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From Centre to Periphery: Inequality, Indigeneity and Domestic Tourism in Guatemala

Chantell LaPan[1]

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA


Tourism in the 21st century has largely been studied as a global phenomenon (Aramberri, 2009), with attention given predominantly to international travel. Generally, tourism policies in the Global South have been geared towards the arrival of visitors from the Global North (Ghimire, 2001). However, as developing countries have strengthened economically and middle classes have continued to grow, domestic tourism has expanded rapidly. Nevertheless, in nearly all developing countries domestic tourism development is occurring without any systematic government planning (Ghimire, 2001). Several scholars have positioned domestic tourism as a lesser evil than the mechanism of global tourism (Leon, 2007; Espinosa Abascal et al., 2015), but this follows a number of assumptions that have yet to be confirmed. Further, tourism studies rarely differentiate the impacts of international and domestic tourism, so the consequences of domestic tourism remain unclear. Additional research is needed to understand specific challenges related to the expansion of domestic tourism and how these may be similar to, or distinct from, international tourism.

For developing countries, tourism was initially promoted as an export-oriented strategy to increase international tourist arrivals (Brohman, 1996). Institutions, such as the United Nations World Tourism Organization, have encouraged the development of international tourism, claiming little investment is necessary by governments to reap a variety of benefits (e.g. tax revenue and foreign currency). It is regularly assumed that environmental and cultural resources are abundant and are readily available to convert to tourist attractions (Bowman, 2013). Tourism is subsequently promoted to residents due to potential benefits (e.g. infrastructure investment, economic development) for host communities. Yet, these benefits are often elusive for the majority of residents. Research suggests that existing issues of inequality and poor inter- and intra-regional linkages can prevent benefits from reaching the most vulnerable (Fenton, 2013).

One approach to enhance linkages is integrated tourism. Integrated tourism focuses on tourism that is linked to economic, social, cultural, natural and human structures of the region (Oliver and Jenkins, 2003). One might assume that these linkages would be stronger in the context of domestic tourism, where travellers visit locations within their home country. However, this has not been explored in depth in the research. Therefore, this chapter examines the implications of domestic tourism in Guatemala, a country with high levels of economic inequality and ethnic disparities. It looks at how urban and rural areas are linked physically, economically and culturally, as well as considering areas of separation, and offering recommendations to improve outcomes for residents of tourism destinations.

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