by Sudip Duttagupta




Tourism in Third World countries is often regarded as a panacea for fragile economies. Burgeoning tourism influxes [1] in developing countries bodes well for the overall growth of the sector. The Pro-Poor Partnership (2004) citing several writers (Harrison, 2001, Mill & Morrison, 1992), identifies some key tourism trends. Amongst these, is a rise in tourist flows from Western nations to the developing world. Additionally, long-haul holiday travel has grown in part due to an increase in newly emerging destinations and better linkages between (some) developing countries and feeder markets of the North. 

Academic discourses on the nexus of tourism and development date back to the 1960s (Harrison & Schipani, 2007). The poverty reduction agenda under the Millennium Development Goals has been a context for ‘pro-poor’ initiatives worldwide and the ineluctable link between tourism and poverty alleviation has gained prominence (Scheyvens, 2007). World Tourism Organization also (n.d.) stress that tourism can be effectively leveraged to combat poverty in developing countries. To this end, the World Tourism Organization (WTO-OMT) launched the Sustainable Tourism-Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) programme at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 (Chok, et al.).


The Pro-Poor Tourism Partnership (n.d.) defines pro-poor tourism (PPT) as “tourism that results in increased benefits for poor people.” The ideologies of the various proponents of PPT (WTO’s ST-EP programme, PPT Partnership) tend to mirror development theories that emerged post World War II (Haslem, et al., 2009; Scheyvens, 2007). However, contemporary notions of pro-poor growth are contrary to the trickle-down approach of the 1950s and 1960s which were based on the idea that the poor are dependent upon a vertical down flow (from the rich) of economic gains (Kakwani & Pernia, 2000). An explicit focus on well-being, as proposed by Amartya Sen should be the cornerstone of PPT initiatives (Kakwani & Pernia, 2000). The PPT Partnership suggests pro-poor growth should facilitate increased participation in decision-making which should ultimately have an ameliorative effect on the economy. In essence, PPT places emphasis on benefits experienced on grassroots level through job creation, equitable income distribution, and participation of marginalized groups (Dieke, 2003). Brown and Hall (2008) feel that the PPT paradigm encourages tourism to be viewed in a more positive light, this in response to some common criticisms that tend to magnify the exploitative, neo-colonialist, and hegemonic connotations of unrestrained tourism development. The scope of the PPT methodology lies not just in the bottom-up approach to tourism development (which involves community participation and capacity building), but also in the “integration of the industry into other sectors such as agriculture, industry, transportation, and social services,” as stressed by Tosun and Dallen (2001). 


This paper discusses the viability of tourism as an engine for economic growth for the poor, followed by a discourse on the differences between the PPT and other tourism forms (such as, sustainable and community-based/ecotourism). Subsequently, the Endogenous Tourism Project, a poverty reduction initiative implemented at various rural locations in India, is described. The penultimate chapter includes some critical reflections on the PPT approach. Finally, the conclusion weighs in on the discussions presented in earlier sections.



Tourism as an Effective Tool in Fighting Poverty


Tourism, like other industries is not immune to certain negative implications. Exploitation of labour the natural environment, foreign investment orientation (resulting in revenue leakage), commodification and the resultant degradation of the local culture, are just some of the unsavoury effects of tourism practices, which can result in its un-sustainability (Brown & Hall, 2008). Conversely, tourism can augment local economies by providing supplemental income whilst rejuvenating the culture, social capital, and sense of community pride. Su (2010) asserts that PPT can contribute to the “realization of social equity” through the linkages that the approach places an emphasis on. Further, he challenges traditional notion of poverty (economic) by highlighting the psychological, knowledge, and power-related connotations of the state of poverty. With these perspectives in mind, the reasons why tourism can be an effective poverty alleviation mechanism are now enumerated (Roe et al., 2004).

  • In tourism, consumers reach the product (as opposed to the reverse) facilitating a ripple-effect in purchasing of tourism related goods and services
  • Tourism is a diverse industry that can promote strategic linkages with other sectors and thus generate multipliers (Meyer, 2007). Linkages between tourism and the agriculture [2]  (food sales, farm tourism, etc.), entertainment (theatre, music, local festivals), and transportation industries are inextricable. When effectively harnessed, these can facilitate synergy between a destination’s commercial and public sector.
  • Tourism is labour intensive, therefore has the ability to employ sizeable portions of the local population. Tourism can also promote gender equality through the employment of women in the service sector and in the informal sector.
  • Tourism can facilitate micro-entrepreneurship through the formal or informal economies. For instance, it can promote traditional skills amongst women, thus enhancing their sense of empowerment and capacity to participate in decision-making (Scheyvens, 2000).
  • Tourism can lead to infrastructure developments in terms of improved roadways, public transport systems, water supply, electricity supply, etc. These would benefit tourists and locals alike.  
  • Tourism allows the poor to leverage natural resources, which in some cases are the primary assets that they possess.


