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Fighting poverty by building on least developed countries´ tourist assets

11 October 2010

International meeting of experts, Caen, France, 12-14 October 2010

Caen, 12 October 2010 - Tourism offers a real opportunity for the 49 least developed countries (LDCs). In barely 10 years, the number of visitors to these countries has tripled and income from tourism - which can account for up to 40% of GDP - rose by 71% between 1998 and 2008, as compared with 41% in the rest of the world.

As a catalyst for development in other areas such as agriculture, crafts, and transport, tourism can help reduce poverty by creating local jobs and by attracting foreign currency. However, if not managed properly, it can also have harmful effects on local culture and on the quality of the environment.

It is therefore important for LDCs to develop strategies that make the most of their tourist assets while at the same time minimizing the risks related to an expansion of tourism. This is the issue to be addressed at an international meeting of experts and government officials to be held in Caen, France, from 12-14 October 2010. The meeting is being organized by UNCTAD in partnership with the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Regional Council of Basse-Normandie.

The meeting has two objectives:

  • To highlight key aspects of sustainable tourism for tourist development officers from LDCs, using real-life examples
  • To consider what international initiatives could be taken to encourage development of the tourist sector in LDCs, in preparation for the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, to be held in Istanbul in May-June 2011

An obvious economic boon

Tourism is already the biggest foreign currency earner in 12 LDCs, and is the second- and third-biggest in 11 more. In four small-island LDCs, international tourism accounts for over 40% of total earnings from exports. Despite a disappointing 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis, receipts from tourism generally rose in LDCs.

Four of the five countries whose circumstances improved sufficiently for them to graduate from LDC status, as defined by the United Nations in 1971(1), owe this happy development to growth in the tourist sector, the main driver of their socio-economic development (the four countries are Cape Verde, Maldives, Samoa, and Vanuatu).

Tourism, structural progress, and sustainable development

Thanks to its links with agriculture, crafts, construction, transport, and many other services, tourism can act as an economic catalyst and thus help reduce poverty, particularly by creating steady jobs for local people. The impact of sustainable development of the tourist sector on economic progress is invaluable, as it stimulates the development of both human resources and a country´s infrastructure, which are crucial to growing the economy as a whole. Tourist development should always be approached from the viewpoint of sustainable development (protection of the environment and cultural heritage) and should contribute to the balanced development of different areas.

Drawing up national strategies for the sustainable development of tourism can be considered a priority of economic policy in many LDCs. It is as important to integrate tourism in an overall policy on sustainable development as it is to promote the tourist sector´s potential as a driver of economic growth.

UNCTAD´s work in promoting tourism in LDCs

For over a decade, UNCTAD has been producing research in this area and providing technical assistance for the benefit of a number of member States. This work is now carried out under the guidance of the working group on sustainable tourism for development. The group´s work has helped highlight the value of international tourism to the economies of developing countries in general and LDCs in particular.

Three days of work in Lower Normandy

The region of Lower Normandy hosts this meeting of experts and high-level officials in the field of sustainable tourism because it is deeply involved in sustainable tourism. This region, which hosts more than 3 million visitors each year to Mont-Saint-Michel alone, is committed to the development of sustainable tourism, including through the preservation of biodiversity through, for example, the reestablishment of the maritime character of Mont-Saint-Michel and the creation of tourism offerings adapted for the handicapped through its operation "Les Buissonnières" . . One can equally cite the classification of the Normandy invasion beaches of World War II as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are numerous other examples where the region has reconciled respect for the environment with the development of tourism for great numbers of visitors. All of these subjects will be presented during the three days of the meeting. The region of Lower Normandy, in addition, is engaged in ambitious, decentralized costal cooperation projects elsewhere, notably in the Atsinanana Region of Madagascar and in the Republic of Macedonia.


1. There are currently 49 least developed countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic of the), Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People´s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia.
The list is reviewed every three years by the United Nations Economic and Social Council according to the following three criteria: low income, human resource weakness and economic vulnerability.

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