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.


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