What about the locals?: the impact of state tourism policy and transnational participation on two central Asian mountain communities
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The prospect of rural development is emerging as an important topic among development specialists. In their quest to focus more attention in this arena, the State, transnational investors, and international organizations are entering into complex partnerships to assist rural communities in attaining higher levels of development. Primary goals include bettering general infrastructure and creating employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for local communities. Many times, however, the geographic and economic context of regions where development projects are aimed, and the participation of local stakeholders, is not properly taken into consideration. As a result, development goals prove difficult to attain. Using qualitative data over a nine month period of field research, I examine the impact of state tourism development policy and transnational participation on two rural regions in Central Asia. The respective governments have differing approaches to the development of the tourism sector based primarily on their geographic and economic contexts. While one employs a broad policy seeking sectoral development part-andparcel of the strong general economy and without soliciting outside participation, the other, because of limited self-capacity, employees a progressive policy that includes transnational investors and development agencies as key partners. The findings suggest that a developing country in a strong economic and geographic position is better able to foster an additive industry like tourism and do so in a way that is equitable for local stakeholders. Local stakeholders take advantage of benefits the greater economy provides, despite the broad state policy and lack of outside participation. A country in a weaker economic and geographic position, regardless of comparative advantages in the industry and progressive policies that include outside participation, develops the industry in a way that is less equitable for local stakeholders because of the weak general economy, because outside participation creates foreign competition, and because the targeted clientele drawn is not likely to directly seek out the services locals offer. I contribute to the understanding of local development by demonstrating the impact of geographic and economic contexts and colonial legacy on development processes, the importance of local stakeholders in policy development and implementation, and the equity of bottom-up development planning.