Cuba's Private Sector
A couple of days after the closing of the Cuban border, 16,000 private workers, upon sensing danger, requested the labor ministry suspend their licenses so they could avoid paying taxes. That number rose to 119,000, 19% of the private workforce, in a few more days and threatened to annihilate the Cuban economy. The implementation of the global travel restrictions had a devasting impact on the country’s tourism sector, which is the second-largest revenue generator for the island nation. As a result, selective private businesses took a massive hit and the government lost a crucial foundation for foreign exchange. By December 2020, Cuban tourism had fallen by 16.5%, followed by an 11% drop in the country’s GDP. Worried by the lingering economic collapse, the government began opening Cuba’s private sector, providing Cubans with self-employment opportunities and allowing them to operate businesses in added sectors.

What Did the Government Do?

Previously, the communist-led government allowed Cubans to participate in merely 127 officially approved private sector activities. Some of the legalized activities included working as a barber, working in gastronomy or transportation or renting rooms to tourists. To expand the private sector, the government eliminated the previous list of 127 activities. Instead, it created a new list of 124 jobs prohibited in the private sector. The rest of the 2,000 legal activities, which the government recognized, will be open to Cubans. In the past, state-owned businesses have always dominated the Cuban economy. However, the private sector has managed to make a mark over recent years. Presently, 635,000 people occupy the private sector, which is roughly 14% of the Cuban workforce. The introduction of the long-awaited economic reform might increase diversification in the private sector and could spur economic growth for Cuba.

The Effects on Cuba and its People

The economic reform will allow Cubans to partake in additional economic activities. It will help eradicate bureaucracy in the governmental arrangements, as the Cubans will no longer have to manipulate their business documentations to fall under the list of legalized activities. Now, they only have to confirm that they are not running any business from the list of prohibited activities.

Further, the liberalization of the private sector will bring about a change in the career patterns of Cubans. Previously, apart from the underpaid state-run jobs, the only other viable option for Cubans were low-skilled jobs. Now, Cubans will have countless other opportunities in technical fields like engineering and economics. Still, professional fields like medicine, law and teaching could open to state employees only. Additionally, the opening of the private sector will increase employment opportunities, which will rapidly develop the private sector. Private business owners currently make up 13% of Cuba’s workforce. This number will spike due to the relaxation of the private sector.

The Future of Cuba’s Economy

Ricardo Torres, a pro-reform economist at the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, stated that the opening up of Cuba’s private sector will diversify jobs and boost the GDP. This, in turn, triggered a shift in economic arrangements in Cuba. But the chances of the private sector dominating the economy soon are bleak, mainly due to the political settings of Cuba. Therefore, expectations have determined that state-owned businesses will direct the economy. Rather than rushing into free-market forces, the Cuban government must seek inspiration from other countries and establish a solid institutional framework. Several European states, the U.S., Japan and other East Asian countries have proved that by focusing on macro and microeconomic policies and planning and investing in citizens, an economic upliftment should be possible.

Cuba’s Relationship with the US

The economy was booming under the Barack Obama Administration. Things, however, took a turn when former President Donald Trump overturned Obama’s agreement to ease travel restrictions on Cuba. Donald Trump also ended the U.S. cruise travel to Cuba, disallowed many Cuban Americans to send remittances back home, pressured a U.S.-run hotel out of Cuba, forced countries not to hire Cuban doctors and nurses during the pandemic and re-enlisted Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor state terrorism. Cuban businesses suffered a great deal due to this. The labor reform could not have been timelier for the Cuban government as it could present a sturdy case for amendments in the U.S. policy.

One of Obama’s main objectives was to expand the private sector in Cuba. Therefore, on the back of the opening of the private sector and the appointment of Joe Biden as President, the Cuban government can look to persuade the U.S. to consider a policy reform. Although Cuban had to wait a long time for labor reform, it is crucial to mend unemployment rates, boost the GDP and restore Cuba’s unsteady economy through Cuba’s private sector.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

Housing Crisis in VeniceVenice’s resident population is drastically shrinking, from around 175,000 people within its boundaries after World War II to about 50,000 today. Despite this small number, the high cost of housing and the lucrativeness of the tourism industry leads to many homeowners turning properties into short-term tourist rentals. Estimates indicate that 25 million people visit Venice every year and 14 million of those people only stay for a day. This precarious economy reliant on tourism increasingly proves itself to be unsustainable due to high housing costs relative to resident income. Fortunately, Nicola Ussardi, the co-founder of Social Assembly for the House (ASC) is trying to address the housing crisis in Venice.

