methods and techniques are possible. All require proactive management and administration so as to optimize the benefits for tourist and host country or town, and for tourist, and subdue the detriments. It takes, frankly, stupendous perspiration. But a better opportunity, a readier, more lucrative market, and a greater benefit prospect for an impecunious town, or nation, is almost impossible to find.

John Lankford

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