September 30, 2003

Tourism is troubling Zanzibar's islanders

Tourism has brought alcohol, drugs and commercial sex to Zanzibar and reduced the living standards of local people, particularly women argues a new report from ActionAid. The report, Islands of Development contradicts the World Tourism Organisation’s claim that the development of tourism leads to poverty alleviation, job creation and social harmony. Despite the industry’s rapid and continuing growth and undoubted contributions to government revenues, tourism development in Zanzibar has created an "enclave" economy or isolated "islands of development" dependent on foreign capital and non-local labour rather than broad based development to the benefit of local people.

Growing demand from the tourist industry has led to a surge in food imports, making it increasingly difficult for local agricultural producers - traditionally women - to find a market for their food. Even though the fishing industry has benefited from the growth of tourism, fishermen now sell directly to hotels cutting out market traders, another traditional women’s role. Furthermore the price of fresh fish, a main source of protein, has risen above local pockets and most people can now only afford frozen sardines.

Realising the development potential of the tourist sector requires both national governments and donors to endorse regulations on foreign investment in the tourism sector, which spreads the benefits of tourism development more widely. This could include requiring hotel and restaurant owners to sources part of their goods and services locally, employ local people and actively protect local resources and livelihoods.

"Tourism is increasingly a key element of the services sector in many poor countries and could contribute positively to poverty reduction. Yet too often it is closely related to poverty, unemployment and social disruption. Organisations such as the World Trade Organisation must therefore allow governments to implement policies that spread the benefits of tourism more widely," says the author of the report, Birgit La Cour Madson, said. (ActionAid, London)

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