The Housing Crisis in Venice

In a nutshell, Venice has become the “world capital” of tourism which has predictably led to overtourism — a term the World Tourism Organization uses to describe “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way.” To put this into perspective, more than 20 million tourists visit Venice per year but loses about 1,000 residents in the same span of time. The remaining citizens face tough financial situations with regard to housing costs. Property owners have the option to keep their buildings affordable for locals or transform their properties into short-term rentals and make a potential windfall profit.

More than 8,000 Airbnb apartments in the city point to a frustrating reality of the housing crisis in Venice that Ussardi’s grassroots movement concerns itself with. For ages, Venice has relied on mass tourism for the overall well-being of the country but it is increasingly obvious that it also has a negative impact on citizens. Ussardi’s plan to provide housing circumvents traditional methods of applying for and receiving public housing. Ussardi says that many public housing properties have fallen into disrepair. Even abandoned convents become hotels instead of public housing.

Assembly for the House (ASC)

Assembly for the House is a housing community that focuses on finding homes for Venetians who have to leave their residences due to the rising cost of rent. People who lose their homes can count on ASC to locate uninhabited, abandoned or dilapidated spaces, repair them for occupancy and move them in. ASC also works with residents to block evictions.

In essence, ASC not only lobbies the government for fairer housing practices but also finds abandoned homes for people to occupy. This applies a communal face to the crisis in a kind, albeit unconventional approach to ensuring shelter for the people of Venice.

How Assembly for the House Helps

Assembly for the House hosts 150 people in Cannaregio and Giudecca, two working-class neighborhoods in Venice. Emanuela Lanzarin is a social services assessor for the region and plainly admits that while ASC’s actions are illegal, there are also not enough public houses to meet demand. Shockingly, 2011 is the last time a Venetian received a public apartment.

For people like Simonetta Boni and Davide de Polo, two Venice residents who lost their homes after steep rent increases and ineffective social services, ASC provided housing spaces at a crucial time. De Polo said, “We [occupiers] are the alternative to the death of Venice.” The Assembly for the House is helping facilitate that alternative.

This uncommon approach from a nonprofit focused on ending the housing crisis in Venice is providing necessary housing assistance to citizens who otherwise would not have a roof over their heads. Ussardi is an inspiring example of a citizen taking action to solve a crisis that the government has overlooked.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Tourism-Economies
Everyone loves a good vacation or at least it is easy to think that while walking on a white-sand beach and sipping a Mai Tai. The truth lurking behind the tranquility of remote island temples and the prestige of historical landmarks is that tourist economies are not all sunshine and smooth sailing. With off-seasons that take up a large portion of the year and uncertain demand, tourism-economies may be more vulnerable to pitfalls than industrial or agriculture-based economies. The following countries exemplify the great promise and instability of tourism-economies.

Indonesia

Tourism in Indonesia is one of the main draws for foreign currency. In 2018, the number of people coming in from outside of Indonesia rose 12.6% to about 15.8 million. One of the biggest draws in tourism is culture. Countries that do well in tourism carry significant cultural influence in the area or have notable landmarks. For example, the world fetes Italy for its long history, art and cuisine. Meanwhile, statistics have shown that Indonesia underperforms in this sector compared to other countries in the region. Singapore, for example, draws in about 19 million people per year.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh is rapidly developing and this is an overall plus for the economy. However, it could bring a slight hiccup in the years to come. The nation’s main source of income, its textile industry, faces an imminent, irreversible decline with its graduation in development stages. Tourism could be Bangladesh’s biggest hope, with the industry contributing 10.4% to the global GDP. However, tourism only comprised 4.4% of Bangladesh’s GDP as of 2018, painting a bleak picture for the future of tourism. The country has been performing second to least successfully concerning popular destinations in Asia.

What might help is how well South Asia has been performing in tourism. Nations that have performed well in this area, like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, drew in 86% of the region’s total earnings in 2018 – a high Bangladesh was able to ride on the coattails of, as it attempted to market itself as a more desirable tourist destination. In recent years, Southeast and Southern Asia have demonstrated success in tourism, with respective 8% and 10% rates of growth.

One factor that greatly affects tourism is the visa facilities in a country. If tourists find the entry process to be too much of a hassle, they may be less inclined to vacation there. In India, a top-performing country in tourism, most of the world can easily obtain an e-Visa. In Bangladesh, however, in order for a person to gain a visa, many of their neighbors need to secure a visa beforehand. This further hampers an already struggling tourism industry.

