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5 Jul, 2004

UN ESCAP to Develop Indicators for Tourism – Poverty Links

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has begun to develop methodologies and indicators to help governments and other stakeholders understand and measure how tourism benefits the poor.

Although tourism, both international and domestic, is recognised as a major contributor to poverty alleviation worldwide, it has long lacked a uniformly acceptable means of measuring this impact in quantifiable terms.

Last week, ESCAP released a revised edition of a Manual for Evaluating the Impact of Targetted Poverty Reduction programmes at a meeting of the subcommittee on Poverty Reduction Practises.

It documents the major issues associated with evaluation of such programmes, develops simple indicators to measure success, shows way to compute these indicators and specifies the data needed for doing so.

ESCAP’s Poverty And Development Division chief Mr. Raj Kumar said the manual is designed for several economic sectors but can also be applied to travel & tourism.

It was funded by the Dutch government and developed by two Indian consultants, Dr Mahendra Dev, Director of the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, and Mr. Manoj Panda, Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, in Mumbai.

The role of tourism in poverty alleviation was at the top of four agenda items in the subcommittee meeting, an indication of what Mr. Kumar called the “growing recognition” of tourism as a serious industry and positive contributor to socio-economic development.

Mr. Ryuji Yamakawa, chief of ESCAP’s tourism unit, said that globalisation will continue to create enormous opportunities to grow tourism via less costly, frequent and faster transportation, information technologies and freer movement of capital, goods and people.

“Consequently tourism is expected to play an increasingly important contribution to socio-economic development in the region. However, in most countries, pro-poor tourism initiatives are still only at the pilot stage and the measurement of their impact on the poor is inconsistent.

He added, “It is also well recognised that there can be leakages of foreign exchange from the tourism sector and that the distribution of the benefits of tourism varies according to the market segment on which the country is focusing.

“Consequently, two of the challenges in the sector are to design tourism interventions that maximise net foreign exchange gains and focus on the potential of improving the living standards of the poor.”

Although tourism has been on the ESCAP agenda since the early 1980s, the new linkage to poverty alleviation has helped it climbed up the priority ladder. A number of ESCAP workshops and seminars have been organised since 2002 to share experience and good practises.

Now, according to an ESCAP document, “There is clearly a need to develop methodologies and indicators that will enable governments and other stakeholders to understand the impact of various initiatives on the poor and shape future interventions effectively.”

ESCAP is also preparing a meeting on measuring and assessing the impact of pro-poor tourism initiatives and policies in Bangkok in September 2004.

During last week’s subcommittee meeting, delegates were brought upto speed with the role of tourism as a major employer of women, a significant purchaser of agricultural products and an industry that depends heavily on local community involvement and still comprises of small and medium sized enterprises.

One new area emerged when Mr. Paiboon Wattanasiritham, Chairman of the Community Organizations Development Institute, cited the importance of developing the production of organic food as a means of alleviating poverty among farmers.

At the same time, a representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization expressed interest in the potential of agro-tourism which he said could facilitate tourism with minimum negative impact on local communities and culture.

Organic products are becoming popular in travel & tourism because of the linkage to the growing demand for health and spa which stress pesticide- and herbicide-free food as part of the overall treatment programmes.

According to an ESCAP paper, “There is an increasing demand for green and organic food from developed countries within and outside the region. This creates opportunities for small-scale (and often poor) farmers, who often cannot afford the use of chemicals, to improve their income.

“Green and organic food has tremendous potential as a tool for rural poverty reduction, but support mechanisms, such as affordable certification and good marketing channels, have to be put into place to enable the rural poor to capture and benefit from this niche area.”

The Chinese government has funded the documentation of good practices in the marketing of green and organic produce in Cambodia, China, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This documentation is posted on the website www.ofgf.net.

China is also funding a project on pro-poor certification systems for green and organic produce, to commence later in 2004. The project aims to raise awareness of the impact of domestic and international certification systems on poor producers, especially women, as well as identify alternative systems and support measures.

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