From All-Inclusive to Socially Inclusive: Travel and Tourism’s Big Shift is Under Way
I waded through the shallows of the Montego River to ascend a hill into the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Village Director Edward Wray, whose Rasta name is “First Man,” talked about his ancestors’ journey as he led us through the cool water on the sultry, bright afternoon.
For the next few hours, Wray and other villagers guided our group of international journalists on a walking and tasting tour through an herb garden, where we learned about medicinal plants. We tasted some “ital” (vital) fruits and coconut water in keeping with the Rastafari vegan diet. We sat in the village’s sacred space and learned about the community’s history. The villagers drummed and later invited visitors to join in with them. The tour was led by the Rastafarians in their own space and on their own terms, and served as a good example of indigenous tourism.
The village, as well as the experience of visiting it, had been a center of discussions during two sessions of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Global Conference on Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism. NextBillion, which served as a media partner, attended the conference last month along with 1,500 participants from more than 60 countries.
In her talk, “Package the Tourist not the People,” Rasta Village Director Arlene McKenzie said the village was eager to welcome study groups interested in Afro-Caribbean history and culture. Wray also spoke on a panel about trends in indigenous tourism.
Throughout the three-day conference, questions around travelers’ changing demographics and interests, the “new tourist” and the “sharing economy” versus big business and exclusive resorts emerged as key themes facing the industry. Several predicted that millennial travelers’ quest for adventure would herald the decline of the all-inclusive resort in the coming decades – a fundamental shift that could transform the travel and tourism industry, but also make big in-roads in fighting poverty. Below are a few observations and key points from the conference.
Airbnb Looms Large
A looming presence throughout the meeting was one of the sharing economy’s biggest companies, Airbnb. The online hospitality giant released its report “Advancing Sustainable Tourism Through Home Sharing” during the conference. It focused on how underserved communities in emerging economies can benefit from Airbnb’s people-to-people platform.
The company is training hosts in some pilot locations in rural South Africa, India and China to ready their homes for international guests or to offer experiences, such as cooking, craft or dance lessons. The hosts who share their homes on Airbnb set their own listing prices and keep up to 97 percent of the fee, according to the company.
Offering both activities, in the form of “Experiences,” and accommodations in the form of homestays represents an opportunity to accelerate sustainable tourism models and drive progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report notes.
Breaking down barriers
The Airbnb report wasn’t the only sign of an industry that is uprooting from its past. Some, including the UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, went as far as likening the resort model to the plantation system.
“We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities. We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. … We have to continue to remove the walls between the host community and visitors… That is not acceptable anymore,” Rifai told the audience. “We cannot continue to promote the model of modern-day plantations in our countries, called exclusive resorts. That is not the model we are looking for at all. We need to move very effectively to make sure tourism is a force for good.”
The remark stirred controversy and the secretary-general later walked it back a bit at a news conference.
Tourism a catalyst for economic growth
The tourism sector continues to be a catalyst for economic growth and development among developing countries, said Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism. He noted the recently released WTTC Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2017 report found that despite facing increased threats related to global terrorism and political instability in many countries, travel and tourism continued to show its resilience in 2016, contributing direct GDP growth of 3.1 percent and supporting 6 million net additional jobs in the sector.
In total, travel and tourism generated US $7.6 trillion (10.2 percent of global GDP) and 292 million jobs in 2016, equivalent to one in 10 jobs in the global economy, according to the WTTC report. The sector accounted for 6.6 percent of total global exports and almost 30 percent of total global service exports.
Tourism should benefit communities
“When we allow local life to be better for the citizens, they create the authenticity that brings the visitors. Tourism should make life better for the citizens,” said Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness.
Tourism can and should contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as it is among the world’s largest industries. For seven consecutive years, international tourist arrivals have continued on a growth path, reaching 1.2 billion in 2016 and a projected 1.8 billion by the year 2030. Between January and June of this year, international tourism had already accounted for 598 million tourists — 36 million more than the same period in 2016. This has been the strongest growth for the first half of the year since 2010.
“Tourism must ensure inclusive growth where everyone participates in the growth process and everyone shares in the benefits,” Holness said. “That must be the goal; it must have the impact of making communities better places and by extension better nations. Tourism can move nations from poverty to prosperity.”
The Sharing Economy
In a powerful session on “Social Inclusiveness, Employment and Poverty Reduction,” Carolyn Hayle and Anne Crick both of the University of the West Indies, delivered an address called “From All-Inclusives to Social Inclusiveness: Harnessing the Potential of the Sharing Economy.”
The women described the cycle of the perception of insecurity that leads people to choose all-inclusive vacations or to stay onboard cruise ships. The minimal multiplier effect when there are fewer jobs, breeding frustration and resentment, is what they dub the “win-lose paradox” of Jamaican tourism. This leads to tourism harassment and crimes against tourists reinforcing the initial perception of insecurity.
Crick says tourism can be used to eradicate poverty in the developing world, but the sharing economy could accelerate it.
“It can definitely level the playing field because the entry barriers are lower. People in Trench Town, for example, could never expect to participate as entrepreneurs in tourism but with Airbnb and dance in the streets, they have the opportunity to participate. The sharing economy allows buyers and sellers to negotiate directly, and therefore they can create and customize products and services in a win-win way.
“For example, … in Bob Marley’s song ‘No Woman No Cry’ he talked about ‘Georgie cooking cornmeal porridge inna government yard,’” Crick added.
Many Marley devotees would be interested in going into Trench Town to see a government yard and perhaps even to make and drink some cornmeal porridge to relive that experience, she said. Inner city communities in Kingston are finally realizing that and are beginning to offer some of these experiences to visitors.
“In the rural communities – farm to table, farm experiences and homestays are another way that nontraditional tourist areas can benefit from tourism,” Crick said. “I am personally anxious however that these do not become commoditized experiences offered by large tour companies, which essentially employ locals to put on a performance for a fee. I would like it to be initiated by the communities themselves and facilitated by government where there is a need.”
Sonya Vann DeLoach is associate editor at NextBillion.
Image: Jamaica’s famous 7 Mile Beach. Credit: Chris Ford/Flickr.