Tourism Is A Neo Colonialist Activity Tourism Essay

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One of the most crucial areas within the literature is how power plays a part in the development of tourism. The specific balances of power determine how tourism can be developed in a region, and whether this is an indigenously motivated process or part of a neo-colonialist agenda. Butler and Hinch (2007:308-309) point out that power is usually not evenly distributed within most regions, and that political power and economic power determine how tourism develops. For example, in Australia the Aboriginal people are encouraged to engage in tourism development, yet they have little say in how this development occurs, and they have few means to access their specific cultural images or representations. Whilst this shows the inequality in power, the work does not show what the consequences of this are. It shows that non-indigenous people do not often have control over tourism development, but not what the agenda of the non-indigenous culture is. Also, this is a specific case involving indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in one country, rather than one region lacking control over their tourism strategies in light of influence from foreign organisations.

However, this argument is a good starting point because it is from such economic and political inequalities that tourism as neo-colonialism occurs. From the 1960’s onwards, tourism was seen as a great moderniser that could improve the prospects of developing countries. However, because these developing countries often did not have the means to develop this industry themselves, the resources and expertise of developed countries made it possible. This also meant the developed countries set the agenda for development, focusing on what would be a good model for a developed country in Europe, for instance. This, as stated by Hughes (in Lew, Hall and Williams, 2004:498-499) can be used as a way for developed countries to maintain control over developing nations and maintain the need for their dependency on developed countries. However, this does not adequately explain whether this type of neo-colonial development was short-lived, or whether it still continues today. Also, it looks at the problem only from whether tourism itself in this form is useful for the destination region, rather than the intertwined relationship of all regions involved tourism activities.

The point being missed here is that it is logical for many tourism initiatives to be influenced and determined by the needs of those outside the destination region. Whilst local tourism is one concern, it is a small concern when compared to the possible economic advantages of attracting tourists from developed countries. As Akama (in Hall and Tucker, 2004:140-141) points out, this is certainly the case in the development of safari tourism in Africa. It was initially created during the colonial era, and is still influenced by the power structures that existed at this time. This was certainly necessary in terms of the development of tourism as foreign investment was required. However, what is crucial here is that this neo-colonial influence means that whilst tourism meets the needs of those from developed countries, so the revenues generated often do not remain within the destination market, and so no development past this tourism is easily possible whilst there is such a reliance on the developed countries.

How this is interpreted really depends on the specific levels of empowerment being discussed. Church and Coles (2007:205) say there are three types of empowerment – national, local and personal. If we are talking about national empowerment, then tourism does suffer from neo-colonial influence. This is because national economies in many developing countries remain dependent on specifically Western-centric forms of tourism and its development. However, the influence is perhaps less obvious at local and personal level. Tourism provides work and jobs, which can help individuals move away from previous levels of poverty. It can also revitalise an area and provide new facilities for locals. However, this is very much dependent on the type of tourism being developed and the specific economic level of locals versus the facilities being created. What is clear here is that even though tourism at a national level can be deemed neo-colonial in many areas, this does not mean the neo-colonial influence reaches down to create negative consequences at the local or personal levels.

However, according to Richards and Hall (2003:27) it is likely that negative neo-colonial influence can extend to the local or personal level, particularly if the type of tourism pays little attention to traditional culture and its values. Also, where tourism occurs in only some regions within a country, it adversely affects other regions. As money is invested in one region, another region can suffer and gain more power. This leads to unequal development, and also could leave locals with a choice between living in an area where their traditional cultures are eroded but money is available, or living where traditions are maintained but investment is not forthcoming. However, this still does not examine whether current tourism practices are specifically neo-colonial. It only shows that in its most extreme form, neo-colonial tourism can have a negative impact at all levels and can maintain power inequalities, despite the seeming economic advantages on the surface.

This idea of pervasive neo-colonialism in tourism is reinforced by Mowforth and Munt (2008:56-57). They explain that countries such as Fiji, despite political independence, remain neo-colonialist economies because their continued stability and prosperity depend upon tourism from Western countries. This means further development has to take into account these needs, and also helps to maintain previous colonial spatial structures because they are best suited for the needs of the market that remains so important to the country. Whilst this certainly seems to the consensus when it comes to many developing countries that depend on tourism, the focus is perhaps too much just on the economic impacts rather than the potential impacts that neo-colonialism through tourism could have on race, culture and class.

