Can Development Kill Tourism???

Can Development Kill Tourism

I’ve now visited Amantani Island, on Peru’s side of Lake Titicaca, on five different occasions.  My first visit was nearly a year ago, but as I stand here today on the island I am staggered by the changes that have taken place.  The first time I visited, most of the houses we’re fairly basic; they were constructed with open face mud brick.  The second levels of the houses were mostly held together by creaking planks of plywood, and the rooms were floored with the same basic plywood.  Today as I step into the house where I will be staying for the night and look around to see the concrete deck and the properly tiled bathroom complete with a urinal, I realize that things are changing, and they are changing quickly.

As a guest of honour to the island this time I was invited to stay at the house of the president of tourism.  As we sat down to bowls of traditional potato and quinoa soup he systematically laid out the ideas he had on how he plans on making life on the island more comfortable for visiting tourists.  They’ve put in good windows, locks on the doors, proper mattresses, gas powered heat, and he’s even in the process of putting up a satellite dish so that visitors can watch the World Cup in June.  I really didn’t have the heart to tell him that tourists are spending the night on the island because they are looking for comfort, they are spending the night on the island to try to gain an appreciation for how they live.  I think that must be a concept that would be hard for them to understand.  And it got me thinking, is it possible that this island develops because of tourism; and as a result the development tourism could collapse?  It seems that the island has found itself holding tightly to the double edged sword of tourism, and they have no idea.

People from the “developed” world love visiting “under-developed” communities from Mongolia to Malawi.  People love seeing the strong cultures, the means of survival, and, I believe, that many people love seeing how people can live with very little in terms of material goods.  It really is a bit of a sad, maybe even embarrassing thought, if you think about it.  People claim they visit poor districts to gain a better appreciation for what they themselves have, but it leaves me at times wondering if it’s more of a means of re-stating their socio-economic pride; some have even argued that this type of tourism acts in a way as neo-colonialism.

As I sat and watched a man making a modern looking kitchen cabinet on his high powered band-saw, I started to worry.  How many people in the world do cultural family home stays in modern houses?  If they develop people will only start to search for another, less developed, community to stay in, right?  Could something that has been so powerful in helping maintain their culture begin to start driving their culture into the ground?  But who are we to tell people that they shouldn’t develop, even if it could be for their economic benefit?  From here, I will leave this article open for comments… because I have no answers and would love to hear opinions.  I want to hear about your experiences in similar situations as well.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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13 Comments

  1. I would be curious to know what spurred the president of tourism to make these changes. Is he perhaps responding to criticism of his island as a tourist destination from tour directors who promise to bring more traffic when improvements are made?

    Maybe last year’s tourists visited looking to experience life as a native, but maybe more tourists with more money will visit when they can look their valuables in their room while they explore the local culture.

    I do not believe local officials are spending resources to improve their facilities without an expectation of recouping their investment, nor would I presume they are too ignorant to do the math.

    Yes, each year it becomes harder to find people living as their predecessors did, but these are not zoo creatures with an obligation to satisfy our curiosity by living archaically. These are human beings with the same rights to improve their lives as everyone else in the world. It is my hope they do it quickly so they can abolish the outsider’s opinion that “they have no idea.”

    I think of the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Hawaii where tourists can visit and see examples of how the natives on many different island chains once lived. You see their crafts, foods, dances, shelters, clothing (imagine tapa cloth fabrics that take days or weeks to create but will disintegrate in the rain.) I spent a day with a guide from Tonga. She was at the time a university student working at PCC for a semester towards her tuition. She dressed in native costume and explained her culture heritage to us. Personally, I consider my experience far more valuable than any that would have allowed me to leave thinking I was superior to her and knew better about what was best for her people.

    Perhaps I do not understand because I am not familiar with a tourist spot that has stopped being a tourist spot due to better facilities.

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    • Thanks for your comments Tammi…

      Your comments are on target. But the reality is that if this island becomes ‘modern’ people will stop spending the night… The people on the island do a tremendous job of displaying their culture in terms of their art, their clothing, their music and even their language. But the truth of the matter is, regardless of how much we want to believe that people do not have these thoughts in their heads, people like going to visit places that do not have wealth or modern amenities.
      As someone directly immersed in the tourism industry as a part of my employment, I can tell you that 90% of the visitors to this island are responsible or adventure tour groups. These tour groups sustain the economic growth of the island. ALSO, I know that if these house get built to a standard that is higher than expected, many of these tour operators will begin to head elsewhere is search of something more ‘authentic.’ As sad as it is… I also have heard whispers amongst some tour operators saying they are already seeking out different communities to visit.

      Another thing that needs mentioning here is that Amantani Island has only really been a tourist destination over the past decade, more or less… This is a tourist attraction for the sole reason that tourists spend the night to experience the local culture. If there are tv’s in the bedrooms, ovens in the kitchens, and cars driving around the island, I can assure you that the amount of tourists might not drop to nothing… but it will take a serious hit.

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  2. There is a constant ebb and flow of tourism to areas like this. Sooner or later they become less desired due to over development and too much tourism. Tourists then desert the area for less out of the way places and then the sight that was abandoned returns to its out of the way status. Interesting article.

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  3. You have given me alot to ponder. Many thoughts are circling my mind with images of Hawaii, Greek Island, New Zealand, Ireland, etc.. trying to make sense of this tourism and development issue. Of course I too do not have any answers or solutions. However I do think that the people that are affected by inforced or voluntary changes, whatever they are, will have a variety of perspectives, and responses to how this will affect them.
    I see your concern for these people and their way of life and I am glad they have had the honour to meet you, and you them. Both will now walk differently I suspect.

    One of my concerns for all our brother’s and sister’s on this earth is those who push their ideas and practises on others due to selfish & greedy domination…..sounds like colonialism …and where the hell am I going from here… who knows?

