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Transformation of Paradise

Re-published from the original Frances Heyward Currin Master Thesis available at Louisiana State University Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Collection
Adapted by AboutUtila.com WebMaster to facilitated on-line navigation and reading.

Table of Contents Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 References ●  Appendices

Chapter 1

Tourism as a Geographical Phenomenon

Review of the Literature

Tourism as a World Phenomenon

Tourism in Central America

Tourism in Honduras

Specific Aims of the Study and Methodology

Top of Page Tourism as a Geographical Phenomenon

There are three wants that can never be satisfied: that of the rich, who want something more; that of the sick, who want something different; and that of the traveler, who says, “Anywhere but here.” (Emerson 1968)

Tourism is an inherently geographical phenomenon. Tourism’s concepts are embedded in the physical and cultural attributes of a visited place and the movement of people from the realm of the known to the realm of the unfamiliar or exotic. Each destination is important, as it holds some physical or cultural attribute that is distinctive to that place and thus the tourist seeks out this distinctiveness on the Earth’s surface. Tourism also holds particular spatial characteristics that lure tourists, such as different climates, physical landscapes, cultural landscapes, and often ethnic variation. These spatial characteristics are an important quality to a specific region’s tourism industry.

Geographers have approached tourism studies using spatial-analytical methods that helped to identify historical connections to contemporary patterns. This approach enabled scholars to forecast possible changes to the physical and cultural landscapes of a particular place resulting from tourists flows and activities. The geographical scope and economic size of modern tourism encompasses a wide range of disciplines. Thus, the body of literature covering tourism related topics is enormous. In this chapter I will review some of the early literature that is important in understanding the ways in which tourism research has taken place. I will also discuss tourism as a modern industry in three separate but equally important and over lapping categories, world tourism, tourism in Central America, and tourism in Honduras. I will also discuss my research methodologies in the field and the geographical perspectives I used as I conducted my fieldwork on one very small island.
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Top of Page Review of the Literature

Geographers became interested in tourism as a subject of research in the 1930s (McMurray 1930; Jones 1933; Brown 1935; Selke 1936; Carlson 1938). Ralph Brown (1935:471), in an article in the Geographical Review, offered “an invitation to geographers” writing “From the geographical point of view the study of tourism offers inviting possibilities for the development of new and ingenious techniques for research, for discovery of facts of value in their social implications in what is virtually a virgin field.” However, as Campbell (1966) noted, this so called invitation, was accepted by only a few geographers and therefore techniques for collection, analysis, interpretation, and cartographic representation of tourism data lagged (Deasy 1949). After World War II, however, those who began conducting tourism studies did so under the guise of economic geography, and looked at the regional and destination economic impacts of tourism as well as travel routes (Eiselen 1945; e.g. Crisler and Hunt 1949; Deasy and Griess 1966). American geographers such as Cooper (1947) were involved in discussions concerning seasonality and travel motivations which became a major precursor to works conducted in the 1980s and 1990s (Hall and Page 1999). By the 1950s, although many scholars felt tourism studies had not yet received the proper attention by geographers, McMurray (1954) included tourism studies in a chapter in an overview text on the state of geography in the United States (American Geography: Inventory and Prospect).

American geographers were not the only scholars conducting tourism research during these initial decades. In Britain and Canada, Gilbert and Wolfe, also delved into tourism studies. Gilbert (1939, 1949) published articles concerning British seaside resorts while Wolfe (1951) conducted research on “cottaging” in Ontario. Wolf’s studies created a base for later works on second home development (Coppock 1977). After Gilbert’s initial work little other research was conducted in the United Kingdom until the 1960s.

During the 1960s geographical research on tourism accelerated and continued to grow rapidly over the next decade. Several influential reviews were produced in the 1960s such as, Murphy (1963), Winsberg (1966), Wolfe (1967), and Mitchell (1969a and b). These authors focused on the geography of the tourism industry which led to works conducted by regional geographers such as Guthrie (1961), Christaller (1963) and Piperoglou (1966). However, as Williams and Zelinsky (1970:549) noted,

"virtually all the scholarship in the domain of tourism has been confined to intra-national description and analysis…In view of its great and increasing economic import, the probable significance of tourism in diffusing information and attitudes, and its even greater future potential for modifying patterns of migration, balance of payments, land use, and general socio-economic structure with the introduction of third-generation jet transport and other innovations in travel, it is startling to discover how little attention the circulation of tourists has been accorded by geographers, demographers, and other social scientists."

