Using economic data from China, an Elon University senior found that tourism helps reduce poverty for many residents in developing countries, though some people are helped more than others.
Most tourists spend money, but when they visit parts of the world that already have high standards of living and a developed infrastructure, it’s hard to measure the impact of those dollars on poverty reduction.
What was even more difficult for Elon University senior Caroline “Callie” Crew two years ago was the notion that her Study Abroad experience didn’t somehow help others.
Crew, an economics major and Honors Fellow whose family recently moved from outside Philadelphia to Palm Beach, Florida, returned to campus with a purpose. Her work is the last to be featured on E-net this week in a series of stories about research and creative projects showcased April 28 at Elon University’s 2015 Spring Undergraduate Research Forum.
Her research question was straightforward: “Have my actions as a tourist affected people on my travels?”
Under the mentorship of Assistant Professor Steven Bednar, Crew created an econometric model using yearly panel data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey to capture the effects of nine World Heritage Sites in nine surveyed provinces. She looked specifically at changes from 1991 through 2006.
Introduced in the 1970s by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Heritage Sites are places listed by UNESCO as having special cultural or natural significance to a region. They can be manmade or natural features, ranging from forests and rivers to landmarks such as the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids of Gaza.
The nine sites that Crew studied were in impoverished areas of rural China. She selected them because of their existing locations in poorer regions and the in-depth dataset available to measure economic outcomes in those places.
“Most people who are interested in visiting a country will want to visit places with wealth, where the infrastructure is already in place with hotels and attractions,” Crew said. “Many World Heritage sites tend to draw people whose money will go outside of resorts.”
Her data analysis showed that additional tourism in the nine provinces significantly reduced the probability of a person living below the national poverty line. Crew noticed something else, too. In some of the more rural areas, people shifted their work to accommodate the growing need for services and infrastructure that arises with an influx of visitors.
“When you see the establishment of a World Heritage Site, you see an increase in tourism which, in turn, seems to result in a slight increase in individual income,” Crew said. “Tourism is having at least a small impact.”
Crew’s research was inspired by her overseas experiences with the Semester at Sea program. After meeting with children who live in an Indian orphanage founded by Mother Theresa, Crew recognized that a comfortable lifestyle awaited her back on the boat.
For the young people with whom she’d interacted that day, life would continue in a very different fashion, and she wrestled with the notion that her time in India – and the money she spent there – may not have changed anything for the better. “There was such a sharp contrast between the wealth of students on the ship and the people we’d meet,” Crew said.
Her economic research findings now give her comfort and motivation to continue visiting places where tourism creates positive change.
In addition to her research, the Honors Fellow has been active at Elon University with the Phi Psi Cli yearbook and the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. She hopes to work as a financial analyst for an energy company following graduation and wants be a part of organization that works toward finding environmentally friendly solutions to future energy needs.
CELEBRATE! Is Elon University’s annual, weeklong celebration of student achievements in academics and the arts. For more information, visit elon.edu/celebrate.