Nigeria

Some have long thought of Nigeria as having great tourism potential, although obstacles in economic development stand in the way of meeting this full potential. Countries also have accommodation rates to take into account with tourism economies. Too steep a price may turn travelers off while not charging enough will undercut the profit potential of having a tourism economy to begin with. Since not all currencies convert equally, tourism-economies do well when they draw tourists from places with currencies that are more valuable to them. For example, Nigeria has this advantage over the U.S., with $1 being equal to 381.25 Nigerian Nairas. The average hotel rate in the U.S. was $131.21 per night as of 2019, while in Nigeria, the daily rate averaged anywhere in-between the equivalent of $27 and $128.

Relative Problems

Where tourism differs from other income-generating industries is that demand is less certain. If there is a use for a product, then a demand exists, and if there is a demand, then a country can profit by supplying for that demand. However, with tourism-economies, the “use” that creates demand is fickle, and as such, the success of the country “filling the supply” is less secure.

When the culture cannot compete, visas are too difficult to secure and prices just are not right, it does not just mean that the economy slows. People working in tourism potentially cannot generate an income, even if they can technically perform their jobs correctly. Travel trends and off seasons are out of the control of the low-to-middle income people working in the industry. For those already in a precarious financial situation, finding financial growth and stability in a tourism economy is incredibly difficult. In the past year, the global COVID-19 pandemic has also created further problems for the tourism industry.

Barefoot College International

With COVID-19, travel restrictions and business shutdowns, the tourism industry is all but entirely gone in most countries. As the earning potential of a tourism economy is insecure, some organizations strive to help populations attain more secure means of income. Barefoot College operates in more than 90 countries and is expanding across Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Barefoot College has a variety of boots-on-the-ground efforts to help impoverished communities, including clean water and environmentally conscious health initiatives. It also has a strong education program that provides academic and practical skills that can help people increase their earning potential and make it easier for them to get jobs. Its focus is on digital education so that its work is accessible for people anywhere in the world.

After 40 years, 75,000 children have received an education, 65% of whom have been girls. From here, 40% of the children educated through Barefoot College have been able to enter their country’s mainstream education system. Of those educated through Barefoot College, 30% went on to become employed at jobs that required literacy. After graduating, 85% of those considering migrating decided to stay in their village to use their acquired knowledge and skills there.

While tourism-economies can be very profitable, changing factors such as a global pandemic cause many of these economies to be unstable. Organizations like Barefoot College help provide much-needed stability to tourism-economies. Moving forward, it is essential that more organizations work to find long-term economic solutions for countries that rely heavily on the tourism industry to help ensure a stable economic future.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Tourism in Latin America ReducesLatin America is a vast region with diverse weather, geography, culture and foods. Each year, millions of tourists flock to Latin America to enjoy its natural beauty. A vacation haven, tourism in Latin America is a driving force for economic development in the region. Furthermore, tourism in Latin America reduces poverty.

Tourism in Latin America

From the beaches of Cuba to the Andes mountains in Peru, any traveler can find a destination of their preference. The most visited countries in Latin America are Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. According to the World Bank, more than 113 million tourists traveled to Latin America in 2018, bringing $103 billion worth of revenue. Tourism in Latin America has created more than 15 million jobs, which accounts for 7.6% of all employment. Furthermore, international tourism contributes roughly $348 billion to the GDP of the countries in the region.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Central America saw a 7.3% growth in its tourism sector, the biggest subregional growth in Latin America. Moreover, the country of Costa Rica has attracted millions of international visitors thanks to its ecotourism. Costa Rica is a leader in preserving its environment while attracting millions to come and enjoy its natural beauty. Beaches, rainforests, volcanoes and wildlife attract tourists which contributes to the economic development of the nation. A study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences correlates ecotourism with improving the lives of Costa Ricans. The study found those living near protected areas and parks saw a 16% reduction in poverty. Furthermore, tourism in the country accounts for 5% of the GDP.

Poverty Reduction in the Dominican Republic

Punta Cana is the dream destination for many, with captivating views of the ocean and exciting nightlife, the beach town welcomes 60% of all Dominican Republic’s tourists. Moreover, the country has benefited more from international tourism than any other Latin American nation. The tourism industry contributes to 9.5% of the island nation’s GDP. Even though poverty is still an issue for the country, extreme poverty decreased to 1.6% of the population in 2018. Furthermore, malnourishment has also decreased and life expectancy has increased. Tourism has steadily contributed to the well-being of Dominicans.