The concerns of Williams and Zelinsky are at the forefront of tourism geography today, as well as the growing concern of the increases in leisure time world wide. Mercer (1970) suggested a discussion of the increase in leisure time in the affluent countries of the world in the 1970s and commented that, “leisure still remains a sadly neglected area of study in geography.” Whether a dearth still exists today in this aspect in geographical studies is open for discussion, however, few can argue that it is important in determining source regions for tourist.

Several influential publications appeared during the 1970s and 1980s that indicated tourism studies in geography were increasing. Geographers such as Cosgrove and Jackson (1972), Lavery (1971), McCannell (1973), Robinson (1976), Coppock (1977), Butler (1980), Pearce (1981, 1987a), Mathieson and Wall (1982), Patmore (1983), Pigram (1983), and Smith (1983) published articles and texts concerning the new field. However, as Mitchell (1979:235) noted in the introduction to a special issue of Annals of Tourism Research, “the geography of tourism is limited by a dearth of published research in geographical journals.” Likewise, Pearce (1979, 1995) commented that the geography of tourism was not coherent and lacked a conceptual and theoretical base. Perhaps he was unaware that Butler (1980; 1991) had modeled cycles of evolution of destinations in the 1980s and has published on this topic into the 1990s.

While the study of the geography of tourism remains on the periphery of geography in general, this subject does not occur in, “isolation from wider trends in geography and academic discourse nor of the society of which we are a part” (Hall and Page 1999:7). A large degree of the research conducted by geographers has used techniques inherent in spatial analysis and applied geography (ibid). Hall and Page (1999) suggested that the three most influential works on the geography of tourism written in the last two decades (Pearce 1987, 1995 and Smith 1983) approached their research from a spatial perspective with a small emphasis on the role of behavioral research. However in the 1990s geographers such as Shaw and Williams (1994) took a more critical approach to tourism studies and showed the importance of other factors such as the political economy, production, consumption, commodification and globalization in the ever shifting character of tourism. This perspective shift is important, because tourism studies connect with many other aspects of geography. Tourism as its own phenomenon engages topics beyond what can be seen and experienced in the natural environment of a particular place. As Matley (1976:5) observed, “There is scarcely an aspect of tourism which does not have some geographical implications and there are few branches of geography which do not have some contribution to make to the study of the phenomenon of tourism.”
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Top of Page Tourism as a World Phenomenon

Tourism is the world’s largest industry and continues to grow (WTTC 1993; Prosser 1994; Pearce 1995; Lundberg, Krishnanmoorthy, and Stavenga 1995; Goodwin 1995;WTTC 1998; Meethan 2001). Total gross expenditures for travel and tourism were $3.2 trillion in 1993 or, approximately six percent of the global GNP (WTTC 1993). By 2005 the number of tourism related jobs is expected to exceed 350 million (ibid). In the 1990s more than 200 million people were directly or indirectly employed in the global tourism industry and 20,000 jobs are created for every 1 million dollars of revenue generated (Smith 1995). Tourism accounts for more than 11 percent of all consumer spending world wide (ibid). In the 1990s, in the United States, tourism produced 13.4 percent of the nation’s GNP, generated $50 billion in tax revenue and employed 11 million people (Lundberg, Krishnanmoorthy, and Stavenga 1995).

According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO) international tourist arrivals grew from 93 million in 1963 to 284 million in 1981 (WTO 1997). By 1990 arrivals had reached 456 million and are expected to double by 2010 (WTO 1997). However, after the recent international terrorist events these expectations are not likely to be met. It appears that the stage is set for the continued growth of tourism in the developed world in the quaternary sector of the economy. Many developing nations are also moving towards a more service-based economy as governments begin to comprehend the potential economic magnitude of the industry. In recent years the most rapid growth of the tourism industry has been in the developing world. In these countries tourism makes up a substantial portion of their gross national and gross domestic products as well as a major portion of their foreign earnings. Many scholars feel these countries show the greatest prospects for continued growth (Laarman and Durst 1987; Carter 1994;). However, tourism is not a panacea for the economic crises of the developing world although it has become an economic fact in today’s society.
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Top of Page Tourism in Central America

Central America’s reputation for political unrest and inadequate transportation and infrastructure has caused an uneven growth in tourism since the 1960s. However, in 1965 the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s regional office for Central America, commissioned Porter International Company to examine the possibilities of the development and promotion of tourism in the region (Ritchie et al 1965). According to Ritchie and his associates (1965:1),

"The objective was that the conclusions and recommendations reached could serve as a basis for a Master Plan of Tourism, which would permit the promotion, financing, and execution of specific investment projects for the development of a tourism industry in Central America."

