In the short-term, tourism brings money into an economy, and on that we all agree. South Walton residents, however, will not be surprised that new data shows tourism is not the magic bullet boosters promise. Looking at Caribbean nations, ones with more tourism are wealthier than ones with less. To borrow a metaphor, tourism alone does not raise all the boats and cannot transform economies from weak to strong. As an example, roughly one-third of the Caribbean lives in poverty.
Follow the money. One of the reasons Caribbean tourism provides limited benefits is the ubiquity of all-inclusive resorts. Enclave tourism concentrates activity in small areas thus limiting the multiplier effect of money moving through an economy. In addition, outsiders or expatriates often provide capital so the bulk of the profits flow to non-native owners. If you cannot see a disturbing parallel for 30A, go by Opptik 30A in Redfish Village and get your vision checked. Like the old country song, she got the gold mine, I got the shaft.
For decades, the tourism-led growth hypothesis has become the dominant theme. While many studies have shown tourism leads to growth more recent data challenges this thought or at least shows some limitations to standard dogma. In South Korea, economic growth led to increased tourism, not the other way around. Another study in Mauritius found while tourism fostered growth, the benefits were part of an effort to diversify their economy. We need to discard the notion that the link between tourism and economic growth is linear; instead it is more complex.
Economies dominated by tourism face the same challenges resource-rich nations do, aka the resource-curse. While sandy beaches and tropical breezes appear to have little in common with oil reserves, both have similar economic challenges. Thanks to an abundance of oil reserves, Nigeria has the largest African economy but more than half the population lives in poverty. Nigeria’s oil wealth is not distributed equitably. Locally, South Walton generates almost 90 percent of Walton County’s tax revenue, but no one knows where it ends up.
Like depleting oil reserves, tourism can destroy the ecosystem that visitors want to see. Imagine how a four-story parking garage on Western Lake would alter the view. To alleviate 30A traffic woes from too many tourists, new roads are being proposed. Folks, we are treating the symptom not the disease. Decades of short-sighted planning won’t be solved by more roads. More roads simply lead to more traffic. All the recommendations affect wetlands and drainage for dune lakes. While the impact may not be seen for years, the damage will be irreversible. There is still time to change the road we are on. The first step is taking off the short-term blinders.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.