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Development in Practice on The Native Tourist, edited by Krishna Ghimire

3 Sep 2002

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  • Title: The Native Tourist: Mass Tourism within Developing Countries
  • Author(S): Regina Scheyvens
  • Date: 1 Aug 2002
  • Publication: Development in Practice

Development in Practice, Volume 12, No. 3 & 4, August 2002

"The Native Tourist: Mass Tourism within Developing Countries", edited by Krishna Ghimire, UNRISD/Earthscan, 2001, ISBN: 1 85383 804 7, 234 pp.

By Regina Scheyvens

Domestic tourism in the Third World has been a ‘poor cousin’ to the seemingly more glamorous international tourism market, attracting little government or academic interest. This book is the first volume devoted specifically to this subject and the editor, Krishna Ghimire, deserves credit for attempting to bring domestic and regional tourism in developing countries to the attention of a wider audience. I am not convinced, however, that potential readers will automatically connect the term ‘The Native Tourist’ with domestic tourism, and therefore many may pass over this title unaware of its subject matter. That would be unfortunate, for there is a strong case to be made for paying more attention to domestic and regional tourism, as both of these forms of tourism are predicated to show sustained growth in coming years in Third World destinations, and they are less vulnerable to fluctuation than overseas travel. In Brazil, for example, perceived security threats have seen a decline in international tourism but an increase in domestic tourism (Chapter 3).

Domestic tourism is given limited attention in official promotional activities despite the fact that domestic tourists constitute approximately 80 per cent of world tourism flows. Even in internationally acclaimed tourist destinations, there are often several times more domestic than international visitors. For example in Agra, India (home to the Taj Mahal), there were 1.4 million international visitors in 1997, compared with 7 million domestic visitors (Chapter 1). In South Africa, domestic tourism provides more jobs than international tourism in all but one of the country’s provinces (Chapter 6).

As this book reveals, a growing middle class within many developing countries has fuelled demand for domestic and regional tourism. Interestingly, however, the lower middle classes have also begun to travel a lot more, as in the case of South Africa, for instance, where the movement of ‘blacks’ was severely constrained during the apartheid era. Similarly, in Mexico 55 per cent of domestic travellers use interurban buses, an indication that they are not from the most well-to-do classes (Chapter 3). People’s motivations for travel include religious pilgrimage and family gatherings, but the leisure ethic and Western-style consumerism are also becoming increasingly influential factors. An interest in nature, for example, encourages many urban dwellers to travel within their countries, and niche markets in adventure tourism have developed in Thailand and India in response to the interests of younger travellers (Chapter 5 and 8).

The Native Tourist is tidily put together, starting with an introductory chapter on domestic tourism in the Third World which clearly states why this is an area of significance to development efforts and provides an overview of issues concerning the potential of domestic tourism and some of its pitfalls. This is followed by seven case study chapters on Mexico, Brazil, China, Thailand, South Africa, Nigeria, and India, respectively. Domestic tourism is growing in all but one of these countries, Nigeria, where structural adjustment programmes have seen drastic cuts in the real income of the middle classes. While there is some divergence from chapter to chapter, all authors do their best to document available statistics on domestic tourism, and where possible they show its significance in relation to international tourism both in terms of the number of visitors and revenue generated. In doing so, they also comment on the difficulty of finding such information, not only because of the logistical impediments to collecting such data but also because of a lack of consensus on definitions of domestic tourism.

Two main themes run through the course of this book: first, the potential for domestic tourism to contribute to development; and, second, concerns about the sustainability of domestic mass tourism. Related to the first point, the chapters on Mexico and Brazil provide some very positive examples of community involvement in domestic tourism. Unfortunately, as Ghimire notes (p. 26), such community development efforts are of little interest to tourism officials, investors, or international advisors, who are guided by their own agendas. A number of contributors to this volume also recognise the need to maintain diverse livelihoods at the community levels, and to raise awareness among both community members and tourists. As for sustainability concerns, the authors express frustration at inadequate government efforts to plan for domestic tourism, citing problems like overcrowding at festivals, pollution, and inadequate sanitation. In the case of China, the massive growth in domestic tourism after a travel ban was lifted in 1984 has raised serious concerns about its impact on minority cultures and fragile environment (Chapter 4). Similar concerns arise in the chapter on Brazil, although communities in some north-eastern coastal areas targeted by tourism investors have successfully banded together to resist large-scale development and have come up with their own small-scale alternatives (Chapter 3).

Most of the analysis carried out by the authors relies on secondary sources, highlighting the need for more research in this area. However, Ghimire’s claim that there has been virtually no research on domestic tourism in the Third World is somewhat misguided, as some important contributions have been made in the context of articles or books that may not have ‘domestic tourism’ in their titles. Linda Richter’s (1989) The Politics of Tourism in Asia is a case in point. Further research which considers the ability of domestic tourism both to generate employment and revenue and to promote national integration could help to inspire governments to invest more in this area.

The authors of the chapter on China pose another good research question regarding the quality of economic growth spurred by domestic tourism – does it, for example, help in alleviating poverty? Future research could also attempt to tease out the ways in which socially marginalised groups, including women and ethnic minorities, have been involved in the development of domestic tourism, and whether they are sharing in its benefits.

A book on domestic tourism with a Third World focus was long overdue, and Ghimire has done a very good job of providing an overview of the key issues and pulling together interesting case study material. It is particularly refreshing that the editor has drawn together a selection of contributors who are clearly concerned about how domestic tourism may work as a strategy for community development, rather than simply as a means of encouraging investment and generating revenue for the government. Written in an accessible style and filled with useful data and tables, the book should be read by development practitioners, policy makers, students, and academics interested in understanding tourism processes or in speculating about whether tourism can work as an instrument for development in the Third World.


Richter, L. (1989) The Politics of Tourism in Asia, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.