Diaspora tourism cannot easily be disaggregated from other forms of tourism, but it is worth thinking about its distinctive features and its potential value. Tourism in general is a hugely important source of export earnings (it is treated as a service export, even though it is consumed in the country in which it is provided) and a dynamic sector of the world economy. Earnings from tourism (receipts) reached $852 billion even in recession-battered 2009. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of international tourists grew from 675 million to 935 million. Growth was led by tourist arrivals in developing and emerging economies, which far outpaced growth in tourism to advanced economies, although the latter still lead in absolute numbers. The global recession (along with the H1N1 influenza pandemic) hit tourism hard: in 2009, arrivals were down 4 percent on 2008. But preliminary data for 2010 show a robust recovery, again led by double-digit growth in emerging economies – especially the Middle East, South America, and South, Southeast and Northeast Asia. But it also revived in Western Europe, by 5 percent over 2009, more than compensating for the 3 percent drop during the recession.
Diaspora tourism occupies a niche in this broader world market and operates according to distinctive patterns. Diaspora tourists often desire different outcomes.
Diaspora TourismFrom visits to their home country than other travelers do, and may spend their money in different ways. They are literally more ‘at home’ when they go to their country of birth or ancestry, and therefore may not demand the kind of insulating intermediaries that are thought to make foreign tourists comfortable.
The governments of countries of migrant origin may try to attract diaspora members as consumers of local travel experiences, as ‘first movers’ to open new opportunities in the international market, as sources of valuable word-of-mouth advertising, and as investors in tourism. The hoped-for outcome is not simply that more emigrants and their descendants will visit, but that the niche they occupy will attract other, non-diaspora customers and grow into a larger and more profitable market. Development benefits include the employment of local workers and the multiplier effects that their earnings generate in their communities; foreign exchange earnings to support the national balance of payments; and a reinforced relationship with members of the diaspora, including – importantly – the second and subsequent generations.