The World Bank is moving to phase out loans to less-developed countries for such tourism-connected projects as road and other public works around resort hotels.
This shift in emphasis in the bank's lending policy - expected to be approved formally in early May - brings to an end a quiet debate over whether the bank should be supporting the tourism projects which, critics have said, offer limited benefits to the world's poor.
"It is a proposal concerning the optimal use of our resources," said one World Bank official. "Tourism is important to some of our member countries, but not to the majority."
Backing away from tourism projects, he said, will allow the bank to devote greater attention to rural and agricultural development and small-scale industrial projects, and to provide basic services to people living in squalor in urban centers.
The policy shift, now being discussed at the senior staff level at the bank, is further in line with objectives spelled out by World Bank President Robert S. McNamara.
At the bank's annual meeting last fall, McNamara said it is essential that "developing-country governments adopt policies that will assist the poor to enhance their own productivity, and that will assure them a more equitable access to public services."
World Bank funding for tourism, including "soft loans" through the bank's International Development Association, represents a very small portion of the bank's total lending activities.
Since its formation in 1946, the World Bank has lent $337 million for 18 tourism projects in a handful of its 113 member countries.
Last year, the bank targeted $98 million of its $7 million budget for tourism projects.
Debt-ridden less-developed countries frequently turn to tourism projects as a ready source of earning hard currency. Egypt, for example, faces pressing debt problems, and is one country that has launched major programs in recent years to attract private and public investment in tourism projects.
Development experts critical of tourism projects argue that the hotels and associated projects needed to support a successful tourism program place added demands on tight economies, often at the expense of the host countries' poor.
The government winds up sending its scarce funds to import consumer goods for tourists, for example, the critics argue.The tourists also strain local food supplies the critics say.
Bank officials stressed that the shift away from tourism will come gradually, and would not necessarily rule out favorable consideration of projects already in the pipeline.
Officials further said that the turn in policy was not a result of dismay with current tourism projects.
During fiscal year 1977 the bank, for example, loaned $17 million to Kenya for wildlife conservation and anti-poaching activities that not only add to the African country's wildlife-tourism programs, but also "contribute to the preservation of a very important international resource," a bank official said.
Bank funds have also been loaned to Jordan for the preservation of Petra and Jerash, celebrated antiquarian sites that a archeological as well as tourist attractions.
One bank official said, "Some members of the bank feel that tourism is great, others simply do not."
Another official said, "In the future we could get marginally involved in tourism, but in all likelihood we will not lend directly to self-contained tourism projects - it is simply a question of resources."