Power relation in the Tourist Sector:
The case of Tourism in the Mediterranean
This paper will look at power relations in the distribution
channel of tourism. As more countries in the Mediterranean seek to use tourism as a development strategy to circumvent the passage from agriculture to industry and thus progress directly into a service oriented economy, the implementation of such strategy, more than generating stable growth, has proved to retard and seriously condition the economic take-off of these countries.
This paper examines how countries in the Mediterranean area have fallen trap of a supply-centred development strategy discourse. The fallacy behind this strategy was thinking that developing tourist infrastructures alone would be sufficient to bring tourists and foreign exchange to finance economic growth and development. The reality, however, has shown how the implementation of supply-centred policies in these countries not only did not lead to a stable growth in the demand of tourists, but affected the inward level of FDI’s necessary to finance their industrial and service sectors.
The implementation of a supply oriented tourist policy in the Mediterranean countries has in fact weakened their negotiating capacity to control the development a coherent tourist sector. The inabity to guarantee a constant flow in the quantity and quality of tourists affected their capacity to plan the type and scale of infrastructural developments. This ended up weakening their capacity to finance their domestic tourist sector. Countries like Spain, Greece, Portugal, Turkey or Egypt, have been forced, if they wanted to continue receiving tourists and earning foreign exchange, to develop and adapt their tourist sector, to the interests and demands of those countries which controlled the demand of tourists. This rendered the economies of these countries, more vulnerable and less able to plan a coherent development strategy of their national tourist resources in line with their domestic economic interests.
Countries with an already strong industrial structure, however, have tended to develop a tourist service sector based on the international control and allocation of the demand of tourists. Rather than developing infrastructures to attract tourists, these countries specialised in placing tourists in tourist destinations. This, granted them the possibility to dictate where, when and how many tourists would go where, when and for how long. Countries like the UK, Japan and the USA, have used large tour-operators, to control the destination of thousands of tourists from all over the world. This allowed them to impose their conditions and business interests on tourist recipient countries eager to earn foreign exchange.
The lack of economic development due to fluctuating foreign exchange earnings exacerbated the unemployment problems in tourist recipient countries. This reduced local and regional governments negotiating capacity with tour operators conditioning the economic and social interests of the local business community to the business interests of tour operators.
Guaranteeing a supply of tourist infrastructures in itself, does not assure that tourists’ demand will follow. Although, infrastructures are essential to run a tourist sector, unless tourist recipient countries are able to guarantee a constant flow of tourists, economic development is unlikely to occur. The implementation of supply centred strategies to achieve economic development is like putting the cart before the horse.
Dr. Mario B. Curátolo