Press release: Tourism and poverty reduction


                                                                                                    Press release 14/3/05

Tourism & poverty 

Those of us selling holidays, or writing/broadcasting for the public, have often been wary of burdening clients or readers with the world’s problems on their holidays.

However, as p
overty will be one of the biggest news stories of 2005, and many of 2005's hot destinations are in developing countries (meaning that increasing numbers of tourists are finding it a real and difficult issue) poverty & tourism can't be ignored.  

In the news

In the New Year we sat appalled at the impact of the tsunami on poor people in tourism destinations.  Gordon Brown looked liked he discovered something new in himself, as well as staring poverty in the face as he toured Africa for the first time in February. 


Last week the UK Government and Bob Geldof launched the Commission for Africa during Comic Relief, and in July the UK will Chair the G8 Summit at Gleneagles where poverty, fair trade and the anti-globalization campaigners will generate acres of newsprint.

Poverty and trade will be front page news from July 6th - 8th at the G8 Summit.   


The tourism industry & poverty

The closest that any of us will come to extreme poverty will be on our holidays.  What role does tourism – which is the world’s largest employer – play in poverty reduction, and do any of us really want to think about poverty on holiday?

Firstly, UK tourists spend about £2bn on holiday in developing countries – that’s comparable to the UK Government’s aid budget.  Not all of this ‘trickles down’ into local people’s hands but it indicates the scale of tourism’s potential to reduce poverty.


A report by the World Tourism Organization revealed that 80% of the world’s poor (living on less than $1 per day) live in 12 countries.  In 11 of these countries tourism is significant and growing.  Tourism is the principal export for 30% of developing countries, and growing fast.  For example, in Tanzania tourism is 8.2% of GDP, and has grown over 1000% in the last ten years.  The Maldives is the country most dependent on tourism, which accounts for 57.7% of GDP.

Tourism has advantages and disadvantages as a tool for poverty reduction.  

On the positive side


Tourism is labor intensive (only agriculture among major industries is more labour intensive) and therefore a very significant employer.   Tourism often employs the economically marginalized, including women.


Tourism has a higher potential for linkages with local enterprises - such as craft sellers, local guides and restaurants, taxi drivers, local food producers and fishermen – than any sector apart from agriculture.


Tourism can be built from the assets of local people such as their tradition, festivals, land and natural and built heritage.  Tourists are often attracted to remote places and fascinated by local culture – which is one of the few assets of the truly poor.


Unlike, for example Cocoa , tourism is not subject to crippling export trade tariffs designed to protect Western economies.


Tourism need not replace other economic activity, and can exist alongside for example agriculture.  Tourism’s success depends, at least in the long term, on conserving natural and cultural heritage. 


  On the down side


Tourism is a volatile and fickle industry to depend on (although arguably no more so than other industries).


Large number of tourists can erode local culture.  Short-term needs, and lack of planning, can result in the degradation of natural and built environments on which local people depend.  A local person in Asia said ‘tourism is like fire – you can cook your dinner on it or it can burn your house down.’


Overseas companies often own the big hotels and the tour companies bringing tourists in.  They may or may not provide ways for local people to fully access the tourism market. 



Guilt-free travel?


If we travel to some of 2005 ‘hottest’ destinations – Mexico, Mozambique, Tanzania, Cuba, South Africa or Laos - and venture outside our hotel it is almost impossible not to be confronted by the huge disparity in wealth between us and local people, and for this to make us feel uncomfortable.


I’m amazed that tourists who are routinely surprised by this, do they expect Disney like theme Parks full of happy people when they travel to some of the world’s poorest, and most desperate as well as most beautiful places?


Some tourists enjoy meeting local people on their terms.  Calabash Township Tours in Port Elizabeth, South Africa won the poverty category of our 2004 Responsible Tourism Awards and are thriving with tourists wanting to meet local people in a fair and equitable way that ‘puts something back’. 

Other tourists prefer to stay in resorts, however if they’ve chosen a hotel that, for example; recruits and trains local people; pays them fair wages and ensures good working conditions; sources fresh food from local micro enterprises; enables local craftsmen to sell their products from the hotel and supports local conservation and social projects then they can relax with a cocktail by the pool in the knowledge that they are doing their bit.  The choice is there’s to make, and more people want to make a positive choice, even if it is only to give them piece of mind.   


With your help we can help tourists make better choices so that they can benefit local people and feel better about their holidays.



For more information:

Justin Francis
07787 555088 (m) is one of the fast growing travel online travel agencies in the UK, and lobbies for more responsible tourism.  More about the company here.

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