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When is a new idea not a new idea? In ProPoor Tourism says Sallie Grayson

In a previous life I sold rocks- in fact, clothes for tall women. When we entered the market in the very early 80s there were a few small independents attempting to address this nascent, but growing, demand. We built a strong, knowledgeable and loyal customer base and by 2000 had some 30 stores across the UK ... still an SME but a significant player - but even the most loyal of customers were frustrated that they couldn find clothes to fit them on the high street.

Now, some 25 years later, tall women can shop on the high street and purchase the product they want from well known brands.

What possible relevance can that have to pro-poor tourism you ask?

Propoor-TourismWell, I see the growth in pro-poor or responsible tourism in the same light. With all the recent publicity about pro-tourism one could be tempted to believe that the demand for responsible travel products and the satisfaction of that demand is a new phenomenon. It is not. But it has, until recently, been the domain of SMEs. As with most other markets, the corporates follow where SMEs lead. We prove the demand, pave the way and they then come in and cherry pick. Don misunderstand me. As a passionate advocate of pro-poor tourism I am keen to see this ethos embraced by the large corporates, but I want it to be embraced honestly not simply as the next ottourism product.

Pro-poor tourism must involve local people in egalitarian and respectful relationships. The vast majority of responsible, pro-poor tourism operators have developed through close partnerships with local communities. Theye had to build those relationships. Trust and respect may have been the only currency they could offer at the start. Many corporates profess partnership but it is rarely a partnership of truly equal power it is usually purchasing power rather than the power of partnership.

The power of partnership is the cornerstone of my own organisation eopleandplaces and is invariably witnessed in the business models of truly responsible travel operators.

Sally Broom, founder of new responsible tourism initiative Your Safe Planet, actually gathered friends and trusted colleagues in the development of her company to ensure that what happened on the ground was fully accountable and pro-poor. Sally says, e devolved ownership of running YSP on the ground to the community involved, ensuring this was carried out in a fair, accountable way. Therefore our trusted contacts around the world decide how to implement the system and YSP simply provides the infrastructure.

My point? For truly responsible pro poor tourism product, the local people must be engaged in a way that is equitable and fair. I urge VISION to encourage leaders like..Paul Miedema at Calabash Tours in South Africa. Raj Gayawali at social tours of Nepal, Gopi Parayil of the blue yonder in India and Edwin Sabuhoro ofRwanda Ecotours, to name only a few, to contribute to this debate. Their expertise and knowledge will be invaluable . All too rarely do we hear from local responsible operators in destination countries.

My own particular field, volunteer travel, has recently seen the first purchase of a volunteer organisation by a corporate ... i-to-i by First Choice. We will see more. Some will use pro-poor or responsible travel as hollow marketing buzzwords, some will use the might of their purchasing power for real good. No different from any other market. The big difference is that tourism in all its guises has such power to bring real and meaningful change . Approached properly this market sector has great potential to do real good in economically poor communities. But to be responsible we must engage with local communities. Recent media coverage about gap and career break volunteering has shown that consumers are also waking up to this potential they are becoming aware of the power of their travel pound when used well. They are questioning when it is not.

As in all industries, consumer choice speaks louder than any other market force and will drive the major changes in pro - poor tourism. If their voice is strong enough, travellers could change the industry and the way we travel.

people and places encourages all other SMEs in this burgeoning travel sector to set the standards for the corporates to adopt. It is our responsibility to set and steer a course for others to follow working in close relationships and partnerships with local communities where the pro-poor agenda can achieve direct benefit.

Sallie Grayson is the programme director for
www.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk

 
 

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