What is pro-poor tourism and why is it so great?
27th January, 2023
Pro-poor tourism is a fantastic example of how tourism can be used as a force for good. But what exactly is pro-poor tourism and how does it work? Read on to learn more…
What is pro-poor tourism?
Pro-poor tourism, often referred to as PPP, is a model of tourism that ‘generates net benefits for the poor’. It dates back to the early 2000s (with the term first being coined in 1999) and was presented as an initiative to use the vast amount of money generated by tourism, to help the world’s poorest people. Strategically, pro-poor tourism aims to ‘increase economic stability and mitigate the negative effects of local cultures and environments’.
Essentially, pro-poor tourism is about generating more money for poor people in poor countries. It aims to improve their lives through the billions of Pounds the tourism industry brings in every year. This sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to go on vacation and know that by doing so they are helping to enhance the lives of the poor? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as simple as it sounds and in order to achieve this is requires careful management of the economic impacts of tourism.
How does pro-poor tourism work?
There are three strategies which countries must apply in order to see success with pro-poor tourism. These are as follows:
- To increase the financial profits of poor people
- To enrich the lives of the native community
- To encourage collaboration with the poor
As you can see, each of these strategies place poor people and locals ahead of tourists. The concept understands that the people who live in these communities, whose homes and livelihoods are here, are more important than the fleeting visitors.
The Borgen Project, a non-profit dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger, explain this in more detail:
The first strategy of Pro-Poor Tourism is to increase the financial profits of the poor. PPT promotes the growth of local occupational opportunities and the development of local businesses that supply products for the tourist industry. The second strategy is to enrich the lives of native citizens. PPT provides locals with availability to facilities and services originally established for tourists. The third strategy of Pro-Poor Tourism is to stimulate collaboration with the poor. This involves promoting the participation of the poor in the government and private sectors. In addition, it also includes increasing policy formation that supports the involvement of the poor.
So how exactly can tourism help the poor? Well there are many different things that tourism industry stakeholders can do to ensure that tourism development and planning focusses on benefitting the poor, some examples include:
- Hiring local people
- Donating part of the profits to the local community
- Building facilities and infrastructure that will also improve the lives of the local community
- Introducing volunteer tourism projects
- Limiting economic leakage in tourism
- Developing tourism that involves the host community such as cultural tourism or agritourism
- Integrating public needs into tourism planning and development
- Giving the local community a voice
There are, naturally, some pro-poor tourism initiatives that work better than others, and this often comes down to the way that it is managed. Here is a a 10 point list demonstrating good practice in pro-poor tourism:
- PPT goes well beyond community tourism. It needs a diversity of actions, from micro to macro level, including product development, marketing, planning, policy, and investment.
- A driving force for PPT is useful, but other stakeholders with broader mandates, are critical. PPT can be incorporated into tourism development strategies of government or business (with or without explicit pro-poor language). Actions outside tourism, such as on land tenure, small enterprise, representative government, are also key.
- Location matters. PPT works best where the wider destination is developing well.
- In remote areas the poverty impact may be greater, though tourism itself may be on a limited scale.
- PPT strategies often involve the development of new products, particularly based on local culture, but these should be integrated with mainstream products if they are to find markets.
- Ensuring commercial viability is a priority. This requires close attention to demand, product quality, marketing, investment in business skills, and inclusion of the private sector.
- Economic measures should expand both regular jobs and casual earning opportunities, while tackling both demand (e.g. markets) and supply (e.g. products of the poor).
- Non-financial benefits (e.g. increased participation) can reduce vulnerability, more could be done to address these.
- PPT is a long-term investment. Expectations must be managed and short-term benefits developed in the interim.
- External funding may be required to cover the substantial transaction costs of establishing partnerships, developing skills, and revising policies (not generally for direct subsidies to enterprises).
Benefits of pro-poor tourism
There are, of course, so many benefits to pro-poor tourism. The main one is that when done correctly, it helps people out of poverty. This is one of the most important things in the world. Coming out of poverty enables people to have better physical and mental health; it allows them to be properly nourished, to focus on something other than being in poverty. With 9.2% of the global population living in what is described as ‘extreme poverty’ (on less than $1.90 per day), it is clear that something needs to be done. Pro-poor tourism is a proactive step in the right direction.
When one person comes out of poverty thanks to pro-poor tourism, it creates a knock on effect. They are able to help others, and advise their community. Success builds success, and the opportunities coming out of this concept are life changing for many.
The benefits of pro-poor tourism don’t stop there. If we think about applying this to our own travels, it encourages us to be a bit more considerate. Rather than choosing a chain restaurant, perhaps, we might choose a small family-run business for dinner. This way the profits are going straight back into the local community! Being a pro-poor tourist means thinking carefully about where your money is going, and how much of it is being used to help people in poverty. It can be less convenient, but it feels much better to know that your tourist dollars are supporting poor people.
Limitations of pro-poor tourism
There are limitations when it comes to pro-poor tourism. Of course, once someone is in poverty it is difficult to get out. There may be jobs provided and money going into the local community but where debts and taxes are high, there is often not much more that tourists and travel companies can do.
