Living on the fringes breeds hopelessness, sometimes increased crime rates, in tourist destinations which do not generate substantial receipts. Poor locals in, at least, 50 least developed countries are not able to participate directly and indirectly in the tourism industry. Burgeoning holiday getaways struggle to distribute a handful of available jobs to an unemployed majority.
Recognizing the role the United Nations play in facing this challenge, at the Millennium Summit 2000 several governments and organizations expressed interest in supporting poverty eradication. An initiative outlined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) through launching the ST-EP (Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty) program accelerated the UN’s effort two years later, addressing the need to reach out the people living on less than a dollar a day.
Following in the steps of UNWTO ST-EP activities, SNV Netherlands Development Organization contributed to the program. The Dutch-based SNV made generous contributions which the UNWTO allocated to a series of pilot projects, identifying and testing various interventions to make the tourism sector work the poor and achieve tangible impact.
Focused on corporate social responsibility or CSR, Netherlands Development Organization SNV oils the wheels of tourism, but this time for the benefit of the poor people, ensuring their projects generate returns measured against economic and social responsibility. Not only does the group value today’s latest buzzword – climate change – SNV remains dedicated to giving to the poor the opportunities that were never there to begin with, through cultivating human resources and tourist products. They raise awareness, knowledge and skills among relevant stakeholders in the pro-poor sustainable tourism development sites as mechanism for poverty reduction. Strategic tourism planning and management, market-oriented tourism product and service development and destination marketing are what SNV stands for.
Since 2004, SNV and the UNWTO has forged ahead with pro-poor sustainable activities, especially in regions where SNV is active such as West/ East/ Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, the Himalayan region, the Andes/ Amazon region, the Central American region and the Balkans. The organization seeds money to launch activities.
“It is working,” said Dirk Essen, SNV’s chairman and director of the board. For instance, in Lao PDR, two projects in the area of Viengxay in the north-eastern part of the country were completed. There are approximately 200 limestone karst caves of historical and cultural importance. SNV guided in developing and marketing the area, turning the war shelter into a poverty shelter.
Houpanh is the poorest province in Lao PDR. Forty percent of the population survives on less than $1 a day. “Tourism is a vital tool in the fight against poverty, thanks to the Cave City used as the headquarters by the Pathet Lao during the period 1964 to 1975,” said Essen. Leaders and locals from surrounding villages were trained to set up the Caves Offices as well as in tourism awareness, community-based development, implementation and maintenance of urban control guidelines, cultural significance and historical site interpretation. A master plan established an agreed framework ensuring protection of the important historic, natural and cultural features of Viengxay.
Before long, market-oriented tourism development helped triple Viengxay’s tourism arrivals. For a virgin tourist location such as Viengxay, it started receiving100,000 tourists yearly, raking in annual tourism earnings of $10-15 million for the town, with 30 percent of the money going to the poor. Continuing the momentum, SNV managed to bring wide media attention to the site. SNV has also raised funds for the Viengxay story with PATA donating its 2007 foundation grant, the UNWTO giving $25,000, which was equalled in amount by a handful of private sector firms.
Sustainability, whether through tourism or agro-industry/economic platforms, vis-a-vis poverty alleviation has kept the Dutch group active in under-developed states. In Peru, SNV has managed to increase coffee exports alongside the UNWTO’s ST-EP foundation’s sustainable tourism and bird-watching project at Luichupucro and the sustainable development projects for families of La Encantada.
In Bolivia, the SNV has grown financial transactions in the country via its cell phone technology. SNV has helped develop small and micro-enterprises in Rurrenabaque, as well as improve local guiding services in San Javier and Concepcion.
In Ecuador, Essen’s team has assisted the government’s ministry of inclusion with opening hiking trails in poor villages, local tourism planning for the Consortium of Provincial Governments (CONCOPE), new technologies fro communication and competitiveness for tourism micro-enterprises, tourism, poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals –Plandetur 2020.
“The power of connecting people’s capacities to achieve sustainable development results is firmly rooted in our philosophy. Indeed, this is particularly true in the impact area of sustainable and equitable income though production and employment,” said Essen.
With more than 900 advisors, the Dutch tourism heroes spread their wings across 33 countries worldwide. In the UNWTO General Assembly in Cartagena, Colombia last November, the SNV partnered with the UNWTO and the ST-EP, with a vision to pull sustainability out of poverty for 20,000 to 25,000 households through direct employment and income earned in the tourism sector in around 20 concrete projects in 20 different countries within a three-year stretch.
Essen’s group pledged $4.2 million in cash and kind, doubling the UNWTO and ST-EP’s shares. SNV’s partners will invite other stockholders to chip in, building up a patrimony of $15 million from 2008 till 2010, leveraging additional resources for increased impact while halving poverty by year 2015.