For example, Crick (1994:65) points out a study by Mendis (1981) that suggests the nature of tourism in Sri Lanka has led to a culture of servility that risks creating a generation of butlers. This wipes away cultural traditions and places racial inequalities between the tourists who are ‘served’ and the locals who ‘serve’ them. In order to continue bringing in tourists, these countries have to hide other inequalities and poverty, thereby potentially making these problems worse down the line and tacitly helping to maintain the stereotypes and inequalities between developed countries and the destination region. This again shows that neo-colonial tourism has, at least in the past and possibly still now, occurred. However, what is the overall level of tourism as neo-colonialism, and are there different approaches to tourism than the neo-colonialist approach?

One area that could be described as a response or antidote to neo-colonial tourism is the increasing growth of the independent traveller. These are people who do not tend to visit regular tourist destinations, and do not seek out established tourist structures. These individuals believe they are not contributing to the inequalities that are seen through major tourist development, but in fact such inequalities are often inescapable. As tourists move away from one tourist area to independently travel, new lines of tourism are inevitably formed. Also, by attempting to control or decide exposure to tourist facilities, the traveller is inadvertently contributing to decisions about the development of certain areas. For example, some boatmen and guides in India have licenses that restrict the areas they can go with tourists. This means tourists have greater access and mobility within the destination environment than the local guides – another example of inequality, even when it is merely an effort to potentially allow a less neo-colonial tourist experience. Furthermore, it is this idea of First World tourist determining the agenda to the Third World that contributes to inequalities, no matter the form of tourism being developed (Lozanski, 2008:31-33).

This is perhaps the biggest problem -that the entire debate is only focused on the flow of mobility, education, economics and decision-making in one direction. For example, the tourist situation in Jamaica is often looked at from the negative neo-colonial standpoint, where large foreign hotel chains such as RIU Hotels mean that much of the money generated through tourism leaves Jamaica and ends up back in Western countries (Dei, 2006: 200). Even though this is a valid criticism, it only looks at the situation from one side. It does not take into account the desires and needs of the Jamaican people, and whether or not having these hotels that remove revenue from the economy is any worse than having no industry at all. It is not specifically that revenue is removed, but how this decision is made. If it is developed as part of an indigenously-led tourism model, then it cannot be seen to be totally negative. This is not studied enough in the literature, and the literature does not look at the underlying decision-making processes of countries in terms of tourism development.

For example, it should not be assumed that just because an area is developed to meet tourists’ needs and some elements of traditional culture removed that this is going to have a negative impact on the local population or that it is unwanted. This is only our perception from the Western-centric perspective that it is unwanted. Maintenance of traditional culture is not always desired by locals, and in fact its maintenance may be antithetical to other types of growth. For example, in Beijing, China, many of the traditional hutong streets and residences are being replaced with newer high-rise buildings and commercial buildings. Whilst some bemoan the loss of this culture, it can provide better accommodation and facilities to locals who lived in these old areas, and can provide much-needed jobs and activities for a growing middle class (Kuhn, 2006).

Not all tourism is controlled by international corporations and their influence over the destination region. Local and nationally-controlled tourism initiatives perform differently to neo-colonial tourism, and can potentially empower and help a nation to grow. This is of course shown in developed countries most readily, where locally controlled tourism helps preserve aspects of culture that are deemed locally important, as well as helping regions to develop and move closer together. However, it is less obvious and prevalent in developing countries. More research is required here, outside of the few specific examples that are generally cited to show how local tourism initiatives in developing countries are providing an alternative to the neo-colonial model (Theobald, 1998:69).

The issue is that any adverse effect from tourism or any specifically capitalist market-driven decision in tourism is often seen as neo-colonialism in practice, but in fact the deeper roots of the decision need to be looked at rather than merely the outcomes. Local tourism initiatives may take advantage of capitalist structures for tourism development and specifically cater development to the needs of those from developed countries as well as their own people. It is therefore important to focus on the specific underlying influence of certain power structures on tourist decisions around the world, and this will give a clearer picture as to the true prevalence of neo-colonialism within tourism (Sharma, 2004:66-67).

It must not be seen that changes within a country due to tourism are specifically because of neo-colonialism, or that tourism is merely the yoke that replaces colonialism in many countries. Whilst this is certainly true is some areas, it is also true that change occurs naturally and that tourism, whether influenced by foreign corporations or not, is a lucrative business (Mowforth and Munt, 2008:49).

However, the real test for neo-colonial influence is whether these changes from tourism and the way tourism has developed is down to local needs and wishes, or whether it is purely created by undue influence from large foreign corporations. It could well be argued though that there is a thin line between the inequalities that inevitably emerge from a neo-liberal market due to the economic and political inequalities between the developing and developed world and the direct influence of neo-colonialism on tourism. Both can lead to negative consequences for developing countries, even though the decision-making processes might be quite different (Jamal and Robinson, 2009:154-155).

