Cool Thesis of the Week: Suraj Pant and “The Impact of Tourism on Poverty and Inequality”
Every week, The Quest will be profiling the thesis of one senior whose work is worth sharing with the Reed community. The purpose of this column is to increase awareness among Reedies of the work being done by people in various academic fields and to make disparate forms of scholarship accessible and understandable to all.
Suraj Pant’s passion for his studies is infectious. In a school that too often seems to be full of students with little more on their minds than making it to the easygoing relief of the weekend, Suraj is eager to talk about the work that fills his weekdays.
Suraj’s spring-fall Economics thesis, “The Impact of Tourism on Poverty and Inequality,” examines the economic effects of the traveling habits of the world’s rich on the poor inhabitants of the less-developed countries they visit. “Tourism is one of the largest sources of income for many developing countries, and contributes to about 10% of the world GDP, but it has failed to attract the amount of attention it deserves,” says Suraj. According to Suraj, it is generally established within the field of economics that when a poor country sees an increase in the numbers of tourists visiting, that country’s GDP (or the total value of all products made in that country) can be expected to increase.
In addition, he says, “poverty of the developing countries and the lack of infrastructure development there could in themselves attract tourists without the need for large investments, as other industries often require.” For this reason, policies to increase incoming tourism have been promoted by institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations as strategies for poor countries to better their lots. However, Suraj elaborates, there is also a less clear issue at stake: While tourism may bring money into a poor country, the poorest people within that country may not benefit as much as might be thought.
Suraj says he first became aware of the economic issues that surround tourism while traveling in rural areas of his home country of Nepal. Tourism is particularly interesting to him, he says, because it is widely believed to be “such a big part of Nepal’s development.” In his own experience with it, he found that tourism in Nepal actually was helpful to the poor: Tourists would “go to the villages” and purchase goods and services from the people there, increasing their incomes. However, Suraj’s thesis advisor, Jeff Parker, pushed the question a little further: Suraj recalls how Jeff brought up the example of the resorts in southern Mexico frequented by Americans, where much of the revenue “goes to the capitalists” who own the resorts, bypassing the poorer workers. Tourism, says Suraj, can have both good and bad effects, and overall is “uncertain.”
Personal experience also played a role in molding Suraj’s interest in the issues of poverty and inequality that form an integral part of his thesis. These issues intrigue him, he says, “probably because I come from Nepal…and we have an opportunity to start development in the right way, where we don’t have institutionalized poverty and inequality.” Suraj asserts the gravity and relevance of poverty and inequality, explaining: “sustainable development is not possible without a focus on the distributive consequences of economic growth-therefore, addressing the questions of poverty and inequality are important.”
Suraj has also already started applying what he has learned to his life outside of Reed: he spent the summer doing independent work on the Davis Grant for Peace in his hometown of Hungi to set up a computer and technology lab in a local school. He hopes to continue in this vein, with even bigger plans to construct a “really awesome” technology center that will be “free for everyone in the village and will focus on job creation in the village and include technology usage in local activities.” He encourages Reedies to get involved: “You could volunteer at the institution I set up this summer,” he says, “and see what life is like, and what it can be!”
Suraj does not yet have any definitive findings on the effects of tourism on the world’s poor. “There are so many things to consider,” he explains; “I am just getting started with the data.” No matter how the project ends up, he is sure that he will have learned a lot, and the knowledge he acquires will guide him later on. However, he says, this knowledge is not itself enough: “I want to go out into the world and make real changes. All the good and especially the bad experiences I have had at Reed have prepared me for the world.”
Do you have or know of a thesis that compels attention? Just want to see your face in the Quest? Email email@example.com with “Cool Thesis” in the subject line.