COVID-19 and Mexico

Mexico’s tourism is very important for its economy. Mexico is dependent on its tourism sector since it accounts for 16.1% of its GDP and employs nearly nine million people. Destinations such as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo are very popular for tourists to visit. Furthermore, Mexico’s tourism was thriving until the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to the country. The pandemic brought a halt to tourism and hurt the economy of Mexico. Nonetheless, Mexico still manages to keep the industry alive. Mexico began to limit hotel and restaurant capacity to curtail the virus. Mexico is also working with the CDC to ensure U.S. travelers going back to the United States are returning uninfected. Even though tourism has decreased because of the pandemic, flights to the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun and Tulum are located, were averaging 460 air arrivals compared to an average of 500 pre-pandemic.

Tourism and the Future

Tourism in Latin America has positively impacted many lives across the region. The U.N. acknowledges that tourism is a way for a developing country to economically sustain itself. Moreover, tourism in Latin America reduces poverty. Challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic put a setback to the growing tourism sector. Regardless, Latin America has an abundance of beauty and adventure, thus ensuring tourism will be kept alive once the pandemic is over.

– Andy Calderon Lanza
Photo: Flickr

Madagascar’s PovertyMadagascar, an island country located in the Indian Ocean, is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, with 75% of its population living in poverty in 2019. Due to the country’s insufficient infrastructure, isolated communities and history of political instability, the economy of Madagascar has long been incapacitated and heavily dependent on foreign aid to meet the basic needs of its people, with food being the most urgent. In recent times, Madagascar’s poverty has been further impacted by more crises amid the country’s continued search for economic stability.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Madagascar’s economy has drastically worsened and so has Madagascar’s poverty as a result. With an already frail economic climate before COVID-19, the pandemic has negatively affected both the rural and urban areas of Madagascar, as precautionary measures enforced by the government are obstructing the flow of food and job opportunities, further stifling the already impoverished. Movement restrictions, one of many precautionary measures being enforced by the government, have cornered the most poverty-susceptible households to stay in place versus finding labor opportunities through seasonally migrating. Without the freedom to move about and access markets, these rural households are hard-pressed to find food and urban households are feeling the economic effects of this as well.

Drought in Madagascar

About 1.6 million people in southern Madagascar have suffered from food shortages since 2016. The reason for this food shortage: drought. Ejeda is one of many Madagascar villages that finds its villagers trekking miles away from their homes to dig holes into sand beds around rivers in search of water. If water is found, these villagers are then tasked with transporting it miles back home. Three years of recurrent drought in southern Madagascar has almost entirely eradicated farming and crop yields.

Declining Tourism Industry

Tourism in Madagascar is a significant source of annual revenue for the country. Home to lush national parks and scenic beaches, it is estimated that the fallout of COVID-19 has taken away about half a billion dollars of tourism revenue from the country since the pandemic began. Travel restrictions in Madagascar have gradually been eased but the damage has been done as people are simply not traveling unnecessarily during COVID-19. This loss of tourism revenue has been widely felt as it has added to the people’s ongoing struggle with poverty in Madagascar.

Poverty in Madagascar continues to worsen due to COVID-19, drought and the ensuing loss of tourism. With an already feeble economy before these crises, poverty has been intensified in both rural and urban areas as these crises continue to play out.

The Good News

Madagascar’s poverty has increased but there is good news to be found. A dietician and missionary from Poland named Daniel Kasprowicz recently raised 700,000 PLN through an online fundraiser to build a medical facility for malnourished children. Construction on the building has already started, and as poverty is expected to increase throughout Madagascar for the foreseeable future, it is believed that the facility will be opened and treating the malnourished by February 2021. In a time of crucial need, foreign aid means life or death in Madagascar and no act of assistance goes unnoticed.

– Dylan James
Photo: Flickr

Tourism, the advantages, disadvantages and how to improve the practice
Around the world, 44 countries rely on tourism for at least 15% of their workforce and national GDP. Many of these countries are island nations or countries that don’t have a highly developed economy or business sector. As the United Nation’s agency, the World Tourism Organization, states, increased tourism can boost developing countries’ local economies, cultural discussion and job opportunities. However, if developing nations solely depend on the tourism sector and dismiss infrastructure development and other essential services, the disadvantages of tourism can outweigh the advantages.

The Advantages

For developing countries, the advantages of tourism tend to be primarily monetary. A large scale tourism industry prevents larger, more harmful businesses from working off the land. Small tourist companies that reign on the land stops large capitalistic corporations from polluting the air or gentrifying people’s homes.

The tourism industry encompasses many different travel areas, which allows the majority of a country’s population to be employed. These employment places include hotels, car rental agencies, restaurants, tour companies, souvenir shops, and equipment shops, among others.

