Gabriela Sauter Investigates the Role of Global Tourism in the Re-Configuring of Urban Space in Coastal Tourist Areas

In her research, PhD Candidate in Planning Gabriela Sauter questions the power, planning and political implications of a global corporate tourism sector in the urban development and planning of coastal tourist areas such as Bávaro-Punta Cana.

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El Hoyo de Friusa, an informal settlement in Bávaro-Punta Cana

Coastal tourism has become a significant contributor to the economies of many countries of the global South, particularly small island developing states (SIDS). Many states have facilitated the expansion of tourism through the provision of fiscal incentives and the building of infrastructure catered to tourism. With the rapid growth in hotel rooms and tourist arrivals, migrant workers have settled in and around the vicinity of tourist areas in search of employment opportunities. As a result, existing urban centres have expanded, and new urban centres around tourist poles have emerged. Bávaro-Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, is one example of a new urban centre.

Sauter argues that coastal tourism plays a crucial role in the configuring of urban space and development: “This is particularly significant because urban space carries with it a particular set of implications in terms of the built environment and basic services, the lived experience of residents, and the relationship between actors in the governance process.”

Before she started her PhD, Sauter worked at a research organization, IIED (the International Institute for Environment and Development) in the UK and gained some interesting experience doing research in the Global South. With the hope of advancing in her field, she returned to Canada and pursued her own research at the doctoral level.

All-inclusive resorts

All-inclusive resorts

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Hotel construction halted as a result of the economic crisis

She decided to focus her research in the Dominican Republic, a natural choice for Sauter: “I spent a lot of time in the Dominican Republic as a child. I remember hearing things about issues around land titles, particularly in coastal areas, and evictions. Having grown up in the tourism industry, I wondered how it impacted the areas around tourist establishments. Doing fieldwork in the Dominican Republic had its own set of challenges, but luckily I have a great supervisor—Professor Amrita Daniere—who keeps me going (and on track!).”

Since coming back from fieldwork, she has spent her days working on her thesis and teaching (for the first time). In the fall of 2012, she taught a course entitled Environmental Issues in the Developing World (GGR345), and is currently teaching her second course,  Recreation and Tourism (GGR356).

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All-inclusive resorts

“I hadn’t anticipated teaching would be so fulfilling and energizing. It’s funny how talking about your subject to curious students could get you so excited about your own research too. It’s definitely something I want to do in the future, maybe after some time working in planning and research. I want to be that prof who can always relate material to a good story.”