In 2017 international tourist arrivals grew another 7% to the height of 1,322 million and the tourism sector can be considered an essential part of economic growth for many nations (UNWTO, 2018). With this sort of economic impact, the question arises if tourism can be used as a tool for poverty alleviation?
Tourism’s potential for economic growth, making it a tool to alleviate poverty, has been researched by numerous studies (cf. Dao Truong, 2017; Medina-Muñoz, 2015; Spenceley, 2012) and has led to the introduction of the concept of Pro-Poor Tourism. This concept has the goal to create “net benefits for the poor” (Roe & Khanya, 2002, p.2). They introduced three different strategies for that. Strategy one focuses on economic benefits for the poor, the second focuses on the non-economic impacts for the poor, and the third focuses on policies and process reforms (Roe & Khanya, 2002). There has been an on- going discussion within the literature about whether or not tourism can benefit the poor (cf. Dao Truong, 2017), but in this essay I make the argumentation that tourism can be used as a tool to alleviate poverty. For this, the following essay explores the three strategies proposed by Roe and Khanya (2002) in the context of Sumba, Indonesia. At first, each strategy is laid out in detail, followed by an explanation and a statement about this strategy and how it can or is implemented on Sumba as an example. At last the author offers his own personal opinion about the statement he made, based on his own experience during his field work on Sumba Island, before coming to an overall conclusion.
Strategies focused on economic benefits
These strategies can be already observed on Sumba and have high potential to alleviate poverty in the future. They can be classified in three different categories. The first category includes all the strategies that aim to expand business opportunities for the poor. This can include many small enterprises in the formal and informal sector. Locals seeing the opportunity to create some net benefits from tourism, often will start their own business, if they have the necessary means available. This can be selling souvenirs to tourists or offering up their own home as a homestay. The benefits from these businesses go directly to supporting themselves, and especially in the informal sector, there are no additional taxes to be paid, making the informal sector a very valuable business exploration. On Sumba many small enterprises can already be observed, that profit from the tourists. It ranges from street vendors selling authentic souvenirs from Sumba in the bigger cities or at tourist attractions, to homestays filling the gap of accommodation in many areas, and finally to small food stalls feeding the tourists, after they visited an attraction. The boundary between the formal and informal sector is completely blurry and for an outsider impossible to see, as they are integrated in to and support each other.
What has to be noted, that during the field research it became apparent that many of the small businesses and stalls along the streets, are owned by non-locals often from Flores Island who are seeing the opportunity to make money of tourism. During interviews it became apparent that many locals lack the attitude and the education to be able to profit from tourism on their own.
The second category includes expanding all sort of employment opportunities for the poor. This includes unskilled, low paid jobs for locals. Small businesses that have their roots in the informal sector have grown to be now in the position to hire additional workforce in order to maintain their business. They can also be offered from foreigners who have observed the potential for tourism and are investing there. The range of jobs can go from construction during the building phases, cleaning, to hospitality work etc. but mostly focuses on unskilled laborer’s. A problem on Sumba that became apparent during the field research was, that the local workforce often lacks education and formal training, so they are limited to the jobs that can be offered to unskilled workers. There are already initiatives who try to train local people, for example the Sumba Hospitality Foundation, an NGO committed to providing free education programs, but of course they have only a limited amount of people they can train each year. The problem with an initiative like this, also how they present themselves is, that most graduates leave Sumba after they finish to find well paid work on other destinations, such as Bali. Seeing a presentation about their program, where they told the story of a recent graduate who came from a poor background, who works now on a big cruise ship abroad, did not really reflect the image, that the local human resources will be improved with this initiative. A lot of the positions in tourism that require higher education are filled by non-locals, often from Bali. Also tour guides are difficult to find locally due to the lack of English speaking personnel.
