Can Tourism Pay the Maasai?

Published on 5th September 2006

Part One

In Kenya, tourism is one of the principle sources of foreign revenues for the central government.  Its direct and indirect contributions to the national economy are enormous.  Other sectors like agriculture, transportation, or communication depend heavily on the tourism industry.  But the tourism industry itself depends on wildlife resources as the main attraction with the government being the custodian of wildlife whether inside or outside the National parks. According to the Department of Remote Sensing and Resource Surveys (DRSRS), more than 60 percent of Kenyan wildlife is found on the tribal land called group ranches belonging to the Maasai people.  The popular National Parks and Reserves like Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Maasai Mara, Tsavo East and Samburu Game Reserve are all found in Maasai land. Their contributions to the local economy of Maasai people are minimal.

The Maasai people have gradually become poorer over the years.  The combinations of frequent droughts and poor markets have adversely affected their livestock-based economy.  Supplementary incomes through employment are limited due to lack of education and training.  The only other resource they have is the wildlife-rich land and their cultural heritage, both of which are coming under great pressure due to poverty.

The increase in human-wildlife conflicts and the gradual loss of wildlife habitat in tourism destinations have reinforced the view that local people’s involvement in the tourism industry is an essential adjunct to the concept of a nature-based tourism industry. The relationship between local communities and the tourism industry is that of purposeful interdependence.

Consistent with this, therefore, is the need for a new approach in the tourism industry that puts the welfare of poor people at the top of the tourism agenda.  Using tourism to combat poverty is now accepted, not only as a moral issue but also as an ecological and social-economic issue.  To the public and most stakeholders, it provides the juristification why wildlife should be conserved in the first place.

Pro – Poor Tourism

Pro – Poor Tourism (PPT) is defined as ‘tourism that results in increased net benefits for poor people’.  PPT is not a specific product or niche sector but an approach to the tourism development and management.  It is a new paradigm that focuses more attention on the role of tourism in poverty alleviation.  PPT enhances ways that tourism enterprises can empower poor people.  To achieve this noble goal, pro poor tourism acts both as an economic opportunity by itself as well as catalyst to pro poor growth in other sectors of the local economy.

The links could vary from place to place depending on the different opportunities and resources available to the poor people.  The Maasai people of Kenya could have different types of needs from those of the Maasai in Tanzania.  Identifying these needs is central to the success of PPT in the first place.  The strategies are focused on unlocking opportunities for the poor to engage in tourism, rather than expanding the oversize of the sector.

PPT is a multi-stakeholder approach: the national and regional government, through consultation with other stakeholders, should develop responsible tourism policies that create the correct incentives for PPT investment.  This could include the introduction of tax breaks and security tenure. The tourism industry role is its commitment to employment of poor people, product development and marketing.  Other sectors like banking and financial institutions can contribute funding for Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) like bead-works, curios/handcrafts, vegetables or fruits that the local people could supply to the tourism industry. The communities, like the Maasai, can contribute their land, by retaining their land as 'openlands', in return for tourism-conservation funds.  Such funds are critical for social development projects like schools, health clinics or water projects. For this approach to work, the capacity and ability of the key stakeholders-the communities, government, and the private (tourism) sector-has to be assessed and strengthened to meet their role and responsibility.  Such services can be outsourced from international education agencies like the International Center for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) or development agencies like PPT partnership, Department for International Development (DFID) or SNV, which are already involved in PPT projects in other parts of the world.

Why PPT is better for the Maasai communities than other forms of ‘alternative’ tourism?

PPT sometimes overlaps with other forms of tourism including sustainable, community-based and eco-tourism but the key distinctive feature of pro-poor tourism is that it puts poor people and poverty reduction as its main objective, while other alternative forms of tourism focus on the triple bottom-line of economics, environment and social elