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Qualitative indicators of tourism’s role in poverty alleviation

Final Report Summary - QUAL-POT (Qualitative indicators of tourism’s role in poverty alleviation)

The project aimed at developing qualitative indicators for the role of tourism in poverty alleviation by investigating slum tourism operations in different locations across the world. Slum tourism research was conducted over two periods of fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai and Johannesburg. The project has produced a framework for qualitative indicator analysis in slum tourism research. The research has been disseminated through the slum tourism network, conferences, workshops and publications, both academic and non-academic and a webpage. The development of the research framework in applications is continuing.

The need for qualitative indicators
Indicators in poverty alleviation are often quantitative, and the most prominent example of a set on indicators in this context are the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Quantitative Indicators have advantages because they allow to generalise, compare and display data in accessible ways. Yet in the realm of poverty research, and not only there, there are also clear limitations to quantitative indicators. Importantly they rely on the systematic collection of large numbers of data. While techniques are improving, it remains one of the key challenges to research in this area to collect reliable data, especially in developing countries with limited resources to pursue large scale data collection. An additional, and perhaps more significant limit of quantitative indicators pertains to the nature of poverty. Poverty is increasingly understood as multidimensional, and some of these dimensions can not be comprehensibly captured in quantitative indicators like income levels. The symbolic aspects of poverty include a range of issues, pertaining to social and political capital, access to land, education and cultural goods. The limits of our ability to account for poverty alleviating effects is exemplified in research that attempts to study tourism’s role in poverty alleviation. Here much effort has gone into the study of economic impacts of tourism through economic modelling. Tourism is modelled as an economic exchange between tourists as consumers and a tourism industry as producer resulting in measurable revenue. Research may then investigate the distribution of this revenue. The key insight of much of such research is that revenue streams generated in tourism do not support the poor because of leakages and the concentration of economic benefits in the hand of already wealthy. Increasing income streams do not automatically trickle down to the poorest but benefit disproportionately the already better-offs. One way to change this predicament is through policy intervention that enable the harnessing of tourism revenues and profits for the provision of public goods, care and poverty alleviation programmes. In this sense tourism’s ability to alleviate poverty in economic terms seems to depend on political will to use its revenues in this way. Under such circumstances, the potential arises that tourism power to alleviate poverty does not reside in its economic aspects, but rather in its communicative and social aspects. In this context it is interesting when tourism makes poverty a theme, when poverty becomes an area of tourist curiosity and tourist experience. This is particular evident in slum tourism, where slums are visited by tourists, but it is equally significant in other areas of tourism like volunteer tourism, developmental tourism and community based tourism.
This study has been set up in order to find ways of systematically evaluating and better understanding the role tourism can play in effecting discourses about poverty in and beyond a given polity, in empowering communities and how tourism can thus contribute in qualitative terms to poverty alleviation efforts.

The researcher conducted fieldwork in three of the most visited slum tourism destinations in the world, in two visits for each site. Prior to the empirical work he worked towards preliminary indicators through a rigorous review of the literature on tourism and poverty. The field research also included work towards disseminating research results owing to the participant action research approach chosen for the study. In each of the locations partnerships were formed with tourism operators in slums. In two cases reports were written for operators. The aim was to share the research knowledge among operators and create a broad forum of exchange about the potential of slum tourism in qualitative ways.
Dissemination also took place in academic conferences, invited presentations and workshops. A key activity related to the creation and extension of the slum tourism research network. In 2013 I co-edited a special issue on slum tourism research with the scientist in charge and another member of his team on slum tourism in a high ranking geography journal. In 2014 I organised the second network conference for slum tourism research with a team of supporters in the team of the scientist of charge and an international board of co-organisers. This served the aim to advance the research area, train my skills as an academic coordinator and to take advantage of research results from slum tourism research be colleges for the development of the study. The conference took place in May 2014 and two special issues are due to be published with papers presented at the conference in leading tourism studies journals.

The research has resulted in the creation of a framework of qualitative indicators related to specific conditions in the different locations. The framework of indicators provides future research in a range of locations with tools to investigate tourism’s qualitative effects on poverty alleviation. The study of the relationship between tourism and poverty alleviation should no longer be investigated simply as a function of economic growth. Viewed as an industry tourism’s effect on poverty alleviation are no different from other industrial production. They largely depend on ways its income is distributed between capital and wages. As several economic analysis of tourism has shown, within a capitalist political economy this means that the poorest will often have no to very little share of the overall income produced. For tourism to be effective in poverty alleviation tourism impact needs to be understood on a very difficult scale. Before an activity become understood as ‘sustainable’ or ‘responsible’ tourism, we need to measure it against its ability not only to increase growth but to effect the distribution of wealth and resources.