The conceptual diagram (Figure 1) depicts key linkages between tourism and poverty alleviation and highlights tourism’s scope as an effective vehicle for poverty alleviation. The parallels between the linkages depicted and the Millennium Development Goals are evident.

Figure 1: Tourism and PovertyFigure 1: Tourism and Poverty

Figure 1. Linkages between tourism and poverty reduction - Source: UNESCAP, n.d.


Expanding opportunities for the poor necessitates a comprehensive strategy, one that incorporates economic, environmental, political, and socio-cultural preservation dimensions (DFID, 1999). In synthesis of PPT’s central ideology, Scheyvens (2007), citing the PPT Partnership (2005) states, 


Pro-Poor Tourism is about changing the distribution of benefits from tourism in favour of poor people. It is not a specific product and therefore is not the same as ecotourism or community-based tourism. Any kind of tourism can be made pro-poor. PPT can be applied at different levels, at the enterprise, destination or country level. 


PPT initiatives comprise of practical strategies that direct the underlying principles that the approach is based on. Various agencies have become involved in the study and promotion of tourism as a poverty reduction strategy. Chief among these are the PPT Partnership, World Tourism Organization (through the ST-EP programme), and the World Bank. The Department for International Development (DFID) is also actively involved in harnessing tourism’s untapped potential. They suggest that strategies on a destination and national/policy level should address five priority issues.

  • Expansion of business and employment opportunities for the poor
  • Addressing of the environmental effects of tourism
  • Addressing social and cultural effects of tourism
  • Building a supportive policy and planning framework
  • Developing pro-poor processes and institutions

(DFID, 1999). 

The ST-EP programme has also specified key deliverables for PPT initiatives (Figure 2).



Figure 2.

ST-EP: The Seven Mechanisms

  • Employment of the poor in tourism enterprises
  • Supply of goods and services to tourism enterprises by the poor or by enterprises employing the poor
  • Direct sales of goods and services to visitors by the poor (informal economy)
  • Establishment and running of tourism enterprises by the poor (formal economy)
  • Tax or levy on tourism income or profits with proceeds benefiting the poor
  • Voluntary giving/support by tourism enterprises and tourists
  • Investment in infrastructure stimulated by tourism also benefiting the poor, directly or through support to other sectors


Source: ST-EP (n.d.)















Pro-Poor Tourism Case Study: “Endogenous Tourism Project”


The Endogenous Tourism Project [3]  (ETP) was a joint initiative between the Ministry of Tourism (India) and the UNDP. The scheme commenced in 2003 and involved the selection of 36 rural sites to be used as rural destination development pilot projects. The poverty eradication objective under the Millennium Development Goals was the initiative’s guiding principle. The capacity building component of the project was funded by the UNDP while rural infrastructure improvement was under the purview of the Government of India, through its Rural Tourism Scheme. The discussion presented in this section focuses on the principles, strategies, and outcomes of the ETP.


Rural tourism was identified as a vehicle for the stimulation of economic activities around tourism (Balasubramaniam, 2008). The “Incredible India” marketing campaign was launched in the early part of the last decade; such a concerted thrust to market India’s tourism product in international markets was unprecedented (Wharton, 2009). The belief was that the rural India’s idyllic charm could be developed as a tourist segment, being synonymous with authentic representations of local culture through arts, crafts, music, dances, and other facets of the heritage. As conceded by The Ministry of Tourism Secretary, Sujit Banerjee, “special thrust should be imparted to rural tourism, where sizeable assets of our culture and natural wealth exist.”


The targeted beneficiaries of the scheme, rural communities (especially women and unemployed youth) would, with the help of support mechanisms such as the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and NGOs, be able to leverage their skills towards income generation. As per Balasubramaniam (2008), the primary impetus was to incorporate “the cultural and ecological dimensions of village life”; the focus on enhancing local economic conditions is explicit. From the hosts’ perspective, the introduction of tourism would enhance community pride resulting in part from a cultural revitalization. This would catalyze tourism growth. The underlying principle of the initiative - creating income generation strategies that leverage pre-existing local skills, is therefore ‘endogenous’ in nature. Thus, both rural communities and tourists would stand to benefit from the initiative.