In conclusion, the literature review shows that tourism has and continues to be a neo-colonial activity in at least some areas of the world, and that this has likely led to negative effects for developing countries. However, there are certainly gaps in the literature in terms of how much of tourism is based on neo-colonial ideals, and no real mention of tourism in developed countries, which contributes a lot to tourism and obviously is generally not seen as neo-colonial in nature. However, even if merely focusing on developing countries, there is a lack of information about the root causes for decisions in these areas, and too much of a focus on negative outcomes that perhaps have more to do with general economic inequalities rather than the prevalence of neo-colonialism in tourism.

The next section will attempt to look at ways in which theoretical frameworks and research methods can be used to fill the gaps in this research and come to a conclusion about the extent to which tourism is a neo-colonial activity.


For this paper, primary research was initially considered as a method, but was dismissed because of the difficulty of access to potential participants. Much of the focus of tourism as neo-colonialism has to be on developing countries, which immediately makes data collection more difficult. Also, in light of potential conflicts of interest between workers within tourism industries in these developing countries and those that employ them makes primary research not viable for this specific topic.

Therefore, secondary research is the most logical design for this paper. This also follows on from the findings of the literature review, which identified a number of gaps in the research as well as areas of research that can be examined in greater detail using various theoretical frameworks. This methodology section will outline the various secondary research methods that will be used, how these fit in with the literature review findings and what they can bring to the discussion on the prevalence of tourism as a neo-colonial activity.

The first important thing to remember is to avoid misreading the extent of neo-colonialism by being stuck within the perspective of neo-colonialism as the entire framework for the research. The study must not merely be conducted from the viewpoint of the First World, and must look at how both roots of decision-making within tourism and outcomes are perceived from the perspective of developing countries. We must also look at the way in which those tourists from developing countries flow into other developing countries and developed countries, as this will help us to understand the bigger picture when it comes to tourism and its activities. In order to avoid making snap judgements about the nature of tourism, the scope of analysis needs to be broadened and a multi-perspective approach adopted. This is of course challenging, and it is difficult to avoid Western-centric thinking at times. However, it is only by using this method that the true motivations for tourism activity around the world can be understood. As Ateljevic, Pritchard and Morgan (2007:24-26) explain, this is known as ‘de-centrising the tourism universe’.

This is important as a methodological basis for the further research, because the literature review identifies the fact that many sources focus only on the problem from a Western perspective, particularly when espousing the problems of neo-colonialism. For example, many of the definitions or examples of neo-colonialism focus on the way in which Western countries such as the US took advantage of countries such as Cuba as their ‘playground’, and that this was detrimental to the country. This does not take into account the perspective of Cuba, and also the other political aspects that led to negative outcomes in the region – reasons that are far wider than merely the Western influence on the tourism industry (Jafari, 2003:122).

However, taking a broader approach does not mean ignoring specific case studies and examples that could shed light on the nature of tourism in developing countries, particularly as it stands now. Whilst it should be left to those in these countries to decide what aspects of their culture are authentic or changeable, it can clearly be seen in areas such as the Caribbean that, economically at least, tourism is still dominated by the predominantly white and Western corporate influence. For example, most hotel managers in the region are still expatriates, with only lower positions being held by locals. This may not be a deliberate example of neo-colonialism as it may genuinely be that this is the best way to make the business successful. However, it is surely an area that needs exploring and greater understanding given to how these unequal structures arise – and if they are indeed only a small problem or part of a larger problem of Western dominance over these industries (Bennett, 2005:15-17).

This is why case study methodology is important in this paper. There are many existing case studies already evident, but as mentioned many of them do not take forward this multi-perspective approach to understand the decision-making within tourism and how this reduces or increases potential inequalities, and whether or not these inequalities are directly part of neo-colonial practice or for other reasons. Tourism is a process, which unless there is an obviously dominant hegemony at work, requires a look at the complex flow of global ideas, people and capital. As global trends change, so case studies must look at the current situation and not merely stick to preconceived notions of inequality (Salazar, in Richards and Munsters, 2010:188).

The case study approach can be an initial entry into understanding some specific examples of tourism activity in various countries, and then different trends or patterns can be identified in order to start forming a more general and overall understanding of the pervasiveness of neo-colonialism within tourism. The case study is useful here as well because it is less important to understand the outcomes of decision-making, because these can be negative or positive no matter the influence. Instead, it is important, through a multi-perspective approach, to understand the root decision-making within tourism around the world, and this will determine whether tourism is merely serving a neo-colonial agenda or whether it is actually a complex global process that is influenced by foreign and local actors in different ways, leading to different outcomes in different areas rather a definite neo-colonial dominance (Beeton, in Ritchie, Burns and Palmer, 2005:37-40).