For each country specific locations were designated as having qualities favorable for tourism. These qualities included important historical-cultural sites, such as Esquipulas in Guatemala, and areas where the physical geography was conducive to tourists, such as the Bay Islands of Honduras. David Weaver (1994), some three decades later, discussed characteristics of tourism development that followed the recommendations of Ritchie and his associates. Weaver suggested that tourism development in Central America was based on physical and cultural geographical factors. The insular region, according to Weaver (1994), attracts tourists because of its appealing climate, extensive beaches, developed resorts, and its close proximity to the tourism markets of the United States. In this region the traditional “3s” (sand, sea and sunshine) type of tourism takes place. The mainland region of Central America relies on the extensive culture-history of the Maya and other pre-Colombian tribes and the more recent colonial additions for its tourism draw (Weaver 1994). However, this region also has the “3s” attraction along with more highly diverse natural areas and ecosystems (ibid).

The number of tourist visiting Central America from 1960 to 1970 grew from 124,000 to 744,000 (WTO 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997). This growth followed the international trend during this period. Annual tourist arrivals between 1970 and 1975 in this region rose from 744,000 to nearly 1.7 million (WTO 1993). This increase surpassed the global rate of growth, which was documented at 134 percent, as well as the rate of the growth to the Americas (118%) and to Mexico (143%) (WTO 1993). The next decade (1975-1985), however, did not follow this trend. Total tourist arrivals to the region dropped from 1.7 million to 1.1 million annually (WTO 1993; West and Augelli 1989). The decline was associated with the highly publicized escalating violence throughout the isthmus (Chant 1990). Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, the countries with the most widespread public violence, lost the most tourists.

However, Costa Rica, the country with the most stable reputation, was also affected to a lesser extent by the regional drop. Honduras’ international tourist arrivals during this time were slightly lower than the other countries in the region and remained relatively constant. Panama, the hub for air and sea travel in the region, according the West and Augelli (1989), had always enjoyed a steady flow of tourists. During the regional lull in tourism Panama’s arrivals increased. Susan Stonich (2000) associates this increase with the inclusion of U.S. military personal and their families in the national statistics.

Since the 1980s the governments of the Central America countries have been in the process of strengthening their economies through new avenues of development (Stonich 1993). Stonich suggested that these avenues are designed to “integrate their economies, diversify exports, promote foreign investment, and increase foreign exchange earnings” (Stonich 1993:5). One of the most important of these tactics has been the promotion of international tourism. However, because these countries are still considered developing relying on tourism as a means to fix their economics remains problematic. Tourism is cyclical in nature and in many developing countries disasters have ensued as tourism becomes a leading economic component (Butler 1991). Much like the product cycle of economic theory, the product cycle of tourism development of a given area or the development of a specific type of tourism must pass through specific stages (ibid).

The first stage of development, like that of a new product, begins as a relatively unknown place with just a trickle of visitors over a given period (ibid). As it becomes better known its popularity grows until it reaches its popularity peak. Once this happens, visitation to this site will reach a saturation point and them it will begin its decline (Butler 1991; Prosser 1994). Destination can take steps to overcome the likelihood of decline as suggested by Robert Butler (1991) that will reinvent the site and continue to attract tourists. However, further complicating the tourism product cycle is the capricious nature of the tourist. It has been suggested that tourists often favor the in-style, most publicly advertised places, and move on to new sites once the fad has dissipated (Butler 1991). Unless the site can reinvent itself the likelihood of decline is probable.

Among other drawbacks discussed widely, and one of the most important for this discussion, is the possibility of economic leakage. Economic leakages occur most often in developing countries because unfettered foreign development and investment are allowed in hopes of gaining significant revenues from tourism growth (Goodwin 1995). Leakages arise as a result of large ownership percentages held by foreigners or corporations and thus much of the revenue generated leaves the host country and returns to the country of investment origination (Beekhuis, 1981). External labor brought into a host country by foreign investors can exacerbate leakage problems (Wheatcroft 1998). John Beekhuis (1981) calculated that Central America’s leakage rates ranged from 30 percent to 50 percent while in Cancún, Mexico estimates were as high as 90 percent (Garret 1989). In 1994 Erlit Cater (1994) suggested that 90 percent of the coastal development in Belize was foreign owned thus leakage rates were much higher.

Under the leadership of Mexico, in 1988, the presidents of El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras began one of the region’s earliest attempts at promoting regional tourism with the creation of El Mundo Maya (The Mayan World). Relying upon the financial assistance of groups in the United States and Europe the five presidents signed a joint tourism promotion pact (Stonich 2000). The group’s first goal was to secure financial and technical assistance from the European Community to expand both the public and private tourism sectors in the five countries (ibid).