Profit earned from tourism can be reinvested into the country for better infrastructure, education, funding conservation efforts and creating more responsible ways of touring. Without tourism, many countries would not have the same level of access to education and infrastructure. Moreover, tourism allows hosts and visitors to share cultures and meet diverse groups of people. Through respectful interactions, a broader view of the world from both parties can be achieved. By reinvesting the money earned back into the country, tourism and its attractions can grow, creating a positive cycle for the country.

The Disadvantages

With the way the tourism industry is currently run, the disadvantages of tourism may greatly outweigh the advantages in a country. The first factor to take into consideration is environmental damage. When a country has a high tourist attraction, the number of people occupying a space increases immensely. As a result, the release of carbon monoxide gases can increase due to plane and car use affecting the country’s environment. Many countries with ancient ruins or natural attractions are also in danger of destruction or erosion with significant foot traffic and human interaction. Additionally, flora and fauna can decrease in areas or change their growth and migration patterns when there is an overflow of humans interact. Foot traffic and continuous touching can also slowly degrade the stability of ancient structures.

One of the advantages breached upon the sharing of cultures. While this is a great interaction of beliefs and customs, it can become destructive to a host country’s culture. One of the ways cultures can be disrespected is through the commercialization of countries’ cultures. When tourism booms, large industries swoop in and sell figures of the cultures’ icons or traditional wear, disrespecting the countries’ indigenous beliefs and can be harmful to the people living there. Moreover, poor behavior from tourists who don’t respect the spoken or unspoken codes of conduct held by indigenous peoples also undermines the sacred beliefs held within the country.

Also, for many countries, tourism is a seasonal occurrence. For people that work in the tourism industry, their jobs are only viable for a certain number of months, and after the season has ended, many are left without income. Many of these jobs also lack the benefits that other sector jobs supply. Tourism workers are often left without insurance or pension. Not to mention, foreign businesses tend to overtake the companies present in these countries, forcing small businesses to shut down. As a result, foreign businesses keep the majority of profits from tourism, while local businesses lose their income. This hurts small businesses and local economies.

As previously stated, the profit gained from tourism is often reinvested into the industry. However, with unequal infrastructure development, the tourism industry can inadvertently sustain itself without aiding a country’s other vital sectors. As such, many countries end up developing tourism hot spots while the rest of the country suffers. In these countries, there are visible socioeconomic gaps between the wealthy and the poor. Focusing mainly on the tourism industry and places of mass attraction leaves disadvantaged communities at risk of financial instability. Moreover, countries solely invested in tourism are vulnerable to quick economic falls as its working sectors are unevenly balanced. If a natural disaster, political unrest or unprecedented pandemic were to strike, the country would lose a massive income, causing an economic recession that some countries may significantly struggle to bounce back from.

Ways to Respectfully Travel

The most important step to being a respectful tourist is to be an educated tourist. Understanding and respecting the culture and the people of the country is vital. By not undermining tourism countries’ culture and beliefs, the people living there will be more welcoming to tourists, and cultures can flourish without fear of commercialization.

Being environmentally conscious is also important to the survival of these countries. Respecting a country’s land and structures preserve the countries’ beauty and keep the land clean and prepped for further development. Many countries are more environmentally strained, so reducing pollution or your carbon footprint in a foreign country can help ease the strain.

Supporting the small and local businesses found in these countries can help keep local communities employed and support the overall economy.  As local businesses grow, more people will have the opportunity to be employed outside of the tourism sector, and the economy will be able to grow within itself.

By learning the advantages and disadvantages of tourism, and how one can improve the practice of traveling, the tourism industry will be able to change for the better and support the countries that host people from all over the world.

– Marlee Ingram
Photo: Flickr

The Backwaters of Kerala
The backwaters of Kerala in India are a maze of lakes, streams and lagoons with a unique ecosystem. Over the years, a variety of challenges have affected the backwaters and threatened the ecosystem, such as contamination from pesticides that farmers use in paddy fields, dumping of chemical emissions from factories and sewage from cities, unregulated sand dredging for construction, and in recent decades, the tourism boom that has worsened water pollution.

Tourism and Pollution

Over 15 million tourists visited Kerala in 2017. Backwater cruises in houseboats, called Kettuvallams, are a popular tourist activity. A reported 70% of households along the Alleppey backwaters are involved in providing tourist services in one form or another.

The popularity of the backwaters as a tourist experience led to a surge in the number of houseboats. More than 1,000 houseboats operate on the backwaters, far beyond capacity, and a large number are not registered. A houseboat can produce up to 1,000 liters of waste a day. Due to lax regulations, most of the houseboats discharge sewage directly into the waters. Emissions and oil leakages from the houseboats and dumping of plastics and other inorganic waste have further contaminated the backwaters.

