Tourism has become the largest world’s industry (1 $ trillion/year and 6% of global employment) and it is one of the top three sources of export earnings for nearly half of the less developed countries (LDCs).  The Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS) has been the fastest growing world destination in terms of international arrivals for a few years now. With 15.3 million international arrivals in 2000, it reached 31 million international visitors in 2010, a 102% increase!  It employs around 5 millions job in the GMS.

Yet its economic impact in the destination could be greatly improved, as over 70% of the income from tourism is retained in the country of origin – by foreign tour operators, international hotel chains, and the providers of imported products consumed by tourists. Even though the country benefits, the local people are often left with low-paid jobs, a higher cost of living, and degraded natural resources.

The purpose of responsible tourism is to transform a vicious circle into a virtuous circle

Some places in The GMS have already become mass tourism destinations, some natural areas have been destroyed for the sake of tourism; the very assets that attract visitors – welcoming exotic people and customs, fine sand beaches, rich ecosystems, stunning landscapes, cultural heritage – are under threat.  Tourism can destroy these; it can lead to inappropriate constructions spoiling the harmony of the original landscape, to tourist being harassed by locals selling cheap souvenirs made-in elsewhere, polluted sites, waste invading the beaches and the rivers, etc. Once spoilt, the tourists, operators, and investors move to another location and start it all over again, while the inhabitants of the first spot are left with memories only and a damaged site.  Responsible tourism strives to achieve a virtuous circle.

On the other hand, the potential of tourism in helping lift people out of poverty is increasingly acknowledged because:

  • It is recognized as being at the origin of the biggest transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor countries, from the North to the South.
  • It boosts private sector entrepreneurships and reaches parts of the economy that other activities don’t; majority of jobs in micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs), in rural areas, strong multiplier effect (up to x 4) tourism boosts other sectors such as transport, handicrafts, agriculture, services, etc.
  • It is consumed at ‘the place of production’, so local people have easier market access than in other industries and more chance to benefit directly, to manage and control some operations, small businesses.
  • It can prevent rural exodus, encourage preservation of cultural traditions, of natural heritage, and revives the pride of the poorest in their local traditions and customs.
  • It is labour intensive (2nd largest employer in the world) and allows the creation of a multitude of jobs very accessible for women, disadvantaged, youth.
  • the most tremendous growth industry of the last 50 years, moreover it is a very resilient sector, as for example in 2009 tourism recorded a decrease of -6% of receipts compared to -12% for overall trade.

So tourism could be a great tool to alleviate poverty, to empower local communities and in particular disadvantaged groups (women, youth, ethnic people), and to encourage the conservation of cultural and natural heritage. It can be a fantastic way to boost a positive overall economic and human development in LDCs. It all depends on how tourism is developed, organised, managed and consumed.

This E-guide directs you towards those suppliers who did develop tourism activities, services and products with in mind not only your comfort and satisfaction but also the local people, the conservation of the beauty and richness of the destinations.