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Peddling Paradise: The Politics of Tourism in Latin America by Kirk S. Bowman (review)

From: Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 13, Number 1, 2014
pp. 241-243 | 10.1353/lag.2014.0017

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This book sets out to solve three “puzzles” related to the development of international tourism in Latin America. The first is why has the state’s role continued to grow in the tourism sector when it has contracted in nearly every other sector in this region? Second, why are there such widespread differences in the ability of countries to attract international tourists? Finally, why do some countries follow an inclusionary model with better distributional effects while others follow an enclave model that do not adequately distribute resources? (p. 3).

The author acknowledges that this book was more than ten years in the making, including 39 trips and more than 1000 interviews; and as a result provides some rich primary data. The book is divided into 8 chapters, several of which provide a conceptual and theoretical foundation for the text. Two of these chapters are comparative case studies. The first of these chapters is a national level comparison of recent tourism development in Brazil and Argentina; the second is an urban level comparison of tourism in the cities of Buenos Aires, Havana, and Rio de Janeiro. I begin this review with a brief overview of each chapter followed by a summary of thoughts and takeaways.

Chapter 1 introduces the book and its major objectives while also providing some baseline statistics to set up the discussion of tourism in Latin America. Chapter 2 wisely offers some key definitions used throughout the text as well as basic assumptions made by the author, such as every Latin American country has sufficient local cultural and natural tourism endowments appealing to international tourists (p. 14). The author also provides a detailed overview of the methods employed and the lenses utilized to guide the research. This chapter also brings to the fore his emphasis on state capacity, openly influenced by the work of Evelyn Huber.

Chapter 3 begins with an evolution of international tourism in Latin America emphasizing the rapid growth of arrivals during the past two decades highlighting the changing demands of potential tourists to go beyond beach activities to experience the unique “essence” of destinations whether its food, nature, nightlife, sport, archaeology or urban life. The chapter emphasizes the increasing importance of tourism to national economies and the role of the state in this process.

Chapter 4 goes more in-depth about the role of the state in promoting tourism development. The author devises a three-level typology of state capacity-holistic, hollow, and rhetorical—based on accumulation and legitimacy (p. 51). This discussion is framed by the ‘paradox of plenty’ concept whereby countries with abundant natural resources tend to underachieve with regard to long term development and the inability of many Latin American governments to multi-task, that is deal with issues of national security, for example, while trying to promote tourism.

Chapter 5 examines the social structure related to tourism development. Specifically, the author cites crime as an example that can alter demand but also entice countries to promote an enclave-based tourism model despite its poor ability to distribute resources throughout a country. Moreover, he explains how countries with wide social cleavages have great difficulty forging more inclusive tourism development models.

Chapters 6 and 7 offer up case studies at two different geographic scales that illustrate the uneven impacts of tourism throughout the region. Chapter 6 traces the different trajectories of Brazil and Argentina over the past decade. The author shows that despite Brazil’s superior natural and cultural endowments and Argentina’s political and economic struggles at the beginning of the century, Argentina has done a much better job of luring tourists to the point where international arrivals were about equal in these countries. According to the author, the bulk of the blame for Brazil’s poor performance is the inability for the state to promote tourism in a meaningful way. Significantly, he adds, Argentina made international entry into the country relatively easy in contrast to Brazil’s cumbersome and expensive visa process that he feels is a major deterrent for international travelers. He laments that in 2009 Argentina introduced a visa fee for travelers from the US, Australia and Canada, but unlike the lengthy Brazil visa process, the paperwork can...

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