In my tourism masters degree program, I took a class called ‘International Trade and Tourism,’ which turned out to be one of my favorites. A large part of our grade came from a debate on whether or not small island economies benefit from tourism specialization in the long run. Interesting stuff for tourism geeks.
Another concept that has stuck with me from that class was the difference between ‘tradable goods’ and ‘non-tradable goods’. Tradable goods, such as sugar or electronics, are produced for export and purchase with foreign currency. They will have to compete internationally. A non-tradable good is produced for the local market, for purchase with local currency, and does not compete in the global marketplace. The classic example given is a haircut.
Global tourism has a sly way of turning non-tradable goods into tradable ones. With enough tourism, a city like Cochabamba Bolivia can essentially ‘export’ non-tradables like restaurant meals and haircuts by selling them to travelers who are buying with foreign currency that they’ve exchanged. The implications are many, but this is part of why global tourism is generally considered to be a positive thing for local economies.
During my three months as a tourist in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I’ve taken every opportunity within my budget to turn local non-tradable goods into exports by buying them. My data is less than perfect, but here are some estimates:
- Average meals out per week: probably around 12 (cooking is not my gig here)
- Average glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice from a street vendor per week: 10 (yes, some days are two-juice kinds of days)
In my final week here in Cochabamba, I decided to turn that classic textbook example of a non-tradable good into an export. I got a haircut. I figured that D’el Las Peluqueria (salon) might want to export some highlights as well.
I’ve had a number of haircut abroad experiences, from a not-so-great cut in Mexico that framed my face like two parentheses, to some unsolicited bangs in Albania that I’m still trying to grow out. No matter the results, I like the adventure of it. I also like finding one more way to contribute to the local economy. Sofia at Del Las Peluqueria did a fantastic job on my trim and some subtle blonde highlights. This time, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Total price: 110 Bolivianos (about $15 USD)