Tag Archives: Tourism

Sustainability is everything–and nothing

November 2012.  I’m at a community meeting in Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico.  It’s a gathering that includes members of the community of Cabo Pulmo, scientists, economists, planners, representatives from national and international NGOs, residents from surrounding communities, and development experts.  The subject: the future of Cabo Pulmo and the East Cape.  The problem: mass tourism development is slowly encroaching on the region.  While the East Cape remains relatively undeveloped at present, this won’t last for long.  Development is coming.

Only a few months before, Cabo Pulmo and its allies celebrated when “Cabo Cortes,” a massive tourism development project that was proposed for the region, was cancelled by former president Felipe Calderon (on national TV no less).  Calderon cited environmental concerns as one of the primary reasons why he 86-ed the project (and left the presidency with a nice “green” feather in his cap to boot).  The project plans for Cabo Cortes included approximately 30,000 rooms, a marina, residential units, multiple hotels, a separate community for workers, and multiple golf courses.  It was, effectively, a plan to build a new tourism city in a region where the largest population is approximately 5,000 people.  Cabo Cortes was the epitome of the kind of development that has dominated in Mexico for decades: big, fast, and profitable, with a long tail of problems that nobody wants to deal with over the long haul.  Places like Cancun and Los Cabos exemplify this type of rapid, mass-tourism development that looks wonderful from the national level and often disastrous at the local community level (see, for example, M. Bianet Castellanos’s book Return to Servitude). Continue reading

The End is Nigh. Start blogging.

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Clare A. Sammells.

My thanks to the editors of Savage Minds for allowing me to guest blog this month. Hopefully I will not be among the last of Savage Mind’s guests, given that the End of the World is nigh.

You hadn’t heard? On or around Dec 21, 2012, the Maya Long Count will mark the end of a 5125 year cycle. Will this be a mere a calendrical turn, no more inherently eventful that the transition from Dec 31, 2012 to Jan 1, 2013? Will this be a moment of astronomical alignments, fiery conflagrations, and social upheavals? Or will there be a shift in human consciousness, an opportunity for the prepared to improve their lives and achieve enlightenment? Continue reading

Value, social conflict, and tourism

One of the underlying questions that I am looking at in my research at is how conflicts in tourism development can be understood by using “value” as a theoretical diving board.  Yes, I mean value in the economic sense.  But I also mean value in the sense that Clyde Kluckhohn sought to explore.  This is value in the moral, political, and/or cultural sense, which is of course somewhat different from the monetary-based understanding of value that might spring to mind when you hear the word.  Value can be about currency, yes, but there’s more to it.

Value, ultimately, refers to the ways in which we choose to represent the importance or meaning of a particular idea, object, action, or place.  Something can be valuable because of its relative standing within a massive global financial system, but it can also be valuable in many other senses as well.  Both David Graeber (in Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value) and Julia Elyachar (Markets of Dispossession) explored these different forms of valuation, and made it clear that it’s important to see how the relate with one another.

Another issue that I am looking at is how this question of value relates to geographic space.  This sounds all very abstract and all, but it’s not as abstract as it seems.  The allure, prestige, or value of tourism is fundamentally geographic and spatial in many ways.  As Michael Clancy pointed out in his 2001 book “Exporting Paradise,” exclusive resorts are predicated on the idea of allowing some people in and keeping others out.  These separated or segregated spaces are maintained through a variety of measures, some more explicit than others.  Some resorts have massive walls and guarded entrances, while others are surrounded by miles of barbed wire fences.  Others choose more subtle measures.

So these are a couple of issues that I am looking into during my fieldwork.  Although right now I am just in the beginning of all of this, and there are interesting leads in all directions.  Miles and miles of fences.  Disputes over land.  Completely different ideas about what an ideal tourism destination should look like.  For some, a place is more and more valuable as it gets “developed” with hotels, paved roads, golf courses, and so on.  For others, it is the complete opposite–a place loses its intrinsic, unique value as it becomes a part of a wider, commodifiied tourism network.

Anyway, these are just a few of the starting points, and I thought it might be a good idea to share some of where I am coming from, since I will be writing about little bits and pieces of this over the upcoming year.  Here’s a short selection about value from a working paper that I wrote for the Open Anthropology Cooperative (click here to read the whole thing).  Let me know what you think (for all references and footnotes, check out the paper on the OAC page).  Since I am in the early stages of fieldwork, and looking into these issues about tourism, social conflict, value, space, and so on, I know that things will inevitably lead in some pretty unpredictable directions.  That’s what empirical research is all about.  But it’s good to take account of starting points and see where they end up.  Anyway, enough of the small talk.  Here’s the selection that explores some of my readings of the value question: Continue reading

Making tourist destinations: To serve society?

Places all around the world are being transformed, restructured, and reinvented to appeal to the international tourism market. Developers, politicians, bankers, investors, hoteliers, and entrepreneurs contribute to reformulating places according to the wants, needs, expectations, desires, and hopes of a global mass of travelers who have the time (and money) to hop scotch around the planet in search of experiences.  The question, though, is this: Who benefits from all these changes?  Do these new tourist places really only benefit powerful politicians, developers, and investors? Or do they serve society* in some larger sense? Continue reading

The lives (and meanings) of tourist spaces

I have always been pretty fascinated by the life histories of tourism destinations.  Thinking about touristic spaces in a kind of archaeological sense–that is, over greater periods of time–is endlessly fascinating.  I often wonder about the future of places like Las Vegas, Cancun, and Nakheel, especially since many international organizations (like the UNWTO) promote tourism development as a sustainable, surefire solution for socio-economic development.  What will Vegas–or Cancun–look like in 100 years?  What purpose will these places serve, and how sustainable will they actually be in the long run?

Many countries around the world continue to promote and finance ever more tourism development, in hopes that these investments will create long-lasting social and economic benefits.  At least, that’s how the narrative goes.  But what kinds of social spaces and places are being created under the guise of tourism, and what futures do these places face?  What are the lasting social, political, and economic effects of these spaces?  For a little insight, I am going to discuss a few tourist destinations that I have read about recently: Elmina, Ghana, Prora, Germany, and finally Acapulco, Mexico. Continue reading