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How tourism can lift millions out of poverty?

GPIG by Pan Helin, February 17, 2017 Adjust font size:

Pro-poor tourism (PPT) has many unique advantages, including a low entry threshold, lower required investment, large employment capacity and immediate visible results. Tourism has remarkable potential in the battle against poverty. It’s estimated that by 2020, tourism will lift almost 12 million people, or 17 percent of China’s poor population, out of poverty.

PPT was first put forward in China in the 1980’s, when several places were experimenting with the concept and achieved marked results.PPT not only helped residents of impoverished regions to increase their income and escape poverty, it also helped to uncover idyllic scenic spots in otherwise poor areas, thereby diversifying and enriching domestic tourism.

It’s worth mentioning that PPT isn’t simply a matter of conducting ordinary tourism development in underdeveloped regions. Normal tourism development won’t necessarily achieve the goals of poverty alleviation. PPT must base itself in benefiting the impoverished population. It must recognize and address the inherent contradictions between regular tourism development and tourism development which alleviates poverty. It must set indicators to ascertain poverty alleviation measures have been systematically incorporated into the operations of tourism development.

Firstly, one must pinpoint the goals and target population of PPT. The core goal of true PPT is to strip the economically marginalized of their impoverished condition, where tourism is only the means and method. PPT must distinguish between its target populations: people in poverty-stricken areas and poor people in poverty-stricken areas. PPT obviously cannot strictly limit its beneficiaries to only the poor population, but it must establish clear and specific indicators such as the actual participation of the poor in tourism development, direct benefits to the poor, the ratio of poor people in the benefiting population, and the percentage of poor people taking up jobs created by tourism. One should avoid relying on general statistics such as tourism revenue and job creation which can lead to poverty alleviation goals being overlooked in tourism development.

Secondly, PPT projects should be chosen in line with local circumstances. PPT is not suitable in many of China’s impoverished regions because of extremely inconvenient transportation, poor ecological environments, and educational standards that are severely lagging behind. PPT can only be implemented in underdeveloped regions that have basic potential for tourism development. What’s more, not even all impoverished regions with rich tourism resources are suitable for tourism development. Indeed implementing PPT is much more complicated than doling out emergency relief for the poor. In the past some places have been quick to mimic neighboring counties and cities with apparent success in tourism development only to result in empty scenic spots and failed investments. The tourism industry has its own unique rules of operation and PPT must use careful planning to operate in line with these rules. Moreover, PPT should avoid handing sole authority over to the government to make hasty, uninformed decisions.

Furthermore, it’s important that the tourism industry develops alongside and in coordination with other industries to achieve a ripple effect in poverty alleviation. Tourism alone is limited in its capacity to provide job opportunities for poor people. The relative advantage of PPT is its ability to stimulate growth in other industries. If connections are carefully established between the tourism industry and the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors, and local industries such as agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, and other local industries are incorporated into the tourism industry for simultaneous development, a ripple effect can be generated from which the poor reap even greater poverty alleviation benefits.

Finally, a robust mechanism of PPT must be established. It should be readily apparent when market mechanisms are incongruent with the goals of poverty alleviation. If solely market mechanisms are relied upon, it often cannot be guaranteed that poverty alleviation goals will be achieved. PPT marketization must ensure the protection of benefits to farmers in prevention of market failure. For instance, use policy and regulation to give poverty-stricken people priority on specific tourism products, incorporate poverty alleviation measures into the planning and implementation of tourism development, and use contracts and administrative methods to monitor the implementation of poverty alleviation aims.

The article was written by Pan Helin and translated by Fang Rongrong. Its original unabridged version was published in Chinese.