I joined TDM in 2010 because, having traveled for most of my life, I saw the power of tourism to provide eye-opening, life changing experiences for travelers while at the same time developing destinations and protecting their natural and cultural heritage. I also saw the destructive effects it can have, and so my goal was to learn how to plan and develop tourism to increase its benefits while minimizing its negative side-effects. I already knew I wanted to work in developing countries, where its effects and impacts can be felt the most. I didn’t know how quickly I would get this opportunity.

Six months after graduating, and same week I joined the World Bank as tourism consultant, I found myself deep in the Himalayas, sitting inside a 16th century fortress, talking to the sword-wearing Bhutanese Secretary of Home and Cultural Affairs about piloting projects to conserve the country’s cultural heritage. The following month I was creating a framework for pro-poor tourism development in South Asia, which turned into a project to develop the Buddhist Circuit- a tourism and pilgrimage route of the most iconic sites where Buddha gained enlightenment, taught and meditated. I’m now also working in Ethiopia, Benin, Burundi, Haiti and Mauritania.

I love the variety of my assignments, which range from assessing a country’s tourism sector to designing development projects, supervising their implementation, advising on monitoring & evaluation and carrying out learning workshops. The work is always different, interesting and intense. The most challenging element is still the reason I got into the sector: how can we best balance tourism’s positive impacts with its negative effects, and how can this most benefit the poor? It’s a question that will continue to be on the forefront of my mind as I travel to Burundi this month, one of the world’s poorest countries, to assess how tourism can contribute to its development.

This was written by former TDM student Alex Pio who is a Tourism Specialist at the World Bank.