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Fight Poverty on a Sun Bed says ODI Tourism Director

PovertyThe idea of using tourism to reduce poverty in developing countries is at a critical point. Important changes amongst tourists and mainstream tour operators are increasingly offering enticing prospects for hoteliers that increase the sustainability of their operations at the destination. People in the development industry are also getting excited about tourism because, belatedly, there is a growing recognition that in a surprising number of poor countries tourism may be the most effective tool to accelerate economic development.

First and central to the drive for sustainability, tourists from key European source markets are showing increasing concern about their impact at the destination. What is different from the past is that this concern is being expressed by mainstream tourists and is being expressed - not just in public opinion polls, but in terms of hard cash. The innovative 'opt-out' scheme, which provides most of the funding for the Travel Foundation (an NGO set up by the UK travel industry to enhance destination impact), is really the first time tourists have had the opportunity to make direct financial contributions when booking their holidays. And the news is that the great majority are choosing to remain 'opted-in'.

And mainstream tour operators are responding to this change. After a sluggish start a few of years ago, the pace of positive change in the industry is striking. Almost all major UK-based tour operators have recently established Corporate Social Responsibility units. The Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), representing operators that sent some two-thirds of UK package tourists abroad last year, has an active programme to disseminate their sustainable supplier handbook throughout key mainstream destinations, with the aim of enhancing environmental and socio-economic performance. est practiceis rapidly spreading through the industry. The FTO is working closely with industry counterparts in the Netherlands and Germany to adopt the same approach to industry self-regulation and performance enhancement.

Hoteliers are coming under increasing pressure from tourists and tour operators themselves to improve their environmental and social sustainability. So what to do? Many of the steps that can dramatically improve performance are surprisingly easy to take. Attaching a cheap water restrictor onto hotel room taps and energy efficient light-bulbs can dramatically improve environmental performance, with a very quick financial payback. Similarly, procuring goods and staff locally not only improves local economic impact but also rewards hoteliers with lower staff turnover and enhanced standing in the locality. As an indication of their enthusiasm, road-shows disseminating the FTO sustainable supplier handbook in developing countries often attract the participation of 100-150 suppliers at each destination. What further evidence is needed that suppliers to the tourist industry are willing to respond positively and be a force for good?

The world is changing. Responding to these changes positively will not only allow hoteliers and excursion suppliers to better meet evolving market demand, but can also enhance the viability of your businesses.

The Overseas Development Institute is an independent London-based development 'think tank' that has been working with the travel industry, NGOs, research organisations and donors to improve the local economic impacts of tourism (contact Jonathan Mitchell on [email protected])


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Categories: ProPoor Tourism


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