Let corporate travel and events have a hand in reducing poverty

Kevin Phun, practitioner and lecturer in sustainable tourism, believes that corporates can – and should – use their strong travel buying power to push suppliers to do more to lift the quality of life for impoverished local communities

Poverty and tourism has long had an interesting and important relationship. Pro-poor tourism, common in many countries, has also featured prominently in South-east Asia.

Poverty is often a much-talked about topic that is also poorly understood. In its different aspects, poverty has different causes; besides referring to having little or no money, it also refers to the loss of cultural resources, lack of skills and knowledge, and absence of basic services, etc.

Corporate travel has certain features which may represent advantages for tourism to tackle poverty related issues. Corporate travel is often repeated, non-seasonal (sometimes), and may involve people travelling in numbers. The fact that higher-end hotels and resorts are favourite choices of accommodation for this travel segment, means they can put pressure on such businesses to look into having more corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as part of their operations.

Business travellers and event attendees/organisers should demand for locally sourced products to support local communities

Corporates can and should pressure accommodation businesses to do more to support local producers, thereby creating demand for local supply of goods and materials. These products can range from embroidery and paintings in the guestrooms, to food reflective of the local cultures.

Ashley, Goodwin and Boyd (2000)1 argued that pro-poor tourism that happens on a community level with active participation from local people and the government can help reduce economic leakage in destinations. And so, the power that lies in corporate travel which can put pressure on accommodation and other travel and tourism industry businesses to explore creative ways to engage local people should be tapped, to make linkages happen and reduce leakages. This is especially important in developing countries where such initiatives are new and often not considered mainstream.

Ethical business increasingly espoused by corporates through their staff travels will bring about a chain effect of ethical, socially conscious way of doing business across the tourism industry’s numerous sectors.

As well, the events industry have a lot to offer in reducing multiple aspects of poverty.

Business events are often staged these days with increased pressure on tangible returns on investments. Event planners and organisers tend to take into account local issues when planning events – protecting dying cultures, using local materials, having topics in the event that revolves around local concerns and issues.

Enabling small local businesses to benefit from the staging of business events is a good start, even if it often comes with some challenges. These small businesses understand the local culture, employ local people and tend to use local materials. One of the challenges might be to meet quality standards required by many business events.

Tour operators can use their travel itineraries to bring about tangible benefits for the locals. Itineraries potentially can influence and shape how benefits can flow into local economies. Also, choosing to use local suppliers, and working with local businesses to overcome issues in standards and quality, is increasingly being seen as the responsibility not just of the bigger, more powerful tour operators, but the sector as a whole.

There is a need for corporates and business event groups to leverage their characteristics and advantages to develop creative solutions for poverty. As poverty becomes more complex to address and continues to be made worse by external forces, new ways of doing things need to be explored.

Corporate travels and business events should therefore embrace a new way of travel, as Mak (2004)2 argued, to distinguish the notion of efficiency from equality. More intentionally designed travel that puts the welfare of the locals first, rather than improved efficiency, will be consistent with equality.

1: Hugo, N. C., Nyaupane, G. P. (2000). Poverty Alleviation in Third World Countries through Tourism Development: A Comparison Study of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Travel and Tourism Research Association: Advancing Tourism Research Globally.

2: Mak, J. (2004), Tourism and the Economy: Understanding the Economics of Tourism, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, in Croes, R. (2014). The role of tourism in poverty reduction: An empirical assessment. Tourism Economics, 20(2), 207-226.

Kevin Phun is a lecturer and occasional practitioner in the area of Responsible Tourism. He lectures in various private educational institutes in Singapore and is a regular adjunct lecturer for Murdoch’s tourism programme in Singapore, through Kaplan School of Higher Education.

Phun is occasionally involved in consulting work in ecotourism and community-based tourism work and writes for various organisations like Mekong Tourism and PATA. He supports training initiatives with the Asian Ecotourism Network.

He has been in the tourism industry for over 17 years, working in various sectors in his younger years and is now involved in the sustainability aspect of the industry.

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