Expert voices Vol 21, No. 09 - September 2017

Tourism can play a major role in eradicating poverty

In 2017, we celebrate the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Tourism industry is one of the largest in the world, contributing 10 per cent of the global GDP, creating one in every eleven jobs on the planet and employing almost twice as many women as other sectors. Daniela Bas, Director of UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development, explains how inclusive, accessible tourism can help to end poverty while leaving no one behind.

Travelling for leisure is probably not on the minds of over 700 million people still living in extreme poverty worldwide. How can tourism help them?

Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the world today. It is a growing source of foreign and domestic revenue for both developing and developed countries and can contribute to poverty reduction through the creation of jobs and improved infrastructure.

It is true that people living in poverty may not think about traveling for leisure, but they still could have access to local tourist attractions or services if governments create a system that sees this segment of the population as potential clients. Some possibilities include granting free access to certain attractions or having lower fees for local communities. In this case, spaces for tourism are viewed beyond their economic value and are recognised for their impact on the wellbeing of the domestic population. This is invaluable.

The tourism industry should also provide services and products that are inclusive and accessible. There are millions of tourists with disabilities, older persons that may have specific needs, pregnant women and people suffering from allergies. They travel not only for leisure but also for business, medical or religious reasons. If the tourism industry makes accessibility and inclusiveness a priority, local communities living in poverty will also benefit from it.

How do we ensure that people living in poverty and exclusion benefit from tourism and are not further marginalized by new developments?

Social inclusion and empowerment of local communities through the tourism industry is crucial, especially for vulnerable groups such as youth, older persons or indigenous peoples. Often, people living in poverty find themselves in a cycle that it is difficult to break and that limits their access to education. This ultimately affects their economic and social status. Inclusive and accessible tourism industries can help to break this cycle.

Tourism can provide a great number of jobs to workers with little formal training who can then acquire and strengthen their professional skills and gain access to further opportunities for personal and professional development.

Tourism can also bring other benefits to people living in poverty. For example, better, more accessible and more useable physical infrastructure, such as roads or transportation, improve the living conditions of local communities. It is crucial for tourism developments to be inclusive and participatory. Local communities must be involved in the planning to make sure that whatever is developed benefits them as well.

This year we celebrate the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. What is UN DESA’s role?

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a great opportunity for UN DESA to keep working closely with civil society, the private sector, governments and UN agencies, promoting sustainable and inclusive development for all. The Department focuses on promoting sustainable, equitable and inclusive development, and this also applies to tourism.

Raising awareness of the importance of sustainable tourism is one of our goals and the Division for Social Policy and Development is organizing an event in October, in partnership with the World Tourism Organization to talk about accessible, inclusive, affordable, usable and sustainable tourism. This will provide tourism organizations and private sector stakeholders with a global platform to share their experiences.

Many countries are already offering more accessible and inclusive services, having realized how huge the tourism market is. We want to urge all stakeholders to consider not only the profits but also the positive impact of sustainable tourism on societies and communities. Our October event will discuss issues such as effective use of new technologies, access to transportation, and their positive impact on people and places.

For more information:

International Year on Sustainable Tourism for Development

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