The third category is about enhancing collective benefits. This can be for example in creating a collective community income, from the tourists visiting traditional villages. On Sumba, there are many different traditional villages still existent. Tourists visiting those are asked to make a donation and are offered souvenirs and other products to buy. It is difficult to assess how the money is distributed afterwards and obtaining information on those is problematic. Two different scenarios are highly realistic and might differ from village to village. One being, that the money is actually shared within the community, or a community fund is set up with it. The other, that only a few benefits from the income, and it leads to uneven distribution of income along the community, which can further result in conflict. For the future, helping these local communities to increase their net benefits and how to manage the additional income, has a high potential to develop them. It has to be noted, that with further development, the attractiveness for tourists of those villages will diminish, and new ways of income will have to be found.
Strategies focused on non-economic impacts
There are again three different categories of strategies, that are affecting the non-economic impacts. The first category is about capacity building, training, and empowerment. On Sumba a lack of education is a big problem for the local human resources. As mentioned before, there are already initiatives (see SHF) to provide education, but those are scarce and too little in effect. Especially in the Kodi Region many young children, only obtain primary education, before having to help their family on the farm. Education is a key factor for making tourism on Sumba a success story for poverty alleviation. More initiatives are needed, but also the local government will have to find a way to provide free education including proper teaching proper English, to prepare the local youth for the future.
The second category is about mitigating the environmental impact of tourism on the poor. In this category, the buying of land falls. During the research it became apparent, that all the beach property on West Sumba has already been bought. Local communities sold their land for cheap prices to foreign investors who in return promised them jobs and economic benefits, once they build their resort or hotel. The current situation is, that most projects have not yet started development, and the land mainly has been bought for speculation. Here, the government of West Sumba completely failed to protect the local communities. While beach property does not offer any sort of value from an agricultural standpoint, the local
communities did not see the potential value of their land and sold it to the foreign investors with a onetime payment. The money was often not used in a way to be able to benefit future generations (e.g. they bought a car with it) and now they do not own that land anymore. Other regions on Sumba (e.g. central Sumba) did not allow their communities to sell their land to foreign investors, but rather lease it, to provide a consistent income of money and to prevent land speculation. With this problem, the negative impacts tourism can have on land, and the poor depending on it, become apparent and new policies have to be implemented to mitigate the damage that has already been done. During the field research, a demonstration of locals demanding back their land, has already resulted in the loss of life, and the potential for future severe conflicts is rising.
The third category is about social and cultural impacts of tourism. These impacts of tourism have to be managed and regulated in order for the locals to maintain their culture, and to mitigate damage to the local social regulations. A great example for this is the effect additional income can have on social relations. If only a selected few benefit from tourism and are able to grow economically, this puts pressure on the society. The part of the population that remains poor will observe the economic growth of the selected few and might become jealous. As they do not see a way to also profit, they might go to more drastic measures, as to destroy or damage the businesses of the others (e.g. litter on their beach property) or to obtain money from the tourists by begging. This separation of society already could be observed on Sumba. Some local stakeholders that were interviewed during the field work were able to create a successful business. Seeing how they lived, their house/business was mostly surrounded by a big fence, and they secluded themselves from their surroundings by driving a big car to wherever they had to go. To manage these effects in the future will be a great challenge, and there is no easy solution to this. The damages to society of uneven distribution of income is also a problem in many rich western countries (e.g. USA).
Strategies focused on policy/process reform
Again, there are three different categories. Category one is about building a more supportive policy and planning framework. During the fieldwork it became apparent, that there is not much to improve on an existing framework. Tourism is a relative new occurrence on Sumba, so the local government of West Sumba is not well-prepared, and planning seems lackluster. A big problem seems to be with the interaction between different departments. While the tourism department seems to have the expertise and knowledge to manage tourism development, the decisions are made in the planning department, which lacks the knowledge and often only creates policies based on some parts of the recommendation from the tourism department. The interdepartmental communication and interaction should be changed and improved in the future.
The second category is about promoting participation of the poor in the decision-making process. During the fieldwork no examples of this being done, were visible. The government and decision-making approach seemed very top-down orientated. The focus of the local government seemed to be about attracting foreign investors, and thus reaping the economic benefits. Of course, in this field the problem of corruption becomes apparent. While corruption is not visible to foreigners, it was mentioned a lot during interviews. Foreign investors with great economic strength can greatly benefit from this, in order to manipulate the decision- making process in their favor, while the poor are at a great disadvantage.
