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Development theory and tourism in developing countries: What has theory ever done for us?

Vol. 11, Supp. 1 (2015), 53–82


The paper first reviews the current state of development theory. Earlier “paradigms” have been largely superseded. Earlier ideological debates over development “paradigms” have generally been subsumed under broad-based, non-ideological globalisation theory, there is no privileging of internal or external factors in development, and instead there is a general suspicion of grand narratives and a focus on theoretically-informed empirical research. Second, it is argued such perspectives are reflected in theories of tourism development, where there are no over-arching paradigms. “Sustainability” is a worthy and sometimes useful aim, but neither alternative tourism nor sustainable tourism development are models or theories; they cover too many types of tourism and are linked only by being distinct from mass tourism. Third, several propositions are presented as the basis of further reassessment of tourism role in development. It is suggested that capitalism and international tourism will continue for the foreseeable future, that alternative tourism will never replace mass tourism, which will continue to be the norm, and that the former is frequently dependent on the latter for its survival. Furthermore, as international tourism is a cross-border activity linking individuals and institutions across “developing” and “developed” societies, such categorisation is now of little value in conceptualising tourism, which should be seen as operating in an international and systemic way. A global model of tourism of tourism political economy is provided, incorporating international, regional and domestic tourism, and the final section of the paper illustrates how tourism in parts of ASEAN can be analysed from within this overall perspective.

Author’s bio

A sociologist/anthropologist of development, David Harrison is Professor of Tourism at Middlesex University, London and is especially interested in tourism’s impacts in islands and small states. He was previously Head of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji and before then held positions at London Metropolitan University and the University of Sussex in the U.K. David has researched and written about tourism’s impacts in Eastern Europe, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and most recently, in Pacific Islands. He is author of The Sociology of Modernization and Development (1988), many peer-reviewed articles, and editor and co-editor of numerous books on tourism, including Tourism and the Less Developed Countries (1992) and Tourism and the Less Developed World (2001). Most recently, with Stephen Pratt, he co-edited Tourism in Pacific Islands (2015). He is currently focusing on the international linkages brought about by mass tourism.


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