impact of tourism on haiti

            Undoubtedly, tourism in the recent past has been the fastest expanding industry not only in the developed world but also in the third world countries. Most of the nations that were previously thought as unattractive to tourism have continuously opened up their borders and increased the marketing of their countries as attractive destinations for both natural as well as cultural tourism. A Look at the GDPs of the less developed nations indicates an over reliance on tourism. A significant proportion of their foreign earnings are drawn from tourism. This is an industry   that continues to support third world countries not only in terms of revenue but as a source of livelihood by offering employment opportunities. A critical analysis of tourism in relation to third world countries reveals interesting facts about the gross disadvantages of tourism to these fragile economies. The interest of this paper shall be limited to the impact of tourism on Haiti, revealing how it has either aided its economic growth or underdeveloped it by creating an aspect of systematic dependency.

            Haiti remains one of the poorest nations topping the list of the poorest in the western hemisphere. It relies mostly on primary commodities from agriculture which too is underdeveloped.  Indeed as Barry (1987) observes, though Haiti’s 30% of GDP is drawn from the agricultural industry, “only 6 percent of the land is irrigated and virtually all of that belongs to the richest families in the country.” Coffee  is the primary product and the locals prices are skewed to favor the well connected individuals, this coupled with high taxation policies has continued to strain production of a crop that was initially seen as offering a ray of hope to the Haitians.  Income disparities have continued to worsen with the political elites siphoning public funds for their own endeavors creating a culture of corruption with impunity. Such a culture was highly practiced in the 80s and the 90s with the seating government officials having a monopoly over the important sectors of the economy, by then, “fifty percent of the states income was in unbudgeted accounts, which, it is commonly presumed, ended in private hands.” (Barry, 1987).

            The depressing situation of Haiti and its poverty can also be traced back to its troubled history of the past decades. Despite the fact that it is among the first in the western   hemisphere to acquire independence, “it never managed to establish anything even remotely a democratic tradition; violence has always been the means of settling conflicts and choosing leaders in Haiti. “ (Lori, 1993) Haiti gained its independence in 1804 from the French colonization. The gaining of its independence was highly momentous for it represented a partial defeat to slavery in the western hemisphere; it was seen as a form of a social revolution where the natives and the black population were struggling to free themselves from the derailing tentacles of whites’ domination. This significance however did not translate into regional domination as Haiti would see itself driven into isolation. This early progression was hampered by occupation of the country by the United States for close to two decades. Despite the signification improvement that this invasion and occupation brought to the Haitians in terms of infrastructure, it was retrogressive. As Anthony M observes, it “did little more than leave a bad memory which all Haitian groups use to their advantage.” (Cited in Lori, 1993)                                                                                                                   The poverty that has rocked Haiti across the past decades has meant that the country relies more on foreign aid than on domestic production. Indeed, current statistics indicate that in between 30 and 40% of the nation budget is financed by foreign Aid. Domestic production cannot be expected to sustain government spending and most of it has to be sourced externally. Tourism hence comes in handy as a key foreign earner in a country that relies on primary products exports and whose manufacturing industry is near zero. The poor situation that this country finds itself in is not unique to Haiti but is a general characteristic of the less developed countries (Kerry, 2002).

            Most of the nations in the third world that are experiencing momentarily political stability have continued to enjoy an influx of tourists and revenue from such ventures take a considerable proportion of their income. The impact of tourism on the least developed countries has continued to arouse much scholarly interest with opinion on the topic remaining sharply divided.                                                                                                                                                          Tourism in Haiti may not be the most important economic venture but it remains a key foreign currency earner. A look at the tourism industry in Haiti reveals gloomy prospects especially when compared to a number of countries in the Caribbean. However the amount received from tourism is enough to make a huge impact in a country where a significant proportion of the population earns less than dollar a day. A major setback to tourism in Haiti is the political instability that led to untold miseries to the locals and also exacerbated relations with the western powers diminishing any prospects of the nation being labeled a preferred destination to most tourists. As Lloyd and Richard (2002) concur, “tourism to Haiti has suffered due to problems since the ending of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986.” However the country evidenced increased tourism in the late 1990s drawing most of the visitors from Canada and the United states, this though has again been on the decline due to political Unrests (Mats & Michael, 2005).                                                                                                                                                    The importance of tourism to the most third world countries cannot be under emphasized neither can the zeal exhibited by most policy makers towards tourism. Most Caribbean countries ranging from Jamaica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic amongst others have continued to implement polices that are aimed at making their country favorable to tourism. In most of these countries, tourism has over taken all other industries as the major foreign exchange earner. Most of these nations happily announce the fact that their visitors have hit million marks. Though it has its benefits, it is important to note, as Cynthia (2000) agrees “tourism may be creating a new kind of dependence for poor nation. “ She also adds that these nations are “spending millions of dollars from public funds to build the sorts of facilities that foreign tourist demand. “(32) All this is done in the hope the expansion of the industry will provide the elusive answer to escaping the foreign debt dragnet. Many of the third world countries have debts running into millions and are today being advised to enhance tourism as the most feasible route towards economic development. A Look at most nation in the Caribbean and indeed progressive third world countries cannot hide the centrality of tourism; they “are putting the reduction of international debt and the earning of foreign currency on the top of their political agenda” (Cynthia, 32).

