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Diasporas: A link to global integration

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Can diasporas really serve as bridges to global markets for their countries of origin? A closer look at tourism and trade during the fifth Diaspora Engagement Seminar seems to imply exactly that. Dr. Manuel Orozco from the Inter-American Dialogue and Dr. Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey, President of Henderson Travel Service, were featured in this month’s seminar titled, "Heritage Tourism and Nostalgia Trade.”

Romi Bhatia, Senior Advisor for Diaspora Partnerships at USAID, began the seminar by giving a short introduction of the topic as well as highlighting a rising trend in the tourism industry. Bhatia stated that the number of international tourists visiting developing countries had increased by 64 percent between 2000 and 2008, outpacing that of visits to developed countries.

Gaynelle Henderson, whose family travel service specializes in the cultural heritage tourism market, also noted how interest in traveling to Africa has grown over the years. Today, cultural experiences have become value added for travelers who prefer authentic planes and experiences rather than homogeneous destinations. Diaspora tourists in particular have the potential to make an economic impact in their countries of origin. For example, African diaspora tourists tend to spend more time in their home countries, averaging 5.2 nights compared to 3.4 nights of other tourists. Moreover, diaspora tourists make greater contributions to the local economy as they are more likely to stay in smaller, locally owned accommodations, eat at local restaurants, and spend more money on local arts and crafts. On a broader scale, Henderson stated that African diaspora tourism is important because its growing popularity can serve as a promotional tool to wider markets of the rich historical and cultural sites of developing countries.

Tourism however is not the only export that is becoming a significant revenue source for developing countries; traded goods produced in countries of origin of migrant groups—also known as nostalgia goods—are seeing an increase in demand. Manuel Orozco defined ‘nostalgia goods’ as non-traditional exports, mainly foodstuffs, and basic consumption goods in home countries. Nostalgia goods help migrants retain their sense of identity and culture while living transnational lives. Orozco’s pioneering research on nostalgia trade found that, on average, 90 percent of immigrants buy some sort of nostalgic commodity.

Furthermore, immigrant households spend an average of $1000 a year on nostalgia goods, contributing much more to home countries’ economies with these purchases than through remittances. The suppliers of these commodities are often small ethnic shops in migrant neighborhoods, but Orozco highlighted the potential of these suppliers entering the wider market beyond the diaspora. Some of the barriers to market expansion include insufficient capital and a lack of economies of scale. However, despite the challenges, the growing demand for nostalgia goods along with cultural tourism is contributing to larger trade flows, making the diaspora instrumental in integrating countries of origin with the global market.

For more in-depth information, please watch the seminar screencast or read MicroNote #56 to learn more about nostalgia trade.