Research Proposal



This research project addresses the knowledge gap that exists in the assessment of qualitative indicators of poverty alleviation in tourism. The researcher Fabian Frenzel will conduct an empirical case study of four global ‘slum-tourism’ destinations in order to develop qualitative indicators and use them in the assessment of the cases. Based at the leading research centre for slum-tourism at the University of Potsdam this project will improve the ability to measure of poverty understood as a multi-dimensional phenomenon and its alleviation.


State of the art: Tourism and Poverty Alleviation

The role of tourism in poverty alleviation in Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Developing Countries (DC) has been a major concern for various development agencies, including the EU, in the last four decades in line with aims to reduce and eliminate poverty globally. Tourism development can also play an important role in addressing root causes for undocumented migration into the European Union, which is a key concern for the EU development policies (EU Commission 2010).

Over the years awareness has grown that tourism development does not necessarily lead to poverty reduction, because increased revenues are reduced by leakages and do not necessarily trickle down to the poorest in receiving countries, but remain with international and local elites or benefit mostly the richest in host societies (Blake et al. 2008). As a result alternative forms of tourism have been proposed and developed to tackle poverty.

Community based tourism (CBT) intends to benefit local communities more directly then conventional tourism forms. A part from net benefits community involvement is supposed to ensure empowerment of communities, mitigate costs of tourism development and make it more sustainable (Blank 1989). In the analysis of CBT these latter factors however have received very little critical appraisal while the focus has remained on sustaining the tourism industry economically (Blackstock 2005). Critique has also been voiced against CBT initiatives because they have arguably created a niche market for a particular type of tourists rather than helping the poor (Ruiz-Ballesteros & Hernuandez-Ramuriez 2010).

Pro Poor Tourism (PPT) has tried to establish conditions that allow the poor to benefit from conventional and alternative forms of tourism (Ashley et al. 2001). With some continuity from earlier decades (Harrison 2008) pro poor tourism practice in development policies pursued both by international development agencies and LDC/DC remains however focused on the ‘net benefits’ of tourism to the poor, and hence on quantifiable improvements and results, like income and employment gains in the host communities (Scheyvens 2007). The orientation of much of the research on tourism and poverty on ‘net gains’ is justified when definitions of poverty are based on quantitative terms, e.g. prices, earnings and government revenue (Blake et al. 2008). Arguably however such approaches might overlook possible costs and benefits of tourism that are less easy to quantify.

Poverty itself, it has been argued, is not simply a matter of limited material wealth and basic needs, but consists of less tangible attributes like limited social status, access to land, political power, education, and cultural goods (Sen 1999). The World Bank and the UNDP have increasingly included non-income based indicators to their understanding of poverty (Worldbank 2010). If poverty is understood as a multi-dimensional phenomenon its measurement becomes extremely complex (Tomlinson et al. 2008). Baulch (2006) has argued that the most frequently used measures of poverty remain quantitative, despite the acknowledgment of poverty as a multi-dimensional phenomenon, because quantitative measures are more easily operationalised. This might explain the focus on ‘net gains’ in tourism and poverty research.

Here qualitative costs and benefits are frequently mentioned, however they are rarely operationalised as qualitative indicators that would allow the longitudinal and comparative examination of various cases. A key knowledge gap exists in respect of qualitative indicators of poverty alleviation.


Research Aim and Objectives

The aim of this research project is to address this lacuna. The project faces the challenge of limiting the scope of study to a set of valid and comparable cases from where attempts can be made to work towards qualitative indicators of poverty alleviation that can be used as a basis of future research. This research project will focus on a number of cases of tourism in urban slums in LDC and DCs.

Slum-Tourism is not a recent phenomenon; however it has come to increasing attention academically over the last years (Freire-Medeiros 2009). Slum-Tourism caters for the desire of tourists to experience poverty and mitigates against the moral ambiguity of such desires by diverse mobilisations of narratives of poverty alleviation related to the tourism product. While material benefits of local communities are often highlighted, qualitative aspects of the relation between poverty and tourism come equally to the forefront. A range of preliminary qualitative indicators are displayed in slum-tourism research. Here poverty is the attraction, a commodity sold, an experience searched for and part of the tourism product. Moral and political questions arise in this context around representations and aesthetisation of poverty, and levels of political awareness and reflection (Hutnyk 1996). Slum-Tourism is arguably well placed to study qualitative indicators of poverty alleviation in tourism.