A salient feature of the ETP was that there was an impetus placed on tourism to be community led and managed (Mott MacDonald, 2007). Key stakeholders, women, youth, and artisans would play a central role in decision-making and project implementation. Village-level institutions were formed and encouraged to be involved at every stage of the project (Balasubramaniam, 2008). Tourism-centric entities such as homestays, tour guides, organic farming, and interpretation centres were set up based on the local skills inventory and available infrastructure. Local community institutions comprising women, youth, and other groups marginalized by the still prevalent caste system, spearheaded such initiatives. PRIs were a key interface between the implementing partners, the local community and played a pivotal role in providing knowledge of local conditions.


The implementation and sustainability of the scheme was contingent on external support of the state and national governments, NGOs, and the travel trade (Mott MacDonald, 2007). The Ministry of Tourism would play a key role in facilitating linkages between the various sectors and implementing partners. The state governments were initially responsible for suggesting rural locations with potential for a rural tourism, product. Maintenance and development of infrastructure that would improve access and encourage tourist visitation were also under the state departments’ jurisdiction. Capacity building was identified as a key objective for NGOs; these were selected based on nationwide, statewide or local-level presence and their knowledge and experience in tourism. Tour operators would facilitate tourist influx into the rural sites through organized package tours and marketing of the products in domestic and international markets.

Strategies and Outcomes of the ETP


An evaluation report prepared by Mott MacDonald in 2007 articulates some of the ETP’s chief outcomes.


Infrastructure. Infrastructure improvements were facilitated through a concerted effort to align tourism goals to visitor needs. For example, the creation of toilets, potable water outlets, parking space, better signage, and basic food and beverage facilities, coincided with refurbishment of historical monuments and landscaping. Such improvements would have a direct effect on tourist satisfaction levels, as also be of benefit to the locals.  Additionally, accommodation facilities were created in order to encourage overnight visitation; a notable feature of this initiative was a conscious effort to adhere to distinct rural themes in their design and development. Museums that showcased local arts, traditions, and history were either constructed or improved in an effort to provide potential tourists with a more holistic, embodied experience of the village culture. Increasing overnight visitation was a key strategy to stimulate spending through maximization of the village experience, and facilitation centres such as museums, interpretation centres, tourist villages (fabricated village settings that seek to provide tourists with a fragment of village life through the performance of dances, handicrafts workshops, cooking classes, serving of traditional meals) were considered essential to creating an interest in prolonged visitation.


Capacity building. An understanding of tourism which is essential for informed participation was imparted through workshops and education programs. Since cultural revitalization was a central tenet of the ETP, the gurukul process was initiated to increase knowledge of traditional history and culture. This was particularly critical for youth employment in order to prevent migration to urban centres and increase community pride.  Alternative livelihood opportunities (cooks, guides, hospitality workers) offered unemployed youth with further avenues to benefit economically and socially. The importance of preserving the local culture and environment was communicated via door-to-door canvassing, workshops, and distribution of educational pamphlets. Since gender equality was one of the central objectives of the scheme, various strategies were employed to create a sense of empowerment within women groups. Self-help groups and training aimed at direct and indirect employment in tourism, and provision of micro-finance loans were some of the tactics used to increase participation levels from women. Homestay programs were an effective way to increase accommodation provision and involved minimal infrastructure costs. The opportunities to showcase traditional hospitality whilst concurrently creating cumulative income strategies, suited women who were reticent to abandon household commitments, but were interested in being involved in income generation.


Marketing and promotional programs. Under the ambit of the “Incredible India” marketing campaign, several promotional activities had been employed so as to increase awareness of rural tourism in India. Branding of rural sites based on facets of the local heritage and activities offered, was communicated through brochures, post cards, and a dedicated website ( The implementing partners contributed to promotional efforts at venues such as state museums, regional festivals, and Dilli Haat (village-style market for the promotion and sale of traditional handicrafts in New Delhi). Creating awareness of the plethora of rural tourism opportunities amongst the travel trade was also a key focus area.


Tourism satisfaction. Capacity building initiatives were successful in imparting rural community members with key skills and competencies in customer service. Infrastructure improvements, coupled with an imbibed service-orientation helped promote rural tourism in identified sites. Professional guides, for example, acted as cultural agents, interpreting local customs and heritage. Tourists were observed to utilize newly constructed visitor centres. Handicrafts sales also benefited from the provision of marketing linkages and micro-finance credit facilities. Introduction of product quality standards enabled access to a wider market (international).


