SEATTLE — Tourism accounts for one of every 12 jobs worldwide, and is broadly seen as a viable path to sustainable growth in least developed countries (LDCs). In many LDCs, tourism spending is both the primary driver of economic growth and a source for foreign exchange. But much of the tourism investments fail to reach, let alone benefit, the poor local communities where the money is spent. However, some novel approaches to tourism, which engage and provide earnings for poor local residents, are succeeding in Africa and Southeast Asia.
These poverty reduction efforts, known as “pro-poor tourism,” are effectively channeling tourism funds towards the poor—and with $2 trillion a year in tourism earnings worldwide, there are ample opportunities for reinvesting these earnings in local communities. A variety of LDCs and developing countries, such as Laos, Uganda and Kenya, are realizing the formerly unknown benefits of pro-poor tourism.
Ecotourism in Laos
Home to tigers, clouded leopards, gibbons and more than 800 species of birds, Laos is arguably the most ecologically dense and diverse country on the Indochina Peninsula. Unsurprisingly, pro-poor tourism programs in Laos tend to focus on sustainable ecotourism.
Ecotourism Laos, under the auspices of the Asian Development Bank, is creating opportunities for local villagers to directly contribute to, and benefit from, fee-generating tourism activities. In Laos, an interactive hiking experience with locally trained guides is one promising example of reinvestment in the local economy and populace.
Utilizing local guides’ extensive knowledge of the plants, wildlife and culture of the region, Ecotourism Laos provides one to three-day treks for tourists interested in, among other things, hidden waterfalls and caves, bird watching and visiting ancient ruins. A sizable portion of the fees goes directly to guides and villagers living in the area. These windfalls are reinvested into ongoing guide training and trail and facility maintenance.
Uganda’s Byoona Amagara Project
Sharing a border with Kenya, Uganda is a popular destination for travelers due to the numerous game reserves and beautiful national parks and lakes. In 2016, travel and tourism generated more than 6 percent of all economic activity in Uganda, while also creating more than 500,000 jobs. Linking this tourism spending to investment in vital services for locals is the aim of the Byoona Amagara Project.
Byoona Amagara is a nonprofit organization that puts 100 percent of its proceeds towards various pro-poor programs. Some of the project’s core initiatives include healthcare treatment, rural education and literacy, organic agriculture and indigenous forestry.
There are other noteworthy initiatives the Byoona Amagara Project promotes that are too numerous to mention here. One common element shared by all is the focus on sustainable community development. Whether it is building a new library and multimedia center on nearby Itambira Island or supporting cross-cultural exchange, the program is providing an active role for the poor local community in the profitable tourism industry in Uganda.
Kenya’s Sustainable Safaris
The benefits of pro-poor tourism are not the sole domain of LDCs. Take Uganda’s more developed eastern neighbor, for example. Kenya, having recently graduated from LDC status, serves as an example for other developing countries in Africa to follow.
The African Pro-Poor Tourism Development Centre (APTDC) is focusing on sustainable safaris to address some of the shortcomings of traditional tourism. Reinvesting the profits from tourism back into the regional economy is the overall goal of the APTDC.
Safaris create an opportunity to enjoy Kenya’s natural beauty and wildlife, while at the same time contributing to improving the locals’ standard of living. A simple 10 percent markup on safaris is put aside as donations to support economic development projects in the local community. More specifically, the slight price hike helps pay for access to fundamental resources, such as water and education, for nearby residents.
Engaging travelers with the livelihood of locals is creating a more interactive and rewarding form of travel for both the tourist and the rural Kenyan community. Although simple, this approach to sustainable safaris in Kenya is a great example of the benefits of pro-poor tourism.
The Benefits of Pro-Poor Tourism for Tomorrow
Like many poverty reduction efforts, there is no single blueprint for pro-poor tourism. However, the examples above of pro-poor tourism initiatives, from Africa to Southeast Asia, show a recurring theme in allowing room for local involvement in the tourism industry.
Providing interaction between tourists and local communities paves the way for a more sustainable development of the tourism industry in that country. Being knowledgeable about the benefits of pro-poor tourism on local villagers should spur greater growth of this unique method of poverty reduction. Countries hoping to graduate from LDC status might find that reinvesting tourism dollars at home today could go a long way towards helping achieve their development goals in the future.
– Nathan Ghelli