Effects on the Lives of the Local People

Pollution from sewage dumping, salinization of the water, sand dredging and other such disruptions have affected the lives of the locals in the backwaters of Kerala in many ways. Much of their traditions and cultural practices connect to the waterways. The backwaters are their primary water source, which they use for cooking, drinking, bathing, etc. But due to oil leakages, the water has a glossy residue and tastes like oil, making it dangerous to consume. Polluted waters also affect paddy fields that run alongside the backwaters. The contaminated water reportedly causes illnesses such as skin diseases. And there have been reports of tourist houseboats invading the privacy of the residents.

Additionally, over 1.5 million residents depend on Vembanad Lake for their livelihoods, and the ecological decline is a cause of great concern. Fisherfolks experience the most effects as several fish species have declined in large numbers or disappeared entirely.

Remedial Measures and Challenges

State and District pollution control authorities have set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) for proper treatment and disposal of sewage and created regulations to ensure compliance and identify unregistered houseboats. However, these efforts are not without setbacks. A Sewage Treatment Plant set up specifically for houseboats had to shut down due to operational problems, and dumping of sewage into the backwaters continued. Despite these challenges, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) emphasized the need for more STP’s and an enforcement wing to monitor the houseboats.

Local residents and organizations such as the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), have also taken steps to control pollution and restore the ecosystem. Every year in May, ATREE organizes the Vembanad Fish Count to document fish species and numbers and evaluate the water quality. Fishermen in Muhamma village, with the guidance of ATREE, have created fish sanctuaries to increase the number of fish. An anti-plastic straw campaign and workshops to spread awareness among women in Muhamma village about the advantages of reusable menstrual products also emerged. And more recently, solar-powered boats and non-motorized canoes are gaining popularity among tourists.

While the tourism boom has certainly benefited the State and created a reliable income source for many locals, preserving the backwaters of Kerala and its ecology is of utmost importance. Initiatives by residents, organizations and advocacy groups who have recognized the need for action and policy have helped spread awareness. And while much work needs to still occur, efforts to contain pollution and reverse the ill effects have intensified.

– Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr

tourism and COVID-19COVID-19 has caused major disruptions for travel on a global scale. The tourism industry has already experienced a loss of over $300 billion in the first five months of 2020, and that number is projected to increase to as much as $1.2 trillion due to the pandemic. Additionally, 100 to 120 million jobs associated with tourism are at risk. Tourism and COVID-19 have struggled to co-exist amidst the turmoil of 2020, especially in three major tourist countries. However, organizations are working to protect the future of the travel industry.

Global Tourism and COVID-19

Tourism is considered the third-largest export sector. It is an essential component of the global economy, comprising 10.4% of total economic activity in 2018. Some countries rely on tourism for 20% or more of their total GDP. Many countries rely on capital from tourists, ranging from small, low-income island countries to larger, high-income countries. However, according to a U.N. policy brief, there will be an estimated 58-78% decrease in tourists in 2020 compared to 2019. Three countries that have been especially affected by COVID-19 and tourism are Spain, Thailand and Mexico.

  1. Spain: Spain experienced the second-largest overall economic loss in tourism due to the pandemic, behind the United States. The country lost $9.7 million in revenue due to travel restrictions and decreased tourism. Because Spain is a high-income country and has various other contributors to its economy, it is expected to recover with greater resilience than similarly impacted, lower-income countries.
  2. Mexico: In 2018, Mexico gained a total of 7.15% of its GDP from tourism. However, Mexico’s income from tourism in April 2020 was a mere 6.3%. Additionally, the tourism sector accounts for approximately 11 million jobs in Mexico alone, many of which are now at risk.
  3. Thailand: Thailand has lost nearly $7.8 million due to travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The country has taken these limitations seriously in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this action has come at the cost of earning a ranking as one of the countries hit hardest by economic losses associated with tourism. The tourism sector is responsible for about 10% of the country’s total GDP.

Government Response to Tourism and COVID-19

Although COVID-19 has introduced an unprecedented economic strain on a global scale, governments are working to help countries recover. Spain released an aid package allocating €400 million to the transport and tourism sectors, €14 million to boost the local economy and €3.8 million for public health. Mexico’s government is distributing 2 million small loans of 25 thousand pesos (about $1000) to small businesses. Lastly, Thailand has approved three tourism packages to assist the local economy and small businesses.

