Tourism and Poverty Alleviation: A Case Study of Sapa, Vietnam
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research examines the interrelationships between tourism, poverty alleviation, and social marketing. It argues that tourism growth is necessary but insufficient by itself to alleviate poverty. Although tourism has often been connected with poverty under the rubric of pro-poor tourism (PPT), limited research has investigated this from the poor’s perspective. Little is also known of various poverty causes, including poor people’s behaviours in affecting poverty. Although tourism may contribute to alleviating poverty, negative poverty-related behaviours (e.g. depletion of natural resources) are still found in some host destinations. Where behaviour change is considered significant for tourism to help alleviate poverty, social marketing may be important given its potential in motivating voluntary behaviour change. This is particularly necessary for a developing country such as Vietnam, where tourism is encouraged for poverty alleviation. The district of Sapa, Vietnam is chosen as a case study area, which has substantial levels of poverty although tourism has developed for years. This research seeks to answer four main questions: What are the barriers to poverty alleviation identified by PPT projects in Vietnam? What are the roles of social marketing in PPT projects in Vietnam? What are the barriers to poverty alleviation identified by PPT projects as perceived by local people and key informants in Sapa? What are the roles of tourism as a means of poverty alleviation as perceived by the locals in Sapa?
This research was designed in two stages. The first involved a content analysis of tourism-related projects in Vietnam, where a systematic search for project documents was conducted. Forty-five projects were found and then analysed against a set of six social marketing benchmark criteria. Twenty-one projects were judged to meet all the criteria, most of which were implemented in national parks (NPs) and nature reserves (NRs) that are home to important resources for tourism. Typical project objectives included preventing or mitigating local people’s dependence on natural resources and promoting tourism as an alternative livelihood. The most popular competing factors identified were local people’s poor perception of conservation needs and traditional dependence on natural resources, stakeholder conflicts, and weak policy implementation. This stage suggested that social marketing might help tourism contribute to natural resource conservation and poverty alleviation. The second stage utilised both qualitative and quantitative methods. Interviews were conducted with 47 poor people and key informants in Sapa. A survey was then administered with 187 local people. It identified that local people perceive poverty as a lack of rice and/or income and attribute it to internal and/or external causes. Tourism holds important potential for poverty alleviation in Sapa. However, this potential is substantially reduced by barriers to business development, employment, and thus benefit distribution within the sector. It is also worsened by the exclusion of poor people from development plans, decision-making processes, and project design and implementation. The non-poor and tour operators are perceived as the main beneficiaries of tourism. Local women often follow tourists to sell handicrafts, resulting in discomfort for tourists and conflicts among community members. More local people consider tourism a contributor to poverty alleviation and wish to participate in tourism. The most critical barriers preventing participation include insufficient knowledge, skills, work experience, funds, and poor foreign language proficiency. Limited capital and farming land is the most important obstacle to poverty alleviation overall.
This research suggests that to maintain the long-term viability of tourism in Sapa, social marketing can be used to promote behaviour change in handicraft sellers and forest resource dependents. To this end, alternative livelihoods other than tourism are required. There is a need to put in place a policy framework that entitles poor people to more land in the forest so that they can grow more rice and medicinal fruit and protect their own forestland. Social marketing can also promote changes in the self-interested practices of tourism businesses and relevant forest policies. In addition, an appropriate intervention framework should be established to reduce household sizes and thus mitigate land use pressures. From a local perspective, this research helps planners, managers, and policy-makers in Sapa as well as other similar destinations in Vietnam and elsewhere understand more clearly the barriers to poverty alleviation and the obstacles to poor people’s participation in tourism. It also generates greater awareness among academics and the public in Vietnam regarding the potential of social marketing for alleviating poverty through tourism. On a broader scale, this research enriches and deepens tourism scholars and practitioners’ understanding of the various ways social marketing can help alleviate poverty and protect natural resources. Furthermore, given the centrality of poverty alleviation to the sustainable development agenda, the findings of this research contribute to wider social scientific debate, practical development discourse and, as such, to Vietnam’s society as a whole. This research concludes that only by valuing the perspectives of poor people can meaningful approaches to alleviating poverty through tourism become clearer and more likely to succeed.