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The Political Economy of Backpacker Tourism Consumption and Production in Colombia

Thieme, Juliane (2018) The Political Economy of Backpacker Tourism Consumption and Production in Colombia. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:66614)

Language: English
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Backpacker tourism has been an increasing phenomenon since the 1960s (Cohen 1973; Hampton 2013), and many Less Developed Countries (LDCs) are now favourite destinations for backpackers. This backpacker tourism development raises questions about the effects it has on the host communities as well as on the backpackers themselves However, the impact of backpacker tourism development on the power relations between the actors of this development, i.e. the backpackers, the host communities with their businesses, and the governmental actors, have been little explored.

This thesis examines the relationship between backpacker tourism development and the power relations between the backpackers, the host communities with their businesses, and the governmental actors in Colombia. Adopting a broad Political Economy (PE) approach, the thesis investigates the backpacker tourism development in two rural communities, one a long-standing backpacker tourism destination, the other one a more recent development.

The study includes the three main actors of tourism development: the backpackers as tourism consumers, the businesses catering to them as tourism producers, and the governmental actors influencing backpacker tourism development. It analyses the actors' social, cultural and political embeddedness within their respective communities. The thesis explores how these three main actors of backpacker tourism development interact with each other, how they are interlinked in the two researched communities on the three types of embeddedness mentioned above, and how they affect and are affected by backpacker tourism development.

The thesis key contribution is the theoretical framework. It investigates the interaction between consumption and production, as advocated by (Ateljevic 2000), while also anchoring the three actors in the social, cultural and political structures they act within. It combines two existing frameworks into a new, holistic one: The first one is a framework by Ferguson (2011), focussing on small-scale actors in rural communities, and also on the consumption patterns of consumers from LDCs, in this case on Latin American backpackers travelling within Latin America (Colombia). The second component of the framework is Mosedale's (2011) theoretical framework that examines the embeddedness of the actors of tourism development on three different types: their structural embeddedness into social structures and networks, their cultural embeddedness, and their political embeddedness on a local, regional and national level. The thesis' new framework therefore provides one answer to the call for more theorisation, both in tourism studies (see Bianchi 2009; Hannam 2002; Tribe 2006) and in PE (see Britton 1982). It further focusses on small-scale actors, in this case backpacker tourism Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) instead of Transnational Enterprises (TNCs) as often investigated in tourism and PE studies (e.g. Britton 1982; Freitag 1994).

The research aim was addressed in an ethnographic field study, consisting of mainly interviews (n=53) with backpackers, backpacker tourism business owners, and policy makers in two different fieldwork locations in Colombia. Additional data was collected through participant observation, policy document analysis, and other supporting methods such as mapping exercises and the analysis of online and offline travel materials.

The findings show that backpacker tourism development often reinforced unequal power relations that were prevalent within the communities and on a global scale. For example, on the production side, this includes issues such as the access to knowledge of the backpacker market by local business owners, resulting in foreign business owners with travel experience having more knowledge power over the locals competing in the same market. On the consumption side, many backpackers from developed countries possessed more financial power to travel for prolonged periods of time in comparison to their Latin American counterparts, who travelled for less time or had to work while travelling. Furthermore, the local government's involvement in tourism development seemed to be vital for a more successful execution of backpacker tourism within the communities, with a lack of involvement leading to a power vacuum in one community that was filled by shadow industries.

The theoretical contribution of the thesis include that it brings in different voices by including different actors of tourism development from different national and social backgrounds. The inclusiveness of all actors and the structures they work within into one framework allows for a more accurate analysis of the processes of tourism development and its implicit power relations that help to shape backpacker tourism development. It also gives a better indication of why these processes happen the way they do, and how the actors work within the given social, cultural and political structures. The new framework and the analysis could then lead to a more thorough and integrated analysis, considering all actors and their influence upon tourism development and on each other.

The analysis of the findings also propose some practical implications for tourism businesses and policy makers, such as an upscale shift in the backpacker tourism market, artesano backpackers bridging the gap between tourism producers and consumers, and the need for the local and regional government to invest in the education of their citizens to enable them to successfully participate in the (backpacker) tourism business.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Hampton, Mark
Thesis advisor: Stoian, Carmen
Thesis advisor: Zigan, Krystin
Uncontrolled keywords: tourism development, tourism production and consumption, Political Economy, backpacker tourism, Colombia
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Department of Leadership and Management
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2018 08:10 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 16:17 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Thieme, Juliane.

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