Importance Of Tourism. Tourism And Poverty Reduction

Tourism is one of the major vectors of international trade and prosperity. The reduction of poverty is one of the most important global challenges. Despite this turbulent period for the global economy, it is unlikely that these basic assertions will change. The polarization of wealth to strengthen tourism for the benefit of the poorest populations is an enormous task but also an opportunity.


1. The size and growth of the sector

In many countries, tourism acts as a driver of development through foreign currency savings and the creation of direct and indirect jobs. Tourism contributes 5% of global GDP. It represents 6% of world exports of services; it is also the fourth largest exporter, after oil, chemicals and automobiles. Tourism offers 235 million jobs, or one in 12 jobs worldwide.

International arrivals increased by more than 4%, from 939 million in 2010 to 982 million in 2011, a year characterized by a stagnant global economic recovery, by many political changes in the Middle East and North Africa, and natural disasters in Japan.

2. The relative importance of tourism in developing countries

Tourism, in many less developed and developing countries, represents the most reliable option for sustainable economic development and, for some of these countries, the main source of savings in foreign currencies. Part of this income favors different groups in society and, while tourism emphasizes poverty reduction, it can directly benefit the poorest groups through the employment of local people in tourism enterprises, supply of goods and services to tourists, or the creation of small local community enterprises, etc., with a positive impact on levels of poverty reduction.

In recent years, tourism has been characterized by two major trends: the first was the consolidation of traditional tourist destinations such as Western Europe and North America; the second was a pronounced geographical expansion. There has been a substantial diversification of destinations and many of them have seen a significant increase in their tourist arrivals. Arrivals to developing countries accounted for 46% of global international arrivals for 2011. Tourism has become a major component in the economies of developing countries.

İmportance of tourism. Here are some convincing facts:

  • In 2011, international tourist arrivals to emerging markets and developing countries registered 459 million.
  • Tourism is the first or second source of foreign currency savings for 20 of the world’s 48 least developed countries.
  • In some developing countries, particularly small island states, tourism can account for 25% of GDP.

3. The characteristics of tourism

There are several characteristics of tourism as a particularly beneficial activity for low-income countries and their poorest communities. This includes:

  • His special assets. Tourism gives great value to particularities common to developing countries, such as the warm climate, rich cultural heritage, mesmerizing landscapes, and abundant biodiversity. These strong traits are particularly apparent in rural areas, to the advantage of tourism and, on the other hand, to the disadvantage of most other economic sectors.
  • Its accessibility to the poor. Tourism is a relatively large labor force traditionally formed by small and micro enterprises. Many tourism activities are particularly dedicated to women, youth and groups of marginal populations such as ethnic minorities. Many tourism jobs are easily accessible to the poor because they require low capacity and small investments. Some jobs may be part-time and thus serve as additional income for other activities.
  • His interaction. The different criteria and actions defining the tourism product are so numerous, within a wide and diversified supply chain, that tourist spending benefits a wide range of sectors such as agriculture, handicrafts, transport and other activities. In turn, employees in these sectors, whose income is provided through tourism, benefit other economic sectors (this is a multiplier effect).
  • Its links between consumers and producers. Tourism is an activity that puts the consumer in contact with the producer. The interaction between tourists and disadvantaged communities can provide intangible and practical benefits. Cultural, environmental and economic values foster a growing awareness of issues such as stimulating local investments in infrastructure.

However, there are negative aspects of tourism that, when it comes to poverty reduction, require special attention. The main ones are:

  • Unpredictability and fluctuations in demand. Tourism is very sensitive to economic, environmental, and socio-political events that affect tourists’ willingness to travel. The poor are very vulnerable to the sudden drop in demand because they have neither insurance nor social security. However, tourism demand is rising rapidly as a result of the favorable change in events.
  • The seasonal nature of demand, characterized by peak activity. This requires a good integration between tourism and other economic activities in order to provide a sufficient livelihood throughout the year.
  • The impact on vital resources. This includes water, land, food, energy sources and biodiversity. Their use by the poor can be endangered by overconsumption of tourists. The degradation of cultural aspects and the disruption of social structures are parallel threats. Issues of resource reduction and environmental degradation are just as important globally as locally, including the effects of long-term tourism on climate change and the impact of measures to mitigate and adapt climate change patterns.
  • Low links with the poor. The nature of tourism investments and the lack of commitment on the part of the poor can cause tourists, and therefore their expenses, to flee to other destinations. The income generated will not benefit the poor but the most qualified and wealthy segments of society.

Tourism should not be seen as the “answer” to poverty alleviation, although it contributes significantly to it. The potential for developing wider tourism and channeling a higher percentage of tourism spending to the benefit of the poor is sometimes high in some areas, but low in some others. That said, and in keeping with the size of the sector, even small changes can make a big difference.

Looking at growth as a whole, the economic benefits and other benefits for the poor need to be examined in two ways:

In order to contribute significantly to the reduction of poverty, it is essential to study the different tourist streams, two of which require special attention:

  • Engage the private sector, through significant operations and investments, and through small and micro enterprises, through which tourism-related economic resources will be created and distributed. These operations will have to be complemented by measures generating more benefits for the poor, such as employment policies, linkages between the establishment of tourist activities and local products, as well as greater competition.
  • Ensure that tourism destinations are competitive and sustainable, by studying resource management issues and the relationship between tourism and other sectors of the economy.

This approach should be complemented by working sessions with local communities to make them understand their needs and how to create accessible opportunities. This must, however, remain linked to a broader tourism context and the market.

10 Principles for achieving poverty reduction through tourism

  1. All aspects and types of tourism can and must commit to reducing poverty.
  2. All governments must include poverty reduction as a key objective of tourism development, so consider tourism as a possible tool for reducing poverty.
  3. The competitiveness and economic success of tourism businesses and destinations are decisive for poverty reduction. Otherwise, the poor do not benefit.
  4. All tourism businesses must be concerned about the impact of their activities on local communities and ensure that the poor benefit from their actions.
  5. Tourism destinations must be managed by strategies and action plans whose main objective is the reduction of poverty.
  6. A great understanding of how tourism works in destinations is required, namely: how are tourism revenues distributed and who can benefit from them.
  7. Tourism management and development must include a wide range of interests, including the participation and representation of poor communities.
  8. The potential impacts of tourism on the livelihoods of local communities need to be taken into account, including the local and global impacts, present and future, of natural and cultural resources.
  9. Attention must be given to the viability of all projects concerning the poor, ensuring access to markets and major opportunities benefiting from links with existing businesses.
  10. The impacts of tourism on poverty reduction need to be effectively controlled.


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