The prospect of tourism growth in developing countries, where high levels of poverty exists has created enormous attention and interest in tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation. This is often referred to as ‘pro-poor-tourism’. Pro-poor tourism is broadly defined as a tourism development approach that generates net benefits for the poor (PPT partnership, 2004). This includes economic as well as environmental, social and cultural dimensions (Chok et al., 2007). Tourism is becoming a significant and growing economic sector in most developing poor countries (Scheyvens, 2009). It is an integral component of many sustainable development strategies. However, recent debates have arisen over the actual effect the tourism industry has within developing countries, and to what extent it actually helps the poor. Does pro poor tourism not simply offer another route for the wealthy world seeking business opportunities through tourism, or is it really a suitable and sustainable liberating option?
Tourism is regarded by a number of institutional stakeholders, like the World Tourism organization, government and development organization, as a major contributor to poverty alleviation (Hall, 2007). Proponents of pro-poor tourism highlight the benefits tourism offers to developing nations. Tourism can contribute to the well-being of the poor through generation of jobs, income-earning opportunities, and indirectly by infrastructure developments, opportunities to interacts with cultures, gain access to new markets, and encouraging conservation of natural and cultural assets. By enhancing local livelihood, tourism can enable communities to survive rather than seeing the out-migration of their youngest and brightest citizens (Schelyvens, 2009).
In countries where few other grow options exist tourism is believed to offer viable development options. The only sector that really demonstrates a continuous upward trend has been tourism (Scheyvens, 2009). Seeking positive outcomes for the poor requires close attention to demand, product quality, marketing, investment in business skills and inclusion of the private sector (Hall, 2007). This could lead to high dependence on foreign input and intervention.
Serious concerns exist about the recognition that tourism is a good strategy for alleviating poverty. Chok et al. (2007) argued that “ tourism is too often regarded as an economic, social and environmental cure-all.” There is a lack of convincing empirical proof to justify the claim that increased tourism development results in significant benefits for the poor. Scheyvens (2009) critically raises the following question related to pro-poor tourism:
“Can the interest of the poorest members of a society really be served by promoting expansion of a global industry that is founded on equalities, where individual businesses strive to meet the interest of the market, not the poor, and where elites often capture the majority of benefits of any development, which does occur?”
He stated that investors are there to make profits, not to serve the poor. “Why then should we assume that they might have some ethical commitment to ensuring that their business contribute to poverty alleviation?” (Scheyvens, 2009)
Tourism still allows wealthier people to benefit more than the poor. “The ‘fairly poor’ are more likely to receive benefits than the ‘poorest’, who lack the capital and skills to exploit economic opportunities, but are likely to suffer from the negative impacts on local resources” (Hall, 2007). A large part of the money that stays in a country goes to the already better-off: local hotel owners and tour operators who co-operate with international investors (Scheyvens, 2009). However, even if richer people benefit more than poor, but the poor still benefit, pro-poor tourism can be classified as pro-poor (Ashley et al., 2001).
Tourism can also place a heavy demand on limited resources, for example electricity and water. Furthermore, the cultural and social impacts of tourism growth in local communities need to be monitored and managed with caution as it can cause much environmental, socio-economic and cultural damage. (Scheyvens, 2009). One of the challenges related to tourism developments is that market forces cannot equitably allocate benefits and costs. Therefore the public sector need to interfere via policies that try to redistribute some of the excesses of a market led tourism industry (Meyer, 2009).
Hence, the question of how far tourism does and can contribute to poverty reduction often results in a discussion about the global impacts and wider political structures. I agree that these are definitely important discussions but it is unclear how these discussions support poverty reduction in practical terms. There is a lack of convincing empirical evidence to support the claims that tourism benefits the poor. Despite this, I welcome the approach of tourism as a potential tool for poverty reduction. Tourism should continue to be prioritized as a key development option for struggling economies.
Although tourism is a profit-driven business dominated by the private sector, it supports the thought that tourism offers better prospects for pro-poor growth than most other sectors. Tourism offers better labour-intensive and small-scale opportunities. Projects at a local level can be very beneficial to some communities and individuals. Their wellbeing should be central in pro-poor tourism efforts.
However, the bigger picture remains unfortunately a tremendous and complex problem. Tourism itself may bring immediate economic benefits to the poor, but it does not necessarily offer a longer-term solution to the challenge of poverty. National and international policies should not only address the needs of the poor, but also the causes of poverty. Chok et al. (2007) asserted that tourism is highly political and the values of powerful stakeholders greatly shape outcomes. Unless structural changes will be made the hopes for reducing poverty in many parts of the developing world remain poor indeed. Schilcher (2007) suggest that we may also need a shift in policy, from a focus on growth, to equity. Many will support the idea that we need to do something about the gap between rich and poor. But are we also willing to change our own lifestyles? I suppose more often we need a wake-up call about the uneven social and economic playing field in the world.
Ashley, C., Roe, D. and Goodwin,H. (2001) Pro-poor tourism strategies: Making tourism work for the poor. A review of experience. Pro-poor Tourism report no. 1, Overseas Development Institute for Environment and Development , Londan, and Centre for Responsible Tourism, University of Greenwich. Available at Http://www.propoortourism.org.uk/ppt_report.pdf
Chok, S., Macbeth,J., & Warren,C. (2007). Tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation: A critical analysis of “Pro-poor tourism” and implication for sustainability. Current issues in Tourism 10 (2&3), 144-165.
Hall, M. (2007). Pro-poor Tourism: Do ‘Tourism Exchanges Benefit Primarily the Countries of the South? Current issues in Tourism 10 (2&3), 111-118.
Meyer, D. (2009) Pro-poor tourism: Is there actually much rhetoric and if so, whose? Tourism recreation research 34(2), 197-199.
Pro-poor Tourism Partnership (2004). Pro-poor tourism; What is pro-poor tourism? retrieved October 29, 2010 from Http://www.propoortourism.org.uk/what_is_ppt.html
Scheyvens, R. (2009) Pro-poor tourism: Is there value beyond the rethoric? Tourism recreation research 34(2), 191-196.
Schilcher, D. (2007). Growth versus equity: The continuum of Pro-poor tourism and Neoliberal Governance. Current issues in tourism 10 (2&3), 166-193.
UNWTO (2007). Tourism will contribute to solutions for global climate change and poverty challenges (press release 8 March, 2007). Berlin/Madrid: UNWTO press and communications department.