As mentioned earlier, the creation of homestays, solved the issue of inadequate accommodation and also contributed to increased levels of enjoyment for tourists, as they felt a part of the community. Authentic experiences were facilitated through the promotion of traditional activities such as fishing, farming, animal husbandry, folk festivals, and rituals unique to each village (Balasubramaniam, 2008). Visitor surveys conducted at 24 sites, revealed that “interaction with local communities”, an important element of the rural tourism experience, garnered positive results.


Environmental considerations. The importance of conserving and protecting the natural habitat of an area is central to ensuring tourism sustainability. The ripple effect that degrading the local environment can cause was a key message to the communities. Other strategies, such as banning of plastics were also employed. Workshops on hygiene and sanitation, disposal of solid waste, and overall long-term impacts of improper environmental practices, were also held.


Employment and income generation. The implementing organizations emphasized that agricultural production should not be adversely effected by tourism. Rather, tourism should be seen as a vehicle for the generation of supplemental income through livelihood diversification. Some of the direct and indirect economic avenues facilitated by the injection of tourists were, i) the employment of youth as guides, ii) homestays enabled increased visitor spending due to longer stays, iii) informal food and beverage outlets, iv) employment resulting from infrastructure development and maintenance projects, v) livelihood opportunities resulting from the rejuvenation of local handicrafts, vi) urban migration was checked, at least to a certain extent, as more and more locals (especially youth and women) had been provided the capacity to engage in economically beneficial activities, and vii) gender integration from a socio-economic perspective enabled increased, informed participation. Access to financing options for self-help groups was especially ameliorative to the economic health of the rural sites.


In fulfillment of the community autonomy tenet, it is noted that at most sites, power was decentralized to the village level. Local governance ensured that decisions were not made without consultation with members of the village council, usually comprising of village intellectuals such as priests and teachers. At some sites, the gram panchayats willingly conjoined efforts with other local partners such as NGOs.

Another salient aspect of the ETP was the creation of local institutions that would serve as “torchbearers” of the local heritage and the agents of community benefit. Their role as the facilitators of community agency was paramount to the sustainability of the venture. The concept and importance of community agency has been expounded by Matarrita-Cascante, et al (2010), who stress that the leveraging of local relationships and channels of communication contributes to synergies. Such synergies are non-existent in communities that are governed centrally and without the input of locals. In confirmation of the community-led outcome of the project, S. Kalita, a programme coordinator with the Centre of Environment Education, an ETP implementing partner for the Sualkuchi, Assam site (personal communication, October 17, 2010) stated that “the project is operating in a decentralized manner as most sites are handed over to community committees, and local tourism departments are assisting with marketing efforts.”


Critical Reflections on PPT


Advocating bodies of PPT have expounded on the approach’s underlying ideology, one that is admittedly, compelling. Its naysayers may insist that the key tenets of PPT and the other tourism “isms” (sustainable tourism, ecotourism) are not dissimilar. Additionally, they may argue that PPT as an approach is drenched in idealism and ignores the inherent commercial nature of the tourism “business.”

Measurement of tourism impacts on an economy can be a challenge. As Harrison (2008) concedes, there are no data collections, measurement, and analytical tools that are specific to PPT. Furthermore, isolating socio-economic impacts resulting from PPT could be difficult. Blake et al. (2007) suggest the computable general equilibrium (CGE) model to “quantify the effects on income distribution and poverty relief that occur via the channels of prices, earnings, and government revenue.” The advantage of the model is that it encompasses all economic activities and thereby encapsulates interrelationships between tourism and other sectors. Nonetheless, measurement of non-quantifiable variables continues to be a challenge.


An aspect that seems missing from PPT deliverables is gender participation and equality. Referring to the strategies put forward by the ST-EP programme and Pro-Poor Partnership, it seems that the poor are considered to be a homogenized group and that the “economic poverty” perspective is implicit. Exclusion of women, who often tend to be marginalized in the Third World, should be explicitly addressed, for PPT strategies to be truly pro-poor. As Su (2010) argues, the psychological connotation of poverty that can result from lack of knowledge and power is a vital consideration. It has to be said, however that the ETP initiative was truly encompassing of all groups within a community. The guiding principles and deliverables of the ETP initiative were based on the Millennium Development Goals, which from a personal perspective offers a more holistic framework to analyze the success of poverty reduction initiatives.


