SEATTLE — The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) met in late May in Bejing, China for the inaugural meeting of the “World Conference on Tourism for Development.” This conference allowed for international discussion about reorganizing existing tourism markets to better benefit global poverty alleviation efforts and achieve progress in the Sustainable Development Goals.
The restructuring of existing tourism markets has the potential to benefit economic development in several ways: namely, increased economic activity, job creation, or even protection of native culture and nature. But tourism has been long-debated and somewhat controversial as an effective way to promote the well-being of the poor in “tourist destination” countries.
There are many practical fears with expanding the tourism industry and using it as a source of economic development. Firstly, as much as it might incentivize the restoration of natural phenomena, increased tourist activity also has the potential to destroy nature or culture because in the production of large-scale tourism projects, (e.g. hotel construction).
Moreover, in years past, revenue from tourism has largely served to benefit outside countries, rather than producing revenue for the country accommodating the tourists. Many of the goods used in the industry are imports, and only foreign firms stand to profit from these ventures.
Pro-poor tourism can allow revenue from an existing successful industry to be reallocated in a way that jobs and profits can go to those who need it most. And even more so, the industry has skyrocketed in recent years. As of 2011, international tourism had increased nearly forty times what it was in 1950, according to the UNWTO. Though a restructuring of the industry to benefit the poor still takes significant international teamwork.
A main critique of the use of tourism in poverty reduction in the specificity of pro-poor tourism as a small-scale branch of tourism, rather than a mass restructuring of international tourism as a whole. Pro-poor tourism, in the past, has to be a conscious elected option by the tourists themselves, rather than a reform of the entire industry. The United Nations conference may be what is needed to bring pro-poor tourism to a new mainstream level.
With an increased international awareness and cooperation to help tourism revenue stay domestic, and having revenues redistributed to those who need it most, increasing tourism within the developing world can help alleviate global poverty. With a push towards international cooperation and teamwork, the UNWTO is giving an already financially successful industry the push it needs to attain additional, moral success.
– Abby Guitar