Poverty is a worldwide epidemic that threatens the health and well-being of individuals and their surrounding natural environments, glocally. People-First Tourism is a participatory action research program focused on understanding tourism micro-entrepreneurship among individuals with vulnerable livelihoods and its impact on their self-determination.
This research program strives to create, evaluate and continuously refine interventions that enable sustainable and dignified livelihoods, and is supported by a fluid network of multidisciplinary faculty and students, as well as community champions and empowerment organizations across the US and abroad.
Individuals with vulnerable livelihoods have the ability to produce tourism services and products that are an extension of traditional life practices like tracking wildlife, making crafts, cooking, storytelling, or engaging in cultural performances. These opportunities capitalize on tourists’ increased interest in services that are delivered by and contribute to the wellbeing of their hosts. Tourism businesses have embraced this trend advertising their products as authentic, local, socially-conscious or even pro-poor, and their success has generally trickled down to benefit vulnerable segments of society through increased employment and improved tax revenues. This trend also opens the opportunity to engage poor individuals in tourism micro-enterprises, provided that these individuals are empowered and enabled by an appropriate support system.
Much like small-scale farmers, tourism micro-entrepreneurs face many competitive challenges including no brand recognition, lack of quality assurance, limited knowledge of market preferences, isolation from peer networks and support services, and inability to break through retail monopolies to reach markets. These and other challenges have generally prevented underserved individuals from starting tourism businesses and earning their way out of poverty and dependency.
Initiative: Tourism Micro-entrepreneurship
Contributors to this initiative endeavor to develop social science, appropriate IT systems, and participatory development methods to foster tourism micro-entrepreneurship among under-resourced and under-served individuals. Moreover, efforts in this initiative thrive to engage private tourism industry and public agency stakeholders as partners in facilitating the success of micro-entrepreneurs that contribute to richer and more genuine destination tourism experiences.
Why does this matter?
Despite the millions of dollars spent in tourism planning and in poverty alleviation in the US and abroad, poverty is still at the root of our planet’s most severe environmental and security threats, and tourism continues to fall short of its potential role in facilitating sustainability and dignity. Therefore, every member contributing to this initiative is deeply committed to pursue innovative transdisciplinary scholarship that informs radical new solutions to poverty and environmental degradation, and to pursue such solutions so as to facilitate their ongoing refinement and the advance of People-First Tourism scholarship.
The People-First Tourism web marketplace was initially conceived by Dr. Duarte B. Morais, but the core NC State faculty involved in this project also include Dr. Gene Brothers, Dr. Tim Wallace (Anthropology), and John Bass (Institute for Next Generation IT Systems). In addition, the project leverages the work and insight of an eclectic group of committed faculty and students from almost every College in the university. As the project grows, the list of partners and collaborators has been expanding to include numerous academic institutions, community development organizations and businesses – in North Carolina, the US and internationally.
People-First Tourism is a marketplace for buying and selling genuine tourism experiences. This project links entrepreneurs trying to pursue dignified and sustainable livelihoods through tourism with adventurous and conscientious tourists interested in unique off the beaten path experiences and in making positive impacts on the communities they visit. This marketplace, a social venture aiming at maximizing social profit while breaking even financially, is a project of North Carolina State University and of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
Initial seed funding for the development of this web marketplace was provided by The North Carolina Rural and Economic Development Center and the North Carolina Sea Grant with the goal to stimulate economic innovation in rural and coastal North Carolina.
START Net – Sustainability and Technology for the Advancement of Rural Tourism
START Net was a transdisciplinary project pursued in collaboration with colleagues in University of Pretoria’s Tourism Management program. This project, led by Dr. Duarte B. Morais, Dr. Fay Cobb Payton (Information Systems), and Dr. Ernie Heath (Tourism Management, University of Pretoria), examined the process of developing a cellphone-based social networking system to connect rural indigenous groups in Southern Africa interested in providing tourism services with independent travelers and tourism companies via inexpensive SMS communications.
The START Net project explored the empowerment of participating micro-entrepreneurs and business cooperatives with business skills, knowledge of market preferences and supply channels. The aim is to level the playing field between tourism companies and community-owned businesses and to improve the complexity and quality of tourism experiences available to independent tourists visiting rural Africa.
Team members from NC State and the University of Pretoria in South Africa tested the START Net concept over a one year period, including a three-week long joint field study in South Africa in 2010-11. The findings of this project were integrated in South Africa’s 2012 Tourism Strategic Plan and continue to influence the direction and progress of the People-First Tourism initiative.
Examples of Recent Publications from PRTM in the area of People-First Tourism
Morais, D.B., Heath, E., Tlhagale, M., Payton, F.C., Martin, K., Mehta, K., & Bass, J. (2012). Concept Testing People-First Tourism in Rural South Africa. In Jafari, J. (Ed.). Knowledge Management in Tourism: Policy and Governance Applications Bridging Tourism Theory and Practice, Vol 4, 115-128. UN WTO: Emerald.
Usher, L., & Morais, D.B. (2010). Women’s human agency and self-determination in Guatemalan tourism development. PASOS: Revista de Turismo y Patrimonio Cultural, 8(4), 507-518.