The third category is about involving the private sector into pro-poor tourism partnerships. There is one example about this with the Sumba Foundation. Even though it could also be described as a CSR initiative by Nihi Sumba, it also fits the concept of pro- poor tourism. Nihi Sumba uses parts of their profit to maintain this foundation, which focuses on health, education, water and income- generation (cf. Sumba Foundation, n.a.). A way to do this, is to make investors aware of their social responsibility and provide them with guidance to fulfil it, and thus be involved in the pro-poor tourism efforts.
The three mentioned focuses of pro-poor tourism vary in the extent they are already present on Sumba and in their potential for further development. The easiest one to observe were the ones focused on economic impacts. Small entrepreneurship could be observed and is taking place, and the informal economy provides excellent possibilities to maintain these. Of course, entrepreneurship alone cannot create a business, there is the need for an initial investment. Many poor people are excluded from this, due to the lack of funding. To strengthen this part of pro- poor tourism, initiatives are necessary, to help the local entrepreneurs to obtain the necessary funds to start. There are examples involving microcredits to the poor that can be a way to strengthen this focus. Setting up a way for the locals to obtain microcredits would be a great first step. Creating employment opportunities for the locals is especially difficult on Sumba. As already discussed, education is lackluster, so to really enable this, a big commitment to education has to be made. Also, implementing a commitment to employ locals, by businesses is necessary to alleviate the poverty. Moreover, the loss of qualified workforce (cf. example SHF) has to be tackled but could become obsolete on its own with increasingly emerging employment opportunities on Sumba as a result of further tourism development. The idea about community funds and benefits has to be further explored in the context of Sumba and has to be very transparent.
Non-economic impacts are less easy to observe. Education as a key factor has already been identified, and needs to further be facilitated, from a very young age on, but also to not exclude elders, who want to make a change. The necessity to limit land speculation, as the risk for conflict stemming from those is eminent, can be tackled by creating a zoning plan. There is already a plan, but it is currently being reworked. Limiting the social impacts can be quite tricky, and initiatives in this direction are needed for the future. Focusing on reform, it is necessary to develop a concrete plan for tourism development (together with the zoning) and to change human resources in a way at the government, that expertise and knowledge is available at the decision-making level. Also, corruption on all levels has to be tackled to give local communities a vote in the development. Involvement of the private sector is there, but further developments in this area are needed.
To summarize, tourism offers a great range of different possibilities to be seen as a tool to alleviate poverty. A lot depends on how tourism is managed at the destination, and how initiatives of pro-poor tourism are present. The local government in the case of Sumba is really behind on its duties and will have to adapt to enable tourism to benefit the poor. The other key factor is education, which can be done by public and private partnerships, but is the defining factor for success or failure, as it affects so many different areas.
Author: P. Hilzendegen (2018)
- Dao Truong, V. (2017) Tourism, poverty alleviation, and the informal economy: the street vendors of Hanoi, Vietnam, Tourism Recreation Research, 43:1, 52-67, DOI: 10.1080/02508281.2017.1370568
- Medina-Muñoz, D.R., Medina-Muñoz, R.D. & Gutiérrez-Pérez, F.J. (2015) The impacts of tourism on poverty alleviation: an integrated research framework, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 24:2,270-298, DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2015.1049611
- Roe, D., & Khanya, U. (2002). Pro-poor tourism: Harnessing the world’s largest industry for the world’s poor. London: IIED.
- Spenceley, A., & Meyer, D. (2012). Tourism and poverty reduction: theory and practice in less economically developed countries. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 20(3), 297- 317. doi:10.1080/09669582.2012.668909
- Sumba Foundation (n.a.). Taken from the Internet on 03.06.2018 from: http://sumbafoundation.org/#/
- UNWTO (15.01.2018). 2017 International Tourism Results: the highest in seven years. Taken from the Internet on 03.06.2018 from: http://media.unwto.org/press- release/2018-01-15/2017-international-tourism-results-highest-seven-years