The employment and exploitation of children, in tourism is rife in developing countries. Child sexual abuse and trafficking has received considerable coverage in tourism discourses. In the tourism industry, especially in India, children are considered cheap labour and are therefore subjected to exploitative labour practices. Thus, they are deprived from access to education and health (EQUATIONS, 2007). It is vital that pro-poor initiatives embrace this issue, in order to be completely encompassing of all sections of the poor.


The livelihood diversification tenet of pro-poor tourism growth is key. However, there is a paucity of discourses on how tourism can effectively link with other economic sectors within a community to form a synergy. In an example mentioned by the ODI (2000), in Namibia, tourism has led to a competition for water and grazing, litter and environmental damage that harms livestock, a competition for time with other activities (in particular, agriculture), and crop damage by wildlife.


The inherent endogenous principle of PPT may be a challenge to implement in developing countries, where as Tosun and Dallen (2001) state, “the planning apparatus is highly centralized.” Further, developing countries are often unable to implement and govern plans. Rigid governance models do not lend themselves to the flexibility that the tourism industry necessitates. Therefore, the macro-level approach that typifies most developing countries’ governments, would not work from a PPT context.


Proponents of PPT argue that environmental conservation efforts often undermine rural or indigenous communities’ interests and livelihood means. Therefore, it may seem that the underlying ideologies for PPT and ecotourism (poverty reduction and conservation, respectively) are divergent. Roe and Elliott (2006) however, concede that pro-poor development and conservation can be linked. Organizations such as the WWF-UK have taken a leading role in this respect, by partnering with DFID to consciously address poverty reduction in their conservation activities. Roe and Elliott suggest “conducting social impact assessments prior to protected area designations, compensation for wildlife damage, employment of local people in conservation jobs, and provision of alternatives when access to resources (water, grazing, fuelwood, etc.)” as some of the strategies that would ensure that poor communities are not further marginalized due to conservation efforts.


Concluding Remarks


One of the primary objectives of this discussion was to critically examine the PPT approach using the ETP as a case study. Contrary to Harrison’s (2008) opinion, it is felt that placing poverty reduction at the centre of growth initiatives can result in net benefits to the poor. The ETP discussed earlier is a prime example of an initiative that successfully mobilized local resources at a community-level. While replicating the implementation strategies of the project may not be viable in the context of urban tourism or in rural settings in other developing countries, its core tenets are certainly of value. The “possibility of learning and then scaling up such a project for wider coverage” (UNESCAP n.d.), or implementing in other settings is worth exploring.


As a development approach, PPT is incipient and is therefore unproven empirically and in terms of durability in light of commercial forces with divergent interests. Measurement through qualitative and quantitative analyses is essential to the long-term success of pro-poor approaches to tourism. From an evaluation perspective, a greater degree of synchronicity between PPT exponents such as the PPT Partnership, WTO, and World Bank, is warranted. Furthermore, PPT can also be evaluated through the lens of the MDGs.


It may be difficult to inspire a wide range of tourism stakeholders to modify their operations and in some cases forfeit profit maximization opportunities for the benefit of the poor (Scheyvens, 2007). Furthermore, the stark reality of the tourism industry is its inextricable commercial and ideological linkages with the West. Destinations in the Third World are often haplessly dependent upon foreign investment, tourists, and knowledge. Extricating themselves, especially in regional or sub-regional levels from the hegemonic forces of the West may be a faint possibility, at best. On the other hand, knowledgeable locals could play a key role in inspiring community-level mobilization of resources and skills. Through strategic partnerships between community institutions and state and national governments, NGOs, and the commercial sector (specifically the travel trade), positive outcomes may be realized. Perhaps most importantly, it is imperative to consider the fact that PPT cannot be achieved in isolation from other development strategies. Rather, efforts should be made to co-develop tourism with other sectors so as to create synergies that drive growth exponentially and sustainably.




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[1] The project won a World Travel Award in the category of “World’s Leading Responsible Tourism Project” in 2006 (UNESCAP, n.d.)

[2] Since 1995 (as of 2006), the Asia Pacific region has experienced a 4.2% market share increase in inbound tourist arrivals. Africa and the Middle-East with increases of 1.2% and 2.3% indicates a positive trend in terms of tourist arrivals (UNWTO, 2007, cited in Bhatt & Liyakhat, 2008: 2)

[3] An example of a successful linkage between tourism and the agriculture sector is the Eat Jamaican campaign. It was launched in 2003 in cooperation with tourism businesses and associations to promote local foods to residents, visitors, and exporters (Meyer, 2007).

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