Tourism development poses similar challenges in Belize and Vancouver Island, VIU student finds

It has been some time since my last blog. However, I am happy to say that my time has been preoccupied with data collection for my QES research project. As my first real attempt at field research, and also my first experience doing groundwork with a non-profit organization, conducting these tasks in a developing country has presented challenges and taught me lessons about myself that I didn’t expect. First, I’ve learned that I am more resourceful than I thought. Challenges with transit systems, ATM machines, cellular devices, weather, scheduling meetings and more have put me in positions where I have had no choice but to come up with creative solutions.

I have also gained confidence in myself. Living in the academic world, the only thing depending on me was my grade. Now, however, the QES program has provided me with an opportunity where the impacts of my actions and accomplishments extend well beyond myself. My (sometimes bumpy) road to success on the Peninsula has taught me to be confident and proud of my research, networking and relationship Building, community engagement, and community development capabilities. I am excited by the future career opportunities they may bring.

Through my research I have also become more aware of issues related to tourism development in coastal communities, and the environmental, social, cultural, and economic challenges that follow. My research focuses on the nexus of tourism development and amenity migration (expat migration, residential tourism, or retirement migration) and how these compound issues faced by coastal tourism destinations. These issues include coastal erosion from overdevelopment, which also challenges the carrying capacity of the Peninsula. For example, despite objections from local communities, many Buildings being constructed violate local customs related to location and height, requiring a removal of mangroves and changes to traditional landscapes.

Cultural erosion is another concern caused by growing ‘Western’ investment and influence. As investment grows, local tourism operators face competition and many locals struggle to create a sustainable maximum generation of economic benefits from tourism. This trend is more visible in Placencia than in Seine Bight. Seine Bight remains less developed in the village-proper with less foreign direct investment and influence. To avoid a complete replication of Placencia, the local community is currently working on one of its most anticipated locally-owned projects to revive Garifuna cultural and attract tourism to the village through the construction of a Garifuna Museum of Culture and History. Physical planners from the Belize Tourism Board recently visited Seine to discuss the museum and other potential opportunities for tourism attraction. Sitting in on this productive meeting, I was pleased to see the local community given the opportunity to express their ideas and feelings regarding tourism development. But as with anything, there is often a lag between theory and practice, or promises and delivery. What’s more, much of the work will require a cohesive community effort, which is something I’ve notice Seine Bight struggles to build.

Tourism in Canadian coastal communities provides an interesting comparison. For example, Tofino, British Colombia, like Placencia, was also once a remote fishing village that has become increasingly dependent on tourism as its primary industry. Local ownership and participation in tourism development and management is critical to the sustainability of Tofino and Placencia, yet remains a challenge for both destinations. These coastal communities also face similar challenges to resilience, such as infrastructure and resource management, cost of living, and social issues (namely crime and severe class divisions).

In the case of Placencia, these issues will be compounded by the newest addition to their tourism economy – the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). Despite major concern from the residents of Placencia, the government has signed an agreement to dock NCL cruise ships at Harvest Caye and use Placencia as a tourism destination. Community stakeholders fear the implications, such as lower numbers in overnight tourism, environmental degradation (specifically to manatee habitats, the reef, and water quality), and little trickledown of economic benefits to the local population and tour guides. This will be an interesting case to watch unfold over the years as the Peninsula’s environmental, social, and economic capacities are challenged by tourism development.

Sarah Hain, Tourism, VIU