There are many good examples of potential case studies that can be analysed and used to build up this wider picture that do not necessarily just fit into the traditional model of viewing a tourist area from the position of Western dominance and developing world dependency. For example, Wearing and McDonald (2002:191) look at the role that intermediaries play in isolated rural communities in Papua New Guinea. This is not focusing on the outcomes of tourism, but looking at how different groups interact, and that it is possible through intermediaries for the tourist to be an equal part of a system rather than at its centre. This would suggest the potential for a power shift away from neo-colonialism, even if inequalities and certain negative outcomes may continue and wider issues of economic neo-colonialism continue. This means that tourism does not have to be specifically neo-colonial in nature, even if other inequalities persist for now.

Another good example is a study by Hasty (2002:47) that looks at tourism across Africa and the promotion of Pan-Africanism. This study focuses on tourism in Ghana that is controlled by those within the country and developed to promote more unity within Africa. The problem here is that various different agendas mean that tourist events to promote Pan-Africanism remove discussion of potential differences and contradictions. In this sense it is not merely a problem of neo-colonialism, but wider concerns between a variety of actors and the careful balancing act between culture, politics and economic interests.

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Finally, for tourism as neo-colonial activity and its extent to be understood, current research should be understood in light of the global post-colonial landscape. This fits in with the multi-perspective approach previously mentioned, as it goes beyond the initial attempts to ‘correct’ neo-colonialism that themselves could lead to colonial inequalities. For example, appealing to sustainable tourism as a means to combat neo-colonialism could exacerbate the problem because the agenda and demands for sustainability would be set by the developed countries once again, and did not necessarily take into account the needs to the destination regions. The post-colonial framework goes beyond this to look at the situation from all perspectives rather than the previous ideal of trying to solve the inequalities created from neo-colonialism and colonialism before this (Carrigan, 2010:202-203).

For example, if we look at the case of tourism in the West Indies in a post-colonial sense, we can see many of the previous inequalities that may have been associated with neo-colonialism. These inequalities could be viewed as part of neo-colonialism if viewed from one perspective or not adequately analysed. Rich West Indian minority elites have taken charge of some parts of the tourism industry, and are exhibiting similar dominance and influence to previous neo-colonial influence. However, as the inequalities in this sense shift and neo-colonialism becomes less of an issue, the negative effects on many of the local population remain. Further, these new leaders within the market can move into the international market, and therefore a greater interactive phase of tourism begins where flows of money and influence come from developing countries as well as to developing countries (Laws, Faulkner and Moscado, 1998:231-232).

It is also likely that the definition of neo-colonialism will need to alter as globalisation continues and companies become more global in their outreach and ideals. Multinationals may then be as entwined in the destination region as their previous region of origin, or the multinational may indeed originate in the destination region. This alters how these companies are able to influence tourism, and also how they positively or negatively influence tourism. What was previously a one-way relationship will develop into a complex dialogue between consumers, employees, companies and both local and national governments to determine how tourism develops and where its interests lie (Page and Connell, 2006:467).

It may be that neo-colonialism only exists in its most extreme form in specific types of tourism that are already of an exploitative nature, such as sex tourism. These forms of tourism are unequal because of the very nature of the activity, but these forms of tourism are slowly being removed and reduced in the post-colonial world as all actors within the tourist industry begin to deem them unacceptable. However, it is hard to completely remove these problems due to greater issues of economic inequality outside of the tourist industry (Bauer and Holowinska, 2009:6).

Overall, the approach to the research needs to be multi-perspective, focused on a wide variety of case studies in order to build up a picture of the current status of tourism. Most importantly, it needs to be set within the post-colonial context and the questions to be answered determined by the subjects rather than the researcher. This will give a view of tourism as neo-colonialism that is not already mired in neo-colonialist thought (Belsky, in Phillimore and Goodson, 2004:286).

The discussion section of the dissertation will use these methods to analyse the topic, and then the following conclusion section will summarise these findings and further recommendations for research.


In conclusion, the main findings in this paper are:

There is still a clear economic imbalance between the First World and Third World, which is caused by a variety of factors including First World hegemony and the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism.