    Your insightful article has me thinking, and thinking and thinking. I consider it a gift. Thanks.

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  4. Its an interesting situation you have come across but undoubtedly one that is happening in developing countries all over the world. I think the point is just that, these destinations are ‘developing’ which is the key attractions, and tourism is often the primary means of gaining that economic development. I think its important that the development occurs in a sustainable way, so when the destination is no longer the latest trend, it still has a viable economy that can support itself through other means when the tourists numbers aren’t so high. How to get there is the challenge!

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  5. First of all I want to say that the people in these villages where you like to see how others manage with less than you probably welcome development as a way of making their lives easier and their daily labour less, so get over the romance of that!
    Also, the question is as a traveler are WE causing unrealistic and over the top development simply because we are going to these places?
    As an old hippie who has seen paradise beaches and enchanting villages be overtaken by the varying waves of tourism for a genaration now, i see how tourists are the only ones complaining about what they see as develpoment and the locals see as progress.
    Its not for you to judge what the locals do in any country but to look at yourself and your travel tikanga….You always need to be aware of your impact as a traveler on the level of the ecology, the local economy and the socio political aspect.
    Home stays are a bi part of eco travel and work well in isolated ares of India where I am based, but there are things to check for if you use these places all the same such as water supply and waste disposal, otherwise its a great way for locals to make an income, lessen the impact of the tourist who is often watseful of resources and allows for some lovely meetings between cultures which is why we travel.
    So let the villages develop to the point of having all the mod cons of your life because that is their right
    your ight is to keep on rolling baby!

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  6. First of all I want to say that the people in these villages where you like to see how others manage with less than you probably welcome development as a way of making their lives easier and their daily labour less, so get over the romance of that!
    Also, the question is as a traveler are WE causing unrealistic and over the top development simply because we are going to these places?
    As an old hippie who has seen paradise beaches and enchanting villages be overtaken by the varying waves of tourism for a genaration now, i see how tourists are the only ones complaining about what they see as develpoment and the locals see as progress.
    Its not for you to judge what the locals do in any country but to look at yourself and your travel tikanga….You always need to be aware of your impact as a traveler on the level of the ecology, the local economy and the socio political aspect.
    Home stays are a bi part of eco travel and work well in isolated ares of India where I am based, but there are things to check for if you use these places all the same such as water supply and waste disposal, otherwise its a great way for locals to make an income, lessen the impact of the tourist who is often watseful of resources and allows for some lovely meetings between cultures which is why we travel.
    So let the villages develop to the point of having all the mod cons of your life because that is their right
    your ight is to keep on rolling baby

    Post a Reply
  7. I don’t think tourists necessarily ‘abandon’ destinations that have become developed. It just attracts a different type or traveler. I choose destination that most of my western friends shake their heads at in fear and amazement. I, however, wouldn’t consider their perfect destinations. When Amantani Island gets wi-fi and Starbucks, you and I won’t go. The others will tho.
    On the upside, this does provide a great income source for locals, many of them in great need of a few of our dollars. It’s impossible to even think that these people are doing wrong with development. They need our dollars. Pretty tough to expect them to cook over a wood fire so we can have an “authentic” experience. What’s authentic? All over the world there are “authentic” home-stays where you sleep on a straw mat and boil tea water on an open fire. Then once you’re settled, they go to their own home, lay on their mattress and watch TV.

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  8. I’ve read a lot recently about tourism destroying the authenticity of particular places—particularly from Rolf Potts.

    I think tourism is bound to change local cultures, but it shouldn’t be viewed negatively. The world is constantly changing and even if tourism affects a region, the trend is likely to change again, affecting the very same region again.

    Change is good. And even if it isn’t, it’s bound to change again.

    I’m more curious why the President of Tourism invited you to dinner!

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  9. Interesting piece. Echoing many of the other comments, I think this type of economic development is bound to happen because the unfortunately reality is that while most of us here who are in the travel world don’t want all this fluff and faff, your average John Smith does want to watch his television after a day out on the beach.

    It’s a crying shame, for sure, and I wish we could come up with a better balance for said things. It’s a long standing issue and one not going away anytime soon – especially when the wealth generated from these tourism projects is rarely distributed equally.

    Two cents.

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  10. Spoken like a true traveling snob.

    Don’t worry, maybe you and others of your ilk won’t visit those “overdeveloped” places when the locals put in window screens and satellite dishes, but plenty of other people will. Which is good, because the bottom line is, what for you is a rustic holiday in an exotic destination, for those who live there the tourist buck is frequently the only viable way to make a decent living.

    Why should the locals deny themselves basic modern conveniences? So people like you would visit them? Oh puhleeze! What a typically selfish, western approach to “authentic” travel.

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    • Anna, I think that you are missing the point of this post.
      I agree with you 100%, and that’s exactly my point.
      Many travelers seek out these destinations as a means of proving their economic worth. Many travelers do not have the right intentions.
      For me, it’s not about that at all… I am very proud to see these people develop, and I hope they manage to develop sustainably.
      If you read my last post on the island you would understand my true view on how tourism is working on the island. Have a read: https://www.brendansadventures.com/amantani-island-can-tourism-enhance-culture/
      And I think if you read closer into the article it points out the obvious development questions such as, who are we to deny them of development for our selfish benefits.
      And look, I promise you I will always come back to visit this island for its hospitality… The subject in question isn’t me. Don’t forget that. The subject is those people who travel for shock value, as you put them, “the traveling snob.” They won’t come back to this island if it develops, and then what next for the island.
      The people on the island look at tourism as its saviour, but the real issue comes down to how they respond if and when tourism crashes there…

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  11. Yes, please tell us how you got invited to the President of Tourism dinner table!

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