The goal of the project, as stated by Mexico’s Minister of Tourism was to, “showcase the history and culture of the entire region as one entity without borders (“Neighbors to Aid Mayan Ruins” 1991). Cancún would become the “doorway” for the world to the project (ibid). In 1991 the European Community loaned the group $1 million and the project began (Stonich 2000). In each country three types of tourism were endorsed: cultural/historical tourism, coastal tourism, and ecotourism or adventure tourism (Rivas 1990). Fourteen tourism circuits were established, each containing one of the three types of tourism (ibid).

Examples of three of the circuits established in Honduras were the Copán ruins (cultural/historical tourism), Roatán Island (coastal beach tourism) and la Mosquitia/Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (eco/adventure tourism). The inclusion of Roatán and la Mosquitia are ironic because these two sites have never been inhabited by the Maya, although it is likely that Maya might have visited these places. However, these areas have become popular tourist attractions for Honduras and have been featured in several articles promoting Honduran tourism (Stephens 1989; Basch 1992; Yost 1992; Gordon 1993; Sletto 1993; Olson 1994; Danger 1999; Ferrari 2001).

Other projects were planned, along with the initial circuits, which included infrastructural improvements (airports, roads and marinas), increased hotel construction and international marketing (Stonich 2000). In El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico archeological projects were initiated and upon completion were to be included in El Mundo Maya (ibid). More than two million international tourists visited Central America annually during the 1990s exceeding the arrivals from the previous decades (WTTC 2001).

The promotion of Central America as a single tourism region has become a trend in the 1990s. The joint initiative first began with the creation of El Mundo Maya and then in 1996 the Central American presidents signed the Declaration of Montelimar II. The declaration designated the tourism industry as the principal growth strategy for the isthmus and it emphasized the necessity for cooperative efforts among all the Central American countries in making the region a single tourism destination (Stonich 2000). The promotion of these initiatives has been supported financially by several international donors such as the World Bank, the International Development Bank, the United Nations, and USAID (ibid).

In 1996 tourism contributed approximately $1.6 billion to Central America’s foreign exchange earnings and more than 2.6 million tourists visited the region that year (WTO 1997). 2001 estimates have suggested tourist arrivals reached 4 million and created $3 billion in foreign exchange earnings making tourism a viable component in the Central American economy (WTO 2001).
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Top of Page Tourism in Honduras

The Honduran government began actively promoting tourism as a national development strategy in the late 1960s (Ritchie et al 1965). Emphasis was placed on the development of three separate physical and cultural geographical areas: the Mayan archeological site of Copán, the beaches and colonial history of the North Coast, and the coral reefs of the Bay Islands (ibid). La Mosquitia and the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve were added as ecotourism became a popular world trend in the 1990s (Rivas 1990).

The government of Honduras, in the 1980s, established a set of laws creating special “tourism zones.” These zones helped attract foreign investments by providing liberal tax and import incentives. However, Article 107 of the Honduran Constitution prohibited foreign ownership of land 40 km from the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Fonseca or the international borders of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Recognizing this barrier, the Honduran National Congress, in 1990, passed Decree Law 90/90 to allow foreign property purchases in designated tourism zones, established by the Ministry of Tourism, in order to build permanent or vacation homes.

Areas along the North Coast and the Bay Island were among the most popular for investment. Continued acceleration of these “neoliberal” economic policies occurred during the 1990s specifically with the creation of Tourism Free Zones in 1993 (Decree Number 98-93 1993). Tourism investors were given the same benefits as the private Export Processing Zones including; 100% foreign ownership of property, federal and municipal tax exemptions, tax free imports for any materials needed to further the industry (including boats, planes, and worn equipment) (Decree Number 98-93 1993).

During the first five months of 1995 the tourism industry in Honduras generated US $90 million which was a 62% increase from all of 1994 (Durón 1995). The Bay Islands accounted for almost one-fourth of this total (ibid). According to Maria Callejas de Durón (1995), Senior Commercial Officer for Honduras, in 1995 tourism ranked fifth in the revenue generation for the country and had not reached its full potential. Aside from the tourist attractions offered by the continuous “summer-like weather,” Durón (1995) felt that the country still lacked additional attractions in the areas where the flow of foreign visitors was greatest. However, with the institution of the Tourism Free Zone Law, ecotourism programs, and the national demand for additional tourism projects, she felt tourism had the potential to become the country’s leading industry (Durón 1995).

