Post disaster tourism development of Phi Phi Island : political economy and interpretations of sustainability
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
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This research takes an interdisciplinary approach and includes aspects of applied geography, applied management, political economy, development studies, sociology and anthropology, in line with the tradition of progressive tourism studies. It seeks to resolve academic concern about the limited insight within existing bodies of knowledge into how sustainability and sustainable tourism development are conceptualised at a grassroots level by inhabitants and other stakeholders of tourism destinations (Redclift, 1987; Liu, 2003; Swarbrooke, 1999; Mowforth and Munt, 1998; Maida, 2007) and furthermore how these conceptualisations are shaped through expressions of political economy in a post-crisis context. The research aimed to evaluate how political economy and interpretations of sustainability affected post-disaster tourism redevelopment using the case study of Phi Phi Island in Thailand, which was devastated by the tsunami of December 2004. An interpretive philosophy informed the research design, in which primary data was gathered using an inductive mixed methodology. Methods included online research, comprising the design and operation of a tailored website to overcome geographical and access limitations; and offline methods such as visual techniques to monitor change and confirm opinions offered by participants of the research; in-depth face-to-face interviews with hand-picked stakeholders of Phi Phi's development; open-ended questionnaires with tourists; and extended answer Thai script questionnaires in order to overcome language barriers and present the 'Thai voice'. The primary data was gathered from April 2006-December 2011 including a period working at [information removed for anonymity purposes] University in Phuket (June-December 2006). Twenty-five themes emerged from the data, the most significant being the social impacts of tourism, environmental impacts of tourism, power relationships and future desires. It was found that the factor with the greatest influence over Phi Phi's development is the desire to develop the economy through tourism, and the philosophy underpinning the development is largely economic. The tsunami did not cause any significant reassessment of the tourism development trajectory, but served to uncover a range of conflicts and unlawful activity, resulting from powerful stakeholders pursuing their own interests and desired outcomes, in order to suit their own needs rather than those of the community as a whole. In terms of how sustainability is conceptualised by different stakeholder groups, it was found that the meanings attributed to sustainability in this context differ greatly to meanings elaborated within western ideological debates. Stakeholders' conceptualisations of sustainability were mapped against key debates within literature. How meanings differed between stakeholder groups was also examined and a definition for sustainable tourism development on Phi Phi was compiled encompassing a broad range of interests. The thesis provides a rare opportunity to see which political, economic and cultural factors shape the planning of tourism development and whether actual practice mirrors the principles of sustainability. For islanders, present needs are yet to be met and education was recommended to increase islanders' understanding of impacts and sustainability, as well as their skills and knowledge base to enable them to compete intellectually with the ruling elite and reduce dependence upon landowners and the mainland. Numerous authors have highlighted a relative lack of academic attention directly addressing the influence of political economy on achieving sustainability in post-disaster reconstruction (Klein, 2008; Hystad and Keller, 2008; Olsen, 2000; Bommer, 1985; Beirman, 2003; Faulkner, 2001; Glaesser, 2003; Ritchie, 2004). This work therefore extends existing academic debates and studies in a number of areas. In existing academic debates concerning the political economy of post-disaster reconstruction there is a trend towards 'disaster capitalism' (Klein, 2005: 3) or 'smash and grab capitalism' (Harvey, 2007: 32) and 'attempts to accumulate by dispossession' (Saltman, 2007a: 57). However, this did not occur on Phi Phi. Despite claims of a 'clean slate' being offered by the tsunami in developmental terms (Pleumarom, 2004; UNDP, 2005; Dodds, 2011; Ko, 2005; Nwankwo and Richardson, 1994; Argenti, 1976; Rice, 2005; Altman, 2005; Brix, 2007; Ghobarah et al., 2006; Dodds et al., 2010), this research provides evidence and explanation of why this did not and would never exist on Phi Phi, a finding that may be applied to other destinations in a post-disaster context. In response to Blaikie et al.'s (2004) concerns that vulnerability is often reconstructed following a disaster and may create the conditions for a future disaster, this work has extended discussions of disaster vulnerability through an adapted application of Turner et al.'s (2003) Vulnerability Framework. This meets Calgaro and Lloyd's (2008) recommendation that further longitudinal research is required in other tsunami-affected locations. This research refines their work to identify a detailed framework of vulnerability factors intertwined with factors of political economy, presenting a post-disaster situation that remains highly vulnerable and non-conducive to sustainability. This is in response to Hystad and Keller's (2008) recognition that there is a lack of long-term studies, which not only show how disaster has shifted the nature of the destination and tourism product, but also identify successful strategic processes and actions in disaster response. The strategic response has been analysed through an adapted Strategic Disaster Management Framework (Ritchie, 2004) to identify the shortcomings of the disaster response to comprehend how such a disaster has influenced tourism development and planning on the island, showing that this was a mirror opposite to how a disaster should be handled according to the literature (Ritchie, 2004; Adger et al., 2005; Miller et al., 2006; Olsen, 2000; Coppola, 2007; Faulkner, 2001; Baldini et al., 2012). The researcher draws on the notion of 'strategic drift' (Johnson, 1998: 179) and 'boiled frog syndrome' (Richardson, Nwankwo and Richardson, 1994: 10) to explain how host attitudes to tourism may increase vulnerability. Both these contributions can assist in identifying destination vulnerability and limitations in disaster response and recovery. Unlike the work of Dodds (2010) and Dodds et al. (2011), the aim was not to assess the practice and attainment of sustainability on Phi Phi; rather, it was to elaborate interpretations and conceptualisations of sustainability. An examination of development philosophy established how specific factors of political economy and relationships of a hegemonic nature influence the development trajectory of both Phi Phi and Thailand. Despite governmental rhetoric influenced by a strong 'sufficiency economy' hegemony led by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the observations of dependency theorists provide a better fit for the experiences on Phi Phi and present significant challenges for the pursuit of sustainability. The thesis posits that an effective response to the disaster and pursuit of sustainability are undermined by the political economy of the destination.