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.