NGO Policy Response to Tourism and COVID-19

With government and NGO action, experts predict that the travel sector will return to 2019 economic levels by around 2023. Many organizations are stepping in with policy solutions, providing hope for the industry’s revival. The U.N. World Tourism Organization released the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package, highlighting three main policy areas: “Managing the crisis and mitigating the impact,” “providing stimulus and accelerating recovery” and “preparing for tomorrow.” Similarly, the International Labour Organization released a policy framework with four main pillars to protect workers, stimulate the economy, introduce employment retention strategies and encourage solutions-based social dialogue.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provides “Travel in the New Normal,” a series of six policy areas. These include helping businesses to implement “touchless” solutions, sanitation supplies, health screenings and other protective measures to prevent COVID-19. The OECD states that domestic travel will be vital for the recovery of tourist nations, contributing to 75% of the tourism economy in OECD member countries.

These efforts, along with other policy strategies, are vital to the recovery of the tourism industry. They will be particularly important for small- and medium-sized enterprises, industry-employed women and the working class as a whole. These policies will also further U.N. Sustainable Development Goals like No Poverty, Reduced Inequality, Partnership, Sustainable Cities & Communities and Decent Work & Economic Growth.

The tourism sector has suffered major losses in response to COVID-19, with a significant amount of revenue and jobs lost or at severe risk. Countries of all regions and income levels have been affected by the pandemic, including Spain, Mexico and Thailand. However, these setbacks provide unique opportunities to both transform the tourism industry and promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Communities in Mexico
The Mexican government’s abandonment and abuse of Indigenous communities in Mexico are historical, stretching back to the country’s colonial past. In the present day, governmental neglect is largely to blame for a host of social inequities suffered by Indigenous communities in Mexico, including lack of access to hospitals and quality health care in general. Accustomed to being outliers in a system originally designed to benefit elites, Indigenous Mexicans in one region of Mexico have taken matters into their own hands.

In the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, a network of villages called the Pueblos Mancomunados lies nestled in the Sierra Norte mountains, and is made up of eight villages which maintain their distinctions while honoring their collective identity as well. Prior to COVID-19, this network of villages had for over 20 years had an agreement amongst themselves to welcome outside tourists into their insular community to observe not only the striking natural environment but also traditions of agriculture, gastronomy, weaving, education and sacred healing.

Where Abandonment is Historical, Prevention is Key

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Claudia Schurr, owner of the ecotourism company Tierraventura, said that the tourism sector in these villages and in the region has been completely shut down since mid-March 2020 to prevent infections. Through the company, which is based in Oaxaca City, Schurr has developed close personal ties to the Pueblos Mancomunados, where, prior to COVID-19, she regularly ran tours with her husband, Yves. She said, “Most of the Indigenous communities have closed to outsiders, even people from the village who live in the city of Oaxaca. Only the village authorities are allowed to leave the community in order to buy supplies.”

Tourism in Mexico

While tourists have still been able to fly into and travel around Mexico in 2020, Indigenous communities in Mexico such as the Pueblos Mancomunados have said “no,” preferring instead to block entrances to their towns and return to their ‘milpa’ fields, where harvests have been abundant due to plentiful rains. Schurr said in an interview, “The interesting thing for me is to observe how people are handling the crisis… nobody is complaining.” Focusing on subsistence and environmental justice rather than business and profits has so far insulated the Zapotec villages from a crisis that continues to ravage the world outside. There have been only a few cases of COVID-19 in these Zapotec communities, according to Schurr. Santos Reyes Yucuná, an Indigenous Mixtec village also in Oaxaca state, remained COVID-free until July 17th, long after Mexico saw its first case in the capital city.

Other Indigenous communities in Mexico are reacting similarly, partially due to a lack of resources to fight the virus. Pavel Guzmán, an activist in the Indigenous Purepecha community of Michoacán state, said in April 2020 “If an infection arrives in the Indigenous communities, then there’s no … medical institution that can contain the problem because the clinics don’t even have basic supplies… These are historical problems, and now… they’ve become more critical.” According to Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), though 21.5% of Mexicans identify as Indigenous, only 1.5% of public hospitals are located in Indigenous regions.

Community and Autonomy

But these Indigenous communities in Mexico are not merely reacting to the virus. The Zapotec communities—pandemic or not—tend to live in a way that is synonymous with their ancestral traditions of community and autonomy. Zapotec children learn early on the importance of cooperation in the community via the “tequio,” or group that cooperates to accomplish needed work in the community. Rather than one person in the community mending a fence, for example, a group of people may work on it together to make the process quick and easy. This cooperation is also visible in the model of group consensus that runs the villages.

They even made the decision to allow tourists into their villages for ecotourism in a collective process. The community is as self-sustaining as it was before the arrival of the Spanish. And while COVID-19 sent the outside world scrambling to adjust life to a crisis, Zapotec society already had the mechanism in place to take refuge.

