How Pro-Poor is Tourism?

How Pro-Poor is Tourism?

Pro-poor tourism should increase the benefits of the tourism industry for poor people, but what does it mean in practice?
Pro-poor tourism should increase the benefits of the tourism industry for poor people. It is a term increasingly used by several development agencies, but what does it mean in practice? This issue of id21 insights looks at how pro-poor tourism has developed and explores some myths and misconceptions that have arisen around this term.

Most development professionals agree that poverty reduction requires economic growth. But there is a growing recognition that growth alone is not enough. What is needed is economic growth that specifically benefits poor people. Pro-poor growth is possible if it increases the flow of income from poor people's assets or increases the number or value of their assets. Pro-poor tourism has emerged in parallel with thinking on pro-poor growth.

In many developing countries, tourism boosts economic development through contributions to Gross Domestic Product, export earnings, tax revenues and service charges. Most approaches to tourism development focus on increasing the number of arrivals, assuming that the benefits will eventually 'trickle down' to poor people.

Pro-poor tourism takes a different perspective: it focuses on changing the nature of tourism developments so that they increase the flow of income to poor people, or increase their assets or participation. Tourism is labour intensive, providing many job and enterprise opportunities, as well as direct access to 'rich' tourists who are often keen to buy local goods and services. However, without active intervention, the opportunities for poor people to benefit from tourists in their neighbourhood are often missed.

Making tourism more pro-poor

The term 'pro-poor tourism' was first used in a review of the links between sustainable tourism and poverty reduction, commissioned by the UK Department for International Development in 1999. The Pro-Poor Tourism Partnership defines it as 'tourism that results in increased net benefits for poor people'. This focus on net benefits is important: many forms of tourism are costly for poor people (reduced access to land, coastal areas and other valuable resources, for example). If the costs outweigh the benefits, tourism can exacerbate rather than reduce poverty. The principles of pro-poor tourism (see box overleaf) show what this means in practice - what it is, and equally importantly, what it isn't.

Tackling myths and misconceptions

Many people assume that pro-poor tourism is the same as community-based tourism and that community tourism is inherently 'good' for poor communities. They are wrong on both counts. In this issue of id21 insights, Harold Goodwin explores why many well-meaning initiatives fail and identifies a lack of commercial activity as a common problem.
Pro-poor tourism focuses on changing the nature of tourism developments so that they increase the flow of income to poor people, or increase their assets or participation.


Just as community-based tourism is often thought to be 'good', mass tourism - particularly all-inclusive resorts - is often assumed to be 'bad'. Suzy Karammel and Klaus Lengefeld refute this and describe how some all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are creating jobs for poor people and developing crucial linkages with the agricultural sector. Jonathan Mitchell and Sheila Page explore this issue of economic linkages further, dispelling some of the myths concerning one of the main criticisms of tourism - the 'leakage' of tourism earnings out of the destination economy. Caroline Ashley and Jane Ashton argue that tour operators and hoteliers can make pro-poor tourism an integral part of normal business operations.

What can governments do?

Making tourism more pro-poor is not just the responsibility of the private sector. Governments set the frameworks and policies for tourism and influence how destinations develop. Steven Schipani and Thaviphet Oula describe how the government in Lao People's Democratic Republic has included pro-poor tourism in the recent Lao National Tourism Strategy and Action Plan and the National Ecotourism Strategy.

In South Africa, tourism has been identified as a key development sector and is incorporated into many of the country's social and economic policies. The Black Economic Empowerment policy, for example, provides incentives for supporting local employment, local procurement and small enterprises which are important for pro-poor tourism, as Kate Rivett-Carnac describes.

Poverty reduction

Many countries have made links between tourism and poverty, focusing mostly on macroeconomic growth - on jobs, gross national product contributions, foreign exchange earnings and private sector investment. This issue of id21 insights, however, shows that some countries and businesses are beginning to achieve more direct benefits from pro-poor tourism.

Given international pressure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, policymakers cannot ignore the important role that tourism could play.




Contributed by Dilys Roe of the International Institute for Environment and Development. Reprinted with permission from id21.

Other articles in this issue of id21 insight include:

Can the Private Sector Mainstream Pro-Poor Tourism?

Can All-Inclusive Tourism be Pro-Poor?

Community-Based Tourism, Failing to Deliver?


To read all the articles in this issue see id21 insight.

To read another Global Envision article about global poverty, see What Poor Means.



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