25 January 2018

Is Tourism Doing Enough to Help Fight Poverty?

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While environmental protection and cultural preservation are always high on the responsible travel agenda, there seems to be a lack of focus on what really makes sustainable tourism work: the well-being of people!

International organizations are often expounding on the benefits of tourism for host countries, the economic rewards, as well as the potentially positive effects on society. However, to have a real impact on poverty reduction, the travel industry must make an active effort to be more inclusive:

“… the pro-poor impact of tourism development is not only or not predominantly a matter of size (i.e. tourist arrivals and tourism growth rate), but depends on how the poor are integrated in, or can become part of, the tourism value chain.”

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

So what are Destination Management Companies and Tour Operators actually doing to make sure that the benefits of tourism reach those areas of society that need it the most?

Trickle Down Economy – The “Lose-Lose” Scenario

It seems to be a commonly accepted notion that growth in tourism automatically improves economic conditions for the poorest members of society, yet this is clearly not always the case. In many areas that have experienced a tourism boom, disadvantaged local communities have become increasingly marginalized.

This leads to a conflict of interest between locals and travellers, building resentment on both sides and ultimately creating an atmosphere that is less hospitable to travellers, as well as less profitable for local residents. It doesn’t take a lot of foresight to see that this situation quickly leads to a very undesirable state of affairs.

In many developing countries, this also results in a large section of the informal economy becoming involved in exploitative practices, such as narcotics, prostitution or other forms of crime. Rising property prices and the cost of living almost inevitably drives already struggling communities into desperation.

Inclusive Tourism Economy – The “Win-Win” Scenario

The goal of inclusive tourism is to empower disadvantaged local communities and provide them with tools to actively contribute towards tourism development. This not only creates access to economic rewards for otherwise deprived members of society, but also creates incentives for local populations to support sustainable tourism initiatives.

As local populations benefit economically from tourism, they are empowered and incentivized to preserve traditional culture and protect the environment, as well as to create a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere for travellers.

Providing access to training, education and employment, leads to local populations becoming increasingly invested in the success of sustainable tourism. Rather than being seen as a source of frustration or a resource to be exploited, tourism becomes a source of pride and the key to a better future.

Practical Ways to Fight Poverty – The Buffalo Tours Model

As part of a commitment to “giving back” to host communities, Buffalo Tours explores every possibility to promote inclusiveness and support sustainable local development, across all the 11 Asian destinations in which we operate. These initiatives primarily manifest themselves in four key areas:

  • Working with local organizers, government agencies and non-profit organizations to create community projects that leverage cultural heritage and make traditional ways of life profitable through responsible tourism development.
  • Providing training and employment opportunities, specifically targeted at disadvantaged members of society. Not only is this an investment in nurturing the future generation of tourism professionals, it also creates advocates for sustainable tourism within host communities.
  • Including social enterprises and traditional businesses in the supply chain. This empowers travellers to contribute to local economies in a responsible and sustainable way, while also providing high-value and quality experiences.
  • Funding local development, education and infrastructure. While it is an essential part of the Buffalo Tours philosophy that responsible development should be economically viable in itself, it is also recognized that tourism companies have a responsibility to offer monetary contributions and organizational support to local facilities, such as schools, libraries, bridges and roads in remote and underprivileged areas.

An important factor to the success of these initiatives is to also be inclusive of other industry players and organizations, so that we can all work together to fight poverty.

Buffalo Tours seeks to improve cooperation throughout the industry, so that non-profits can provide guidance, local operators can implement practical solutions, and source markets can help promote inclusive tourism development to travellers.

While the task ahead might seem overwhelming, it is vitally important to constantly take steps towards a sustainable and inclusive tourism economy, to ensure a bright future for travellers as well as local communities.

Indonesia - Street Vendor

You can read more about community projects, training initiatives and social enterprise partnerships on the Buffalo Tours Travel Blog:

Community Development in Laos

Guide School in Indonesia

Social Enterprises in Vietnam

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