What Indigenous Communities in Mexico Can Teach the World

While it remains true that infections or governmental neglect during an economic fallout could adversely affect these communities, the Zapotec remain uniquely sustained by their core ideals. As a result, they are in a good position to beat the virus.

The Zapotec have another tradition called “guelaguetza,” which is a tradition of mutually exchanging gifts and even favors. Schurr, not having run tours for her business since March, says that times are hard. Without an income, her family now finds itself in the position of surviving without much income. However, she has stayed in touch with the Zapotec mountain communities: “I have more the feeling that they support us now, emotionally and sending us vegetables, potatoes, flowers.”

“We always talk about creating a global community, which is a beautiful idea,” Schurr said. “…[T]his includes also [taking] responsibility for each other when times are not so great.”

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

Tourism's Impact on Reducing Poverty
Within the past decade, international travel to developing countries has risen substantially. Countries like Tanzania and Indonesia have benefited from a surge in tourism. Moreover, research postulates that this will improve economic growth in developing countries. Economic developments in these countries are essential for stable socioeconomic growth. Tourism’s impact on reducing poverty within developing nations will be addressed in this article. However, the tourism industries in these countries promote more than just income generation — also, stability, opportunities in local communities, employment and cultural prosperity.

Advantages

In 46 of the 49 least developed nations (nearly 94%), tourism has become one of the primary sources of economic income. Moreover, in some countries, this results in 25% of GDP. The total contribution of tourism in 2019 generated roughly $9.2 billion, with direct contributions globally generating nearly $2.8 billion. The income generated in these countries can provide further support to local communities and the overall infrastructure and revenue of developing countries.

The tourism industry offers excellent advantages for socioeconomic growth and poverty alleviation. One of the most significant factors is employment. Many individuals living in developing countries lack the education and opportunity for high-paying, skilled jobs. Jobs within the tourism industry, such as food, conservation and hospitality require lower skill levels. Therefore, allowing for expanded employment opportunities. In these ways, tourism’s impact on reducing poverty is both positive and significant.

Disadvantages

The tourism industry can certainly promote nations, effectively raising their global profile and allowing for even more tourism. However, it can also allow for environmental damage, such as pollution, littering, resource depletion or loss of natural habitats due to the massive increase in visitors. In this same vein, roughly 40 million Americans traveled internationally in 2019. Yet, alternatively, it should be noted that tourism can potentially provide funding for conservation and create incentives to preserve natural areas. This occurs in both urban and rural environments to regenerate the areas.

Infrastructure such as roads, airports, hotels and other tourism services may fail to keep up with the estimated tourist projections of an “additional 400 million arrivals forecasted in 2030.” Infrastructure’s crucial role in tourism is in the amenities that these countries can provide for visitors. Although, with tourist arrivals already surpassing projections by 2017, some countries may struggle to progress and uphold their “infrastructure readiness” quickly enough.

Tanzania and Indonesia: Success Stories

Tanzania, located in sub-Saharan Africa, has become a significant tourist attraction within the past couple of years. Due to its rich culture and conservation, Tanzania has become a highly desirable destination. The nation accounted for 1.28 million tourist arrivals in 2016 alone. With this rise, Tanzania’s GDP of 4.7% is directly linked to tourism and travel expenditures. Furthermore, the country increased investments by 8.7% ($1.2 billion) and “export earnings,” generating $2.5 billion in revenue. These earnings dramatically impacted job opportunities, a significant variable in alleviating poverty. E.g., the increased investments employed 470,500 persons in the tourism and travel industry in 2016. Recent reports from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) expect the tourism and travel sector to continue to rise “6.6% annually in the next 10 years.”

Indonesia has also created a profitable tourism and travel industry. Striving to improve income inequality and alleviate poverty through tourism has proven to be a successful initiative. A study conducted by LPEM FEB UI, Universita Indonesia, shows that tourism activities have reduced the “depth of poverty from 2.04 to 1.21.” Along with this, severe poverty lessened in 2016 from 0.37 to 0.29. Additionally, the study also reveals that tourist activities offer more significant support within communities. For those living in regions with more prevalent tourist activity — the poverty rate is 1.5%–3.4% lower than regions that are not.

Continuing the Positive Impact

While the advantages do not necessarily outweigh the disadvantages — there are significant, positive results in promoting the travel and tourism industry in the highlighted regions above. With continued progress, countries such as Tanzania and Indonesia have made increasing strides in alleviating poverty. Tourism’s impact on reducing poverty represents a significant feat that will hopefully continue to yield positive results for the world.

– Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr