Whenever I glance at travel blogs, I’m surprised by how often travelers sanctimoniously speak about their travels in “developing countries” (I’ve written before about the issues with this term, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll use that term here). Travelers assume that just by contributing to the tourism sector of a country with their visit, spending a few weeks volunteering, and blogging about the experiences afterwards, they have automatically helped the country’s poorest citizens.
They’re not entirely wrong. The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization recently found that tourism accounts for one in 12 jobs worldwide and is one of the top two export earnings for 20 of the 48 least developed countries.
But these numbers can be deceiving. Just because tourism creates jobs and economic growth doesn’t mean that the country’s least economically empowered locals receive most of the benefits. When I first started traveling, I was not aware of the many ways my tourism also exploited and harmed locals, sometimes far more than it helped. Here’s how: