Local encounters with globetrotters

Griet Steel

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Steel, G. (1). Local encounters with globetrotters. Annals of Tourism Research, 39(2), 601–619. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2011.08.002

development , livelihood , social capital , Street vendors , tourist encounters

The current debate on the tourism-development nexus has a rather static and narrow focus on the impact of tourism and overlooks that tourism has become strongly dependent on links between different localities. This article eschews these place-bounded approaches and focuses on linkages and the interplay between the social and the spatial within tourism developments. Drawing on the empirical case of street vendors in the tourist centre of Cusco, it explores how social capital and the way street vendors manoeuvre themselves in and through global and local environments offer new opportunities for tourism to contribute to poverty alleviation. It is maintained that social capital and interconnectivity are of fundamental importance in gaining a better understanding of the development potential of tourism.

Main finding
Non-economic support and informal networks dictate how street vendors' encounters with tourists contribute to tourism's success in poverty alleviation. Most interactions with tourists are transitory and not maintained, and as such the social capital benefits often amount to individual acts of charity (e.g., the extension of social relationships, cash tips, or skills) rather than structural change for vendors. Longer visits (i.e., stays with host families) lead to more interaction and closer bonds between tourists and locals. Social relationships between tourists and vendors build up the vendors’ social skills and can create more lasting economic bonds. Social networks on the street between vendors and family members are important to socio-economic security and safety.

Description of method used in the article
Eighteen months of ethnographic research was conducted among street vendors in Cuzco between 2003 and 2008, using participant observation with around 160 vendors. Significant time was spent with the vendors at work on the street or in squares, and eventually in vendors' private lives, spending time in their homes and at their family events. In 2005, 77 surveys were conducted to collect basic demographic information among vendors. This information was then used to conduct 41 interviews to gain a deeper understanding of the vendors' livelihoods and social networks. Fifteen of the interviewees were children, seven were men, and nineteen were women. The interviews were initially semi-structured, but later open interviews were conducted, and follow-ups were sought. All interviews and surveys were conducted in Spanish.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Interviews Participant Observation Survey
Physical types
Squares Streets
Geographic locations