The research project has the following main objectives.


1.   To analyse and review existing literature on poverty and tourism development to create a preliminary set of qualitative indicators of poverty alleviation in tourism.

2.   To pursue longitudinal and comparative research on a set of case studies with the aim to specify and provide further evidence for the preliminary set of qualitative indicators derived from the literature.

3.   To operationalise approaches for the use of qualitative indicators in analysing tourism’s role in poverty alleviation.

4.   To observe and analyse the changes in qualitative indicators among tourists and host communities and in their interactions before, during and after the tourist encounter in the case studies.

5.   To support future research within tourism and other relevant fields with solid data and analysis on qualitative indicators in poverty alleviation

6.   To disseminate research findings among policy makers, industry, SMEs and tourists and host communities in sending and receiving countries.


Scientific reasons for the research

As indicated above a key knowledge gap exists in respect of measuring multi-dimensional poverty and hence its potential alleviation by tourism in the state of the art literature. This research proposal will address this knowledge gap. The identification of a set of qualitative indicators and their use in multi-sided and longitudinal research of four cases of slum-tourism will provide valuable data not simply in the field of tourism research but will contribute to similar debates in the fields of urban and international development and regeneration (Baulch 2006).


Socio-economic reasons for the research

In focusing on quantifiable ‘net gains’ of tourism and its economics, research on tourism and poverty has to date not sufficiently accounted for multidimensional character of poverty. It follows that multi-dimensional poverty might not be mitigated by ‘net benefits’ from tourism development, even if income gains from tourism trickle down to the poorest more substantially. This might explain why 40 years of tourism development and growth in LDC/DC, with initiative like CBT and PPT have not always delivered poverty alleviation. The EU has subscribed to the millennium development goals (MDC) and pursues development projects in DC/LDC with the aim to reduce and eliminate poverty. This research might benefit the EU and other development agents to better understand tourism’s role in poverty alleviation as it aims to provide an inroad in the difficult yet crucial task of measuring qualitative effects of tourism on poverty alleviation. Importantly research results might include evidence towards the assessment that tourism’s effect of poverty alleviation is minimal.


Multidisciplinary aspects of the proposal

The study will take a multidisciplinary approach in order to take full advantage of research expertise by the researcher and the host institution. This includes the expertise of the researcher in political sciences, anthropology and tourism and the expertise of the host in human geography, urban and international development, quantitative and qualitative evaluation and mobility.


Research methodology


Overall methodological approach (Research Objectives 1 to 6)


In order to research, define, operationalise and apply qualitative indicators of poverty this study employs a case study approach. This is a comprehensive and appropriate approach to enable the objectives of the research to be achieved within the timescales and resources proposed. In particular the case study allows an approach to the broad aim of the project through a set of spatially and temporarily bound places. These places are four global slum tourism locations chosen for their critical nature in respect of the overall research aim. In addition to the use of a case study approach, QUAL-POT will employ a participatory action research (PAR) framework. PAR is used here to ensure the validity and reliability of the data by establishing a research design that involves research participants beyond the collection of data in the data analysis and in the evaluation and recommendation stage. PAR also allows maximal levels of knowledge exchange between the researcher and research participants addressing central research objectives of QUAL-POT.


The epistemological outlook adopted in this study is aligned with the theoretical implications of the research aim and objectives. A case study approach is pursued here as a tool to tackle the complex constellations that arise from the search for qualitative indicators of tourism’s role in poverty alleviation. According to Yin, the case study is ’an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real life context, when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident and in which multiple sources of evidence are used’ (Yin 1984, p.23). It is especially the blurred borders between context and phenomenon that are of interest here. The phenomenological and hermeneutical scepticism towards a clearly circumscribed object character of the research phenomenon reverberates in the limits of the use of dominantly quantitative indicators to assess tourism’s role in poverty alleviation.





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Blackstock, K., 2005. A critical look at community based tourism. Community Development Journal, 40(1), 39-49.


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