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The St-Ep programme and least developed countries: is tourism the best alternative?

Nawijn, J., Peeters, P. & Van der Sterren, J.
Bibliographical information:
Nawijn, J., Van der Sterren, J., & Peeters, P. M. (2008). The St-Ep Programme and Least Developed Countries: Is Tourism the Best Alternative? In P. M. Burns & M. Novelli (Eds.), Tourism Development: Growth, Myths and Inequalities (pp. 1-10). Wallingford, UK: CABI.

Abstract The ST-EP program (Sustainable Tourism - Eliminating Poverty) of the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) is said to be a ‘primary tool for eliminating poverty in the world’s poorest countries’. Tourism to poor countries (particularly in Africa) would improve the balance of payments, and income opportunities for the poorest inhabitants compared to other industries. Is tourism the best way to alleviate poverty? Clear answers remain scarce. It is not economic growth, but reductions in income inequality that contribute to poverty reduction. UNWTO fails to provide data, which show a reduction of income inequality through tourism in developing countries.
ST-EP mainly promotes tourism policies that aim at increased numbers of international tourism arrivals from Western to developing countries. It seems to ignore the fact that the “western tourist” does not exist and that there are substantial differences in tourism source markets and customer’s preferences. Moreover, by assuming that tourism can be used by “developing countries” as a poverty elimination strategy, it neglects the specific economic, social and environmental features of each country and of destination-market combinations. This paper focuses on the ST-EP program and debate, and criticizes its absence of quantitative proof (cost-benefit) for the effect of tourism on poverty. Only the impact of international tourism on export is supported quantitatively, which shows that the tourism share in export is particularly high for poor countries. ST-EP fails to compare the tourism industry with other export industries on both ecologic and economic impacts.
Furthermore there is no attention for the issue of security for investments in case of war and conflicts, diseases (SARS, H5N1) or terrorist attacks (Bali, Luxor). Lack of a stable business environment, cultural differences, the inability or unwillingness of tourists to adapt or adjust their behavior, often result in ‘no-go areas’ for either tourists or locals created by the tourist industry. Also the ecological unsustainability of long haul tourism is ignored. For the ST-EP programme to be efective the consequence could be a growth of tourism to developed countries that would triple the world wide emissions of greenhouse gases, causing climate change, while a 50-80% reduction is required to prevent dangerous climate change. A solution for the ecological problem may be found in promoting regional or ‘South-South’ tourism. South-South tourism may be also less vulnerable to international political developments. If it is better suited to overcome inequality within developing countries depends on local circumstances.
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