Pro-Poor Tourism: Helping Benefit The Poor

Pro-poor tourism is regular tourism – except it consciously benefits the poor and helps reduce their poverty.

Tourism is a US$ 2 trillion a year industry, so it’s hugely profitable. And it is usually welcomed because it provides millions of jobs to local people. They may be jobs of the most menial and lowest paid kind, but jobs nonetheless.

However, tourism money ‘leaks’ – it tends to benefit the huge conglomerates that own tourist facilities, fly people in and out, or provide the food and materials imported for the resort. These are usually located outside the destination country so the bulk of the money – more than half, according to the World Bank – doesn’t make its way into local economies.

In fact, in some cases, people are even worse off because of tourism development. It’s fine if they have a job, but those who don’t often find food and lodging prices skyrocket. People are also relocated to make way for new tourism developments so they may lose their ancestral homes, often for little or no compensation. Protected areas are destroyed, decimating communities’ natural heritage and undermining the potential for ecotourism.

Pro-poor tourism seeks to turn this equation around, at least financially.


Simply put, it directs profits back into the community by employing local people, leasing local land, using local food and other resources, or operating local businesses.

Anyone can engage in tourism that helps the poor, even multinationals. They just have to make sure that much of the profits stay home to benefit local people.

Here are a few examples of what pro-poor tourism projects can include:

  • Hotels that train local people for future jobs
  • Local handicraft sales
  • Wages and health services for local staff
  • Health services for local staff
  • Respect for local land ownership and boundaries
  • Consultation with local groups before development

Hundreds of these projects are already underway worldwide, covering all of the above, and more.

Still, confused about pro-poor tourism? Each of these projects qualifies:

  • the Mekong Tourism Development Project in Laos, which trains local people in the hospitality trade and helps them build a tourism infrastructure
  • visitors headed to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda will often be eating vegetables and honey provided by the Bwindi Advanced Market Gardeners’ Association (AMAGARA – ‘life’ in Rukiga, the local language)
  • the EU’s INTEGRITAS project in Cambodia helps keep some of the money spent visiting Angkor Wat in the town of Siem Reap, the launching point for visits – 85% of Cambodia’s tourism is here

So when you travel, make sure you ask the right questions. How many local people are employed? In what kind of jobs? Who provides most of the supplies? How much money stays in the local community? How are local people involved in tourism development?

It’s important to be aware of the implications of our travel and to make the right choices. I for one don’t want my love for travel to contribute to someone else’s poverty. On the contrary, I’d like to think my passing through may have actually helped someone – even if only a little.

— Originally published on 31 July 2011

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