Political Economy of Tourism: Residents’ Power, Trust in Government, and Political Support for Development
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Citizens’ trust in government institutions and their political support for development are important preconditions for a democratic and sustainable form of development. In the context of tourism, it is important that residents of a destination endorse development and tourism policies of the government to ensure sustainability and good governance of the sector. Recognition that communities are central to tourism development and one of the most important groups of stakeholders has led researchers to conduct numerous studies on residents’ support for tourism development and its antecedents. While early studies on this topic were of an atheoretical nature, researchers have increasingly made use of theories such as social exchange theory (SET), originally drawn from sociology, to understand the ways in which residents’ react to tourism development and the circumstances that prompt them to do so. While on one hand use of SET has strengthened the theoretical base of and has made significant contributions to this area of research, on the other hand, some researchers have found the theory to lack predictive power in explaining residents’ support for tourism development. This is probably because researchers have failed to consider all important variables of the theory simultaneously in an integrative framework. Key constructs such as power and trust have been left out by the majority of studies on this topic. It is also important that SET is complemented with other theoretical approaches so that new insights are uncovered in this area of study. Grounded in political economy, this study attempted to make a ‘complete’ use of SET by integrating its key components (trust, power, benefits, costs, and support) in a model that predicted residents’ trust in government actors involved in tourism and their political support for the sector’s development. The research drew widely from the political science literature and made use of two competing theories to investigate the determinants of residents’ trust in government actors: institutional theory of political trust and cultural theory of political trust. Based on the three different theories (SET, institutional theory of political trust, and cultural theory of political trust), the conceptual model of the study was developed. As postulated by SET, the model posited that political support is determined by residents’ trust in government actors, perceived benefits of tourism, and perceived costs of tourism. The latter two variables were also proposed to influence trust in government actors. An inverse relationship between perceived benefits and perceived costs of tourism was also hypothesized. The model further suggested that residents’ perceptions of their level of power in tourism influenced their perceptions of the benefits and costs of tourism development. As predicted by institutional theory of political trust, residents’ perceptions of the economic and political performance of local government actors and their perceived level of power in tourism were proposed to influence their trust in those actors. Drawing from cultural theory of political trust, interpersonal trust was hypothesized to be positively related to residents’ trust in government actors. Twelve hypotheses emanated from the model and were tested using responses collected from 391 residents of Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada, using an online panel. Hierarchical regression analysis was used to test the proposed hypotheses. In addition, the mediating effects implied in the proposed model were investigated (although no formal hypotheses were originally proposed) using Baron and Kenny’s (1986) recommended steps and the Sobel z test. Findings provided support for eight of the twelve proposed hypotheses. Contrary to what researchers have assumed so far, residents’ trust in government actors was a better predictor of political support that their perceptions of the costs of tourism development. Perceived benefits remained the best predictor of political support as advocated in several studies. Residents’ perceptions of the benefits of tourism were also inversely related to perceived costs, suggesting that interactions among residents’ perceptions of the different impacts of tourism exist. Residents’ perceived level of power in tourism was a significant determinant of perceived benefits, but did not significantly predict perceived costs. Residents’ perceptions of the political performance of government actors in tourism was the strongest predictor of their trust, followed by their perceptions of the economic performance of government actors, and their perceptions of the benefits of tourism development. Residents’ perceived level of power in tourism, their perceptions of the costs of tourism, and interpersonal trust were found to be insignificant predictors of their trust in government actors. Findings also suggested that residents’ perceptions of the costs of tourism and their trust in government actors partially mediated the relationships between perceived benefits of tourism and political support. The results partially supported SET because some of the theory’s postulates and predictions were not empirically supported. Findings also confirmed the superiority of institutional theory of political trust over cultural theory of political trust. The theoretical and practical implications of the study’s findings were discussed. The limitations of the study were recognized and some recommendations for improving future research were made. Overall, the study suggested that political trust is a promising construct in studies on community support for development policies and deserves further attention by researchers, scholars, and practitioners given the paucity of research on this topic in the tourism literature. The search also suggests that researchers should recognize that residents’ trust in government actors and their support for tourism development are complex issues that are determined by several factors. A single theory is unlikely to provide a comprehensive understanding of these concepts, raising the need for researchers to investigate these issues from different theoretical perspectives.
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