Development that Works
  • About

    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Tourism for poverty alleviation: are we there yet?



    By Paul Winters*


    In preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is investing very heavily in tourism. Much of this investment seeks to expand the benefits of tourism to new regions in the hope that tourism can be a driver of growth, create jobs and generate higher wages in local economies.

    Brazil is not alone in seeking to use tourism as a means to promote development; the IDB alone has tourism-related loans in many countries in the region including Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

    Of course, some might question whether investing in tourism really promotes development. The industry has been criticized as creating tourist enclaves where the local benefits—in terms of jobs, wages, and poverty alleviation—are minimal.

    Others, including the World Tourism Organization, argue that tourism can be a driver of development and poverty alleviation if it is “effectively harnessed”.

    In their book Tourism and Poverty Reduction: Pathways to Prosperity, Mitchell and Ashley identify three primary pathways through which tourism makes an impact on poverty:

    (i) direct effects,

    (ii) secondary effects, and

    (iii) dynamic effects.

    Yet, they note that insufficient analysis has been conducted in these areas, arguing that tourism researchers “could try harder” to establish tourism-poverty links.

    While there has been a great deal of discussion and research on the potential link between tourism and poverty alleviation, the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of promoting tourism to address poverty is almost non-existent.

    To address the gap in the empirical knowledge of the tourism-poverty link, the IDB is pushing forward with a new research agenda. An article recently published in Development Policy Review, which I co-authored with Leonardo Corral and Adela Mora Moreda from the IDB, articulates this agenda.

    We argue that while analyzing the tourism-poverty link poses peculiar challenges, models exist to conduct the analysis, but at present these models have not been adequately used. Our contention is that the key question is not whether the tourism-poverty link exists—it almost certainly does in some form—but under what conditions it is strongest.

    Further, we maintain that the best way to analyze the tourism-poverty link is to incorporate accurate diagnosis and evaluations into tourism projects, using the concepts and approaches found in the literature on impact evaluation.

    In pushing this research agenda, our hope is that the systematic analysis of tourism projects and better collection of data on tourism and poverty can enhance our understanding of the tourism-poverty link. Future tourism interventions can then be designed to facilitate and maximize these linkages.

    Paul Winters is an Associate Professor of Economics at American University, Washington DC

    2 Responses to “Tourism for poverty alleviation: are we there yet?”

    • Millie :

      Dear Paul,
      really good post and relevant questions. in a class on protected areas and development, this is one of the main thesis we try to explore- under what conditions does tourism actually lift the poorest of the poor from poverty. last semester we ran a prototype of engaging local communities in using new technologies to tell their stories and draw tourists to the region ( We get to see the results this season of how successful this will be but interestingly enough one marked difference has been a shift in discussion in local communities around technology… tech for bringing their grandkids back to spend more time with them, then tech for organizing all their potential and current offers into one place, then tech for telling their stories. I know this is an oversimplification but what the prototype has shown is that having identified one keystone habit, one aspect of the community’s life that they have control over, it can spill over to just about any other segment of their existance- and there is no telling what will emerge.

      In any case, great post, intriguing question, and i look forward to more of your research on this!

    • The point about the need to better “incorporate accurate diagnosis and evaluations into tourism projects” is a good one. I wonder, however, does this just imply traditional impact evaluation, or might it go beyond that to also incorporate public-private partnerships that engage the private tourism sector in capturing data? The latter aspect brings to mind the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s work to promote business friendly evaluation techniques. (See: )

    Comment on the post