As reiterated above, one major negative impact of tourism to most developing countries and indeed to Haiti is the perpetuation of a culture of dependence. This, according to the dependency theorists further impoverishes countries at the periphery. Dependency theory was coined in 1950s by the likes of Raul Prebisch to counteract the claims of the modernization theorists. According to Prebisch, “economic growth in the advanced industrialized countries did not necessarily lead to the growth in the poorer countries.”  (Vincent, 1996) the theorists posit that the international system is inherently skewed to favor the nations in the satellite while exploiting those ones at the periphery. Further industrialization of the developed countries does not necessarily mean that it will permeate the countries in the south rather it subjects the least developed countries into a situation of perpetual poverty and over reliance on primary commodities. According to Anthony and Simon (2006), “poverty of low income countries stems from their exploitation by wealthy countries and the multinational corporations that are based in their countries.” This, as they further add, leads to a situation of “downward spiral of exploitation and poverty.” Modernization theorists, the like of Walt Rostow believe that development in the third world countries can be achieved should these countries follow a similar pattern to that of the developed nations. Foreign aid and foreign direct investment have been seen as being in tandem with the modernization theory wish advocates for developing nations to be helped and assisted with funding to help them “overcome the traditional attitudes and practices that hold them back and achieve results in decades that had taken the most advanced centuries” (Michael, 2007).Indeed the modernization theory stands in dialectical opposition to the dependency theory. While modernization theory propagates for reliance on foreign programmes and foreign aid as the key steps towards development dependency theory traces the woes facing the least developed countries to the programs and the dictates of the western nations including the colonial legacy (Catherine & Paul, 2006).

            Dependency theorists have a rather grim view of tourism; they see it as perpetuating the practice of primary products. The impact of tourism on Haiti can also be explained in line with Jafar’s thinking. To him (2003), “tourism development may exhibit the symptoms of dependency theory when it results in the enrichment of developed metropolitan areas at the expense of poorer underdeveloped regions.” A perfect example given in this is the Caribbean. The prospects of excellence under tourism coupled with internal political dynamic drive some nations to depend on tourism at the expense of other more profitable ventures. Indeed, the skewed view amongst many scholars is that Haitian economy is not yet ripe for large scale tourism. The existing structures cannot support such ventures but instead perpetuate a culture of dependency as the available capital resources are foreign owned. Also, the other sectors upon which tourism depends on have not been fully developed. (Tatiana, 2004)

            The interest of scholars on the issue of economic development in the third world has been aroused and most have “acknowledged that tourism did not necessarily offer a panacea” to these struggling economies. (Martin & Ian, 1998). Most of these scholarly studies were mainly centered on the Caribbean countries. The key observation was that it resulted to leakage of money. A look at Haiti for example reveals that majority of the investments are owned by foreigners in conjunction with the ruling elite to facilitate the local operations; it is this factor that leads to a leakage (John 1988).

            Though dependency theorist may present gloomy prospects for tourism in Haiti, it is important to note that it has also led to positive impacts. Most scholars have identified a number of benefits. Key to this is the provision of employment opportunities. Haiti is yet to fully discover and explore the full potential of tourism but nevertheless it has been hailed for its ability to provide employment opportunities in a country where unemployment rates have always been at a worrisome trend. Year of political instability and suspension of foreign aid have left Haiti’s economy with minimal potential for job creation, the meager tourism that has existed has been a source of livelihood to thousands of families who would else have been unemployed.  Tourism has also been replenishing the fast depleting foreign exchange reserves. Haiti as afore observed has an over-reliance on primary goods which fetch little in the international market. With scarce foreign direct investment being forthcoming, tourism is the only opportunity to have a favorable balance of payment especially as the major foreign currency earner, coffee, has been dwindling over time. Tourism has also attracted foreign investment in a country that has been deemed unattractive to foreigners due to political instability. These capital investments have led to the improvement of infrastructure that would otherwise have been non existent. A look at Haiti indicates that there exist metropolitans with well tended road and communication network thanks to the increasing prospects of tourists’ influx from Canada and the United States (Simon, 1990).

            There exist though a number of negative impacts which range between social and economics. The most important social impact is culture erosion where the society slowly forsakes its traditions and norms embracing the values of the western nations without financial endowments.  The negative economic impacts can be derived from the above mentioned dependency theory, some have even pointed out that modern tourism is a form of perpetuation of imperialistic tendencies and domination. Haiti for example strives to provide modern facilities to tourists at the expense of other viable projects. As martin and Ian observe (1998, 50), “first world ownership of much third world tourism infrastructure and the origin of the tourists from the first world” has pinpointed out this domination. Haiti has also experienced import leakage. This is a likely scenario as tourists demand goods and services that are not locally manufactured and hence have to be sourced from outside Haiti. This, impacts negatively on the balance of payment (Valentine 1996).

            As has been observed, most of the least developed countries have been led to believe that tourism will play a crucial role towards their modernization. A look at these countries indicates huge investments on tourism and supporting infrastructure to a point that they become dependent on tourism at the expense of other projects. A close look at Haiti indicates that it has not benefited much from tourism, unemployment rates remain low and balance of payment has remained skewed to the countries disfavor. Tourism though providing the country with some employment opportunities and other meager benefits in the long run can affect the growth of the country. Though tourism in Haiti is not well developed, it has the potential of creating a system of dependency. This is the common scenario in the least developed countries which cannot compete favorably with the developed nations in the north. The fact that developed nations own the tourism investment in Haiti means that the country has little to benefit from in terms of the accruing revenue, import leakage and repatriation will lead to negative consequence for the country and lead to a permanent dependency on foreign aid.


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