And of course, businesses like to see a profit. Wen et al published an article in 2021 entitled Pro-Poor Tourism and Local Practices: An Empirical Study of an Autonomous County in China, and they found that:
Enterprises participating in pro-poor tourism strategies provide a creative channel to reduce poverty in less economically developed areas and help form a diversified group of tourism poverty alleviation participants. However, in the early stage of tourism development, tourism enterprises have to deal with substantial control and management dilemmas because of the large capital investment required, the small number of tourists, and the slow return on capital.
In addition, pro-poor tourism relies on different sectors working together. Governments, agencies, donors and tourists themselves must all be on the same page – and in reality, this is often difficult to master.
Sadly, not all people who work in the travel and tourism industry are philanthropic in nature, nor are they entirely honest and transparent. There are some organisations that may claim to help the poor in order to gain a positive corporate social image, but their claims may not reflect reality. I suggest that if you are considering embarking on a pro-poor tourism venture, take a careful look at the companies involved in attempt to verify where your money will go and if it is indeed directed towards the poor in the way that is anticipated. Whilst this information might not always be transparent, you can start by reading the company reviews, as that will often give you a good clue.
Examples of pro-poor tourism
There are many examples worldwide of pro-poor tourism around the world. That is, activities that exist to especially benefit the poorest communities globally. You can see some specific ones below!
Ecotourism in Laos
Laos, in Southeast Asia, is a breathtaking country. With ecological diversity, a mountainous terrain, stunning French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries, there is so much to discover here. Ecotourism Laos aim to protect the country’s natural resources as well as benefit the poor community. The vision is as follows:
Laos will become a world renowned destination specializing in all forms of sustainable tourism that, through partnership and cooperation, will benefit natural and cultural heritage conservation, local socio-economic development, and spread knowledge of Laos’ uniqueness around the world.
They provide opportunities for tourists to discover the beautiful country while proactively giving back to the community. Local villagers are able to get involved with tourist activities, which they can then benefit from. For example, you can go on an interactive hike with a locally trained guide. This is a way of investing in the people and economy of Laos.
The African Pro-Poor Tourism Development Centre
Known as the APTDC, this organisation uses tourism as follows:
…as a strategic tool to enhance social economic development and improve social-wellbeing of communities through Pro-Poor Tourism Development interventions. This simply means ensuring that the travel and transport sector supports local based/acceptable development interventions for the POOR and VULNERABLE populations from various communities in Kenya, sustainably. This is realized through short and longterm partnerships with communities, government, individuals, institutions, foundations, donors, corporates and associations.
You can pay slightly more for your safari in Kenya, with the price difference going directly towards supporting community developed projects. The money pays for access to clean water and education for local residents in Kenya.
Reality Tours & Travel
This is a company based in India. I discussed them in this blog post about slum tourism. What they do can be classed as pro-poor tourism. They offer ‘ethical and educational’ slum tours in Mumbai. These claim to offer a glimpse into everyday life, and many tourists do want to visit slums whilst in India – whether or not you agree with this practice is up to you. However, Reality Tours & Travel as a company are dedicated to improving the lives of the community, especially those living below the poverty line. As such, 80% of profits are directed to Reality Gives. This is their NGO, providing access to quality education for children across India since 2009. Alongside this, the majority of tour guides are from the community too. This is pro-poor tourism in action for sure.
Bedouin Weaving in Israel
Sidreh-Lakiya is a non-profit organisation aiming to improve the lives of Bedouin women. You can choose from a few different tours: trying Bedouin weaving, learning about women-led economic development initiatives, or understanding Bedouin life from a geopolitical perspective. The proceeds benefit the organisation and its women directly. Israel is a fascinating country to visit, but sadly a whopping 85% of the Bedouin community in Negev live below the poverty line. Sidreh-Lakiya are providing a brilliant example of pro-poor tourism, which is really beneficial to the local community.
Ashanti African Tours
There are many parts of Africa with high poverty levels. Ashanti African Tours, based in Ghana, run tours in a few different African countries. From Senegal to Liberia and Ethiopia to Ghana itself, you can go birdwatching or hiking, explore the local history and so much more. There is wildlife and culture on offer wherever you look. They aim to support businesses run by local community members, therefore putting money into local economies. Ashanti also provides opportunities for local communities. These include school projects, free training to educate youths to become self-sufficient, and even free reading and writing lessons for adults. This is pro-poor tourism in action, benefitting so many people across an entire continent.
There has been so much research done into pro-poor tourism. This covers its impacts and benefits, as well as the many questions that have surrounded the concept since its birth. You can read some of them, as well as some other articles that may interest you, below.
- Pro-Poor Tourism: Harnessing the World’s Largest Industry for the World’s Poor
- The Strategy of Pro-Poor Tourism by Borgen
- Accessible tourism explained: What, why and how
- What is ‘begpacking’ and why is it so bad?
- What is sustainable tourism and why does it matter?