The Western, developed nations still dominate the tourist market, mainly due to their economic superiority. Cultural changes are less of an issue than they were during the colonial era, but economic dominance can still undermine destination cultures. Developing countries still need the money in the form of investment to build up tourist markets, and this allows Western countries to dictate terms, including the flow of money back to developed countries through multinational companies and the use of expatriate staff over local staff. This is not simply a matter for tourism however, and is a problem in almost all economic sectors. In tourism the problem is no worse, and in fact in many ways it is more of a closed system. The benefits of tourism often go to Western countries, but in general these are the countries that fuel demand. Sometimes this neo-colonialism shows itself within the tourist industry, leading to inequalities and negative outcomes for developing countries.

Not all negative outcomes within tourism are due to neo-colonialist factors, and not all neo-colonialist factors within tourism lead to negative outcomes, particularly when looked upon from national, local and personal levels.

Tourism as neo-colonialism does keep developing countries dependent on developed countries, particularly if tourism is a large part of their GDP. However, not all factors should be considered negative, because it is not just tourism that keeps developing countries dependent on developed countries. Overall economic and political inequalities also contribute, as do internal problems within developing countries such as poor management, lack of resources, wars and political instabilities. Tourism, even when dominated by foreign companies, does provide much-needed jobs that may not otherwise be available, and can help to maintain political stability in countries because of the needed revenues from tourism.

Also, not all tourism that is locally influenced is positive. It can still be exploitative between different regions or ethnic groups, and can do as much damage to culture and the environment as neo-colonial tourism.

Much of the research is too focused on outcomes and the potential ways to ‘solve’ neo-colonialist problems within tourism.

Outcomes are not the main focus here. The focus should be on the initial decision-making process, because this is where influence and inequalities are most keenly felt. Currently, the research that condemns neo-colonialism only further imbeds it because it is too Western-centric and does not understand the differences between what might reverse foreign influence and what is actually wanted and accepted by the destination countries.

Instead, a post-colonial, multi-perspective approach shows that whilst neo-colonialism in tourism still persists, global flows of money and information are changing, and with it so is tourism.

The world has changed in the last fifteen years or more with the rapid development of technology and the internet. This has globalised society to some extent and has allowed information flows to go in different directions for the first time. For instance, the Chinese are a growing influence on world tourism, both in terms of China as a destination and its growing wealthy class as tourists travelling around the world. These sorts of developments therefore need to be looked at from different perspectives, and not just from the previously established perspective of tourism as a neo-colonialist activity. Whilst economic inequalities allow developed-country dominance to continue, this does not mean that tourism flows are not altering or that First-World businesses that are involved in other countries are unwelcome or having a negative impact.

Tourism, whilst still showing the inequalities within the rest of society, is slowing beginning to move away from neo-colonial practices.

Global inequalities will continue, but tourism is seeing some change. As citizens from developed countries become more aware of other cultures their demands for tourism change. Also, as developing countries continue to change and develop and their cultures alter, their own capabilities and needs change. The flow of money and information is no longer one-way, and this means that not only will developing countries have a say in their own tourism markets, but they will become the future patrons of other tourist markets in both developed and developing countries. This will all move tourism further away from being a solely neo-colonial practice.

In relation to conclusion 3, further research should move away from outcomes-based examinations of the tourist industry when looking at influences on tourism, and instead focus on decision-based analyses. It is in the area of decision-making that influence and inequalities most likely come out. If negative or positive outcomes arise from these decisions is certainly important, but if the decision is not heavily influenced by multinational corporations under the guise of neo-colonialism, then regardless of the outcomes these tourist activities cannot be said to be neo-colonialist. Furthermore, analyses that focus on the roots of decision-making will give a better understanding of how tourist industries develop and change over time in the modern global society.

Based upon conclusion 4, further research should move away from the neo-colonial base as the start for analysis. Globalisation and the rise of larger developing countries such as China have created a truly post-colonial landscape where traditional measures of colonialism and neo-colonialism are less useful. Whilst rich-poor and 1st/3rd world inequalities still predominate, flows of tourism, influence and money are changing and becoming more complex. Merely trying to solve the previous neo-colonialist bias of tourism is not enough, because any analysis that starts on this basis will not take into account the status of the modern global society and the inevitable cultural changes in developing countries. It is important to conduct research from many perspectives, rather than the futile effort of trying to solve neo-colonialism by starting from a Western-centric perspective that is decidedly neo-colonialist in nature because it does not take into account the actual views and needs of those who supposedly need ‘saving’ from the dominance of Western society. We should not assume that they need saving, or that indeed if they do that we can be the ones to bring about this salvation.

Finally, based on conclusion 5, it is important for further research to conduct more in-depth studies of the global tourist market, and the fl


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