By 1997 tourism ranked third in foreign exchange earnings (US $ 143 million) behind coffee (US $330 million) and bananas (US $ 239 million) (Stonich 2000).

Following the Tourism Free Zone Laws, in 1999 the Law of Tourism Incentives was passed. The National Congress stated their intentions with this new law; it was to continue to:

"facilitate the development of the nation’s tourism sector by providing fiscal incentives that will encourage greater participation by private investors, both local and foreign, in the development of tourism products, thereby stimulating the creation of jobs, promoting investment, and increasing the nation’s intake of currency and tax revenue” (Decree Number 314-98 1999)."

The incentives granted under this law included: a ten year exoneration from income tax payments, exoneration from payment of taxes and tariffs on the import of goods and services including printed advertising materials, and exoneration from the payment of taxes, fees or any other kind of financial obligation on cultural presentations and shows (Decree Number 314-98 1999). Tourism was also considered by the Honduran government to be an economic activity that would be closely linked to the cultural and social development of the Honduran people. Projects devoted to rescuing cultural heritage and conserving natural landscapes were given an added exoneration from the payment of municipal property taxes (ibid). According to the Ministry of Tourism, all activities carried out under the stipulations of this law were to comply with the sustainable development of the entire nation (ibid). Tourism was to have only minimal impacts on the cultural and natural resources of Honduras but being of maximum benefits to the Honduran people (ibid).

In 2001 tourism brought an estimated US $300 million to the economy of Honduras making it the third greatest financial generator of income for the country (Instituto Honduraño de Turismo 2001). According to the Honduran Institute of Tourism (2000) within an estimated four years tourism will be the number one source of dollars for Honduras. After Hurricane Mitch the tourism sector had 92% of its infrastructure intact and 90% of the country’s natural and cultural attractions were unaffected (Decree Number 314-98 1999). This well surpassed the countries leading dollar producer, agriculture, which suffered sever setbacks. These figures illustrate the overwhelming resilience of the industry and its potential for the future.
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Top of Page Specific Aims of the Study and Methodology

The purpose of this research is to document the development of tourism on the island of Utila, Honduras and the affects this new industry is having on the social, economic, and environmental aspects of the island. Traditionally, Bay Islanders have been culturally and economically oriented to the sea (Davidson 1974). Livelihoods once depended on agriculture and fishing and, more recently, merchant sailing (Nance 1965; Lord 1975; Davidson 1974). Documenting the shift from the merchant sailing economy to a tourism economy on Utila will be a major focus. In addition, because nearly two-thirds of Utila is mangrove swamp and tourism development is expanding into this area, ecological alterations will be documented.

Being the smallest of the three major Bay Islands, Utila has historically drawn a different type of tourist. Those not interested in big resorts and lavish facilities, looking for a fairly “cheap” way to see Central America and the Caribbean, find their way to this island. It would seem that this type of tourist has determined the character of tourism facilities on Utila. In the literature, a similar type of tourist population has been documented (Scheyvens 2002; Kottak 1999; Darcy and Wearing 1999; Hampton 1998). Kottak (1999), gives an example of this type of tourist in a small fishing village in Brazil, and discusses the affects these tourists have on the economics, society, and cultural. As a subsidiary to the core of my research documenting a similar type of tourist and their effects on the island will also be addressed. Understanding how this new tourist economy has affected and potentially will affect the island’s landscape also enters the research question. In addition to the international “backpacker” phenomena associated with tourism on Utila, the component of mainland Hondurans is growing. Documentation of this growth will also be discussed.

During the summer of 1999, as an undergraduate student, I visited Utila for the first time. During this trip this project began to take shape. Although we were in the country to observe the reconstruction efforts of the Honduran people after Hurricane Mitch, the week spent on Utila lead to the realization that the Bay Islands functioned much differently than the rest of Honduras. It was evident that tourism was the primary income producer for the island. However, the type of tourist visiting Utila was quite different than on the other two major islands and led me to expand this thesis to include a chapter on this character.

Over a three month period from May until August 2001, I lived and worked on the island. During this time I came to know many of the islanders and tourists and through these personal interactions gathered much of the information for this paper. There is a definite and distinct link between the islanders and their environment that is played out in social and economic interactions. Understanding this link and the ways in which the islanders manipulate these interactions to fit personal needs and gains is an important part of this research. Global factors, apparent during my visit on the island, continue to play a role in the economic and social lives of the islanders. Therefore, it was necessary to blend the theories of cultural ecology and political ecology in an attempt to make sense of the social, economic, and natural environmental state of the island.
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