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The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, July 2005


How is Tourism Affecting Ethnic Minority Women?

The Case of Bai and Mosuo Women in Yunnan Province, PRC

By Duarte B. Morais

Tourism has become increasingly recognized as a global force of change, particularly in

developing countries. In the Asia Pacific region, tourism development is often seen as a tool for
socio-economic revitalization of communities that have remained isolated from the mainstream
society and economy. Despite the claims for the potential benefits of tourism, there have been
limited empirical examinations of tourism impacts in peripheral areas in the Asia Pacific, and
little insight into the impacts tourism has on ethnic minority women. Although tourism offers
opportunities for income generation and economic independence, which helps enhance women’s
social and economic status, women typically hold tourism jobs that are an extension of their
traditional home duties (e.g., home stay providers, cleaners, and craft makers) and rarely attain
leadership positions, perpetuating the cycle of women’s invisibility and lack of appreciation by
In order to examine to what extent socio-cultural characteristics of the host community
may influence the way tourism impacts women, we conducted a controlled comparison of
impacts in two ethnic tourism destinations in Yunnan Province, PRC; Dali and Lugu-Hu, and
their predominant ethnic groups – the Bai and the Mosuo respectively. These two groups are
similar in terms of their geographical and economic situations, but have one critical difference:
the Bai people are patriarchal and the Mosuo matriarchal.
Table 1 and 2 below summarize the results of the interviews with Bai and Mosuo women,
which included questions regarding the impacts tourism has had on them, their family and their

Table 1. Positive impacts

Impacts Dali Lugu-Hu

Economic Increases family income (4) Living standards improved (4)
More income sources for women/unskilled Increased income
Part-time jobs for children (3)
Living standards improved (2)
More availability of goods
Cultural We can learn about outside world (2) We learn new languages (2)
Local snacks promoted People became open minded (2)
Women’s knowledge increased We do not need to do heavy farm work
Women learn new languages Hygienic practices improved
People want to modernize their towns Children realize learning is important
Ethnic culture is protected Educational level improved
Wives and husbands share economic Clothing is more diverse
Ecological Infrastructure improves (2) Houses and facilities improved
Green vegetables are produced & consumed

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, July 2005

Table 2. Negative impacts

Impacts Dali Lugu-Hu

Economic Prices increased Outsiders dominate tourism business
Families’ expenditures increased
Outsiders dominate tourism business
Public expenditures to protect environment
Profits from tourists souvenirs are low
Prices of agricultural products are too high
Cultural Children distracted from their studies (2) Falling in love with outsiders hurts family
Family time and free time has decreased harmony (2)
(2) Mothers become very busy (2)
Time for guiding children has decreased Children become lazy
Prostitutes have come from poor villages Criminal cases have increased
Outsiders misrepresent local culture
We forget how to do farm work
Ecological Noise pollution Lake pollution has become serious
More vehicles are dangerous to locals
Rivers are polluted
White pollution (paper/plastic)

The data collected from the study provides much insight into the ways in which tourism
affects Bai and Mosuo women. Namely,
• While Bai women emphasized that tourism brings economic opportunities, Mosuo women,
who were already economically independent, only noted moderate improvements to their
standard of living.
• Informants mentioned numerous positive and negative impacts that had no evident
relationship with access to income, e.g. exposure to other languages, cultures and the concept
of modernization.
• Mosuo women showed particular concern over the preservation of their traditions by noting
how tourism brought crime, cultural misrepresentation, and temptations to Mosuo girls.

In conclusion, this study affirms that tourism development brings much needed
economic relieve to peripheral regions despite the fact that the hosts only retain a small fraction
of the revenues due to national tour agencies’ control over transportation and lodging and
immigrant merchants dominating the retail of souvenirs. It also suggests that increased access to
income only benefits women’s social standing in communities where they have been traditionally
alienated from the local economy, whereas in communities where women have been
commercially active, tourism only provides an alternative source of income. Lastly, an important
implication for tourism-related research in China and the broader Asia Pacific region, where
traditional socio-cultural factors play an important role in determining gender relations, is that
since tourism affects women in many ways not related to economic benefits, any examinations of
tourism impacts on women should encompass both economic and socio-cultural factors.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, July 2005

Note: This article has been adapted from a full feature article published in the Asia Pacific
Journal of Tourism Research. Morais, D. B., Yarnal, C., Dong, E., and Dowler, L. (2005). The
Impact of Ethnic tourism on Bai and Mosuo women in Yunnan province, PRC. Asia Pacific
Journal of Tourism Research, 10(3). If you wish to obtain a copy of the full article, please contact
the author:

Duarte B. Morais
Assistant Professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management
The Pennsylvania State University
228 Mateer Building
University Park, PA 16802-1307
(814) 865-5614 Fax (814) 863-4257

Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research is the official journal of the Asia Pacific Tourism
Association (Founded September 1995) and seeks to publish both empirically and theoretically
based articles which advance and foster tourism education, research, and professionalism in the
Asia Pacific region. The Journal welcomes submissions of full length articles, research notes,
critical reviews on major issues, and reviews of books and conferences with relevance to the Asia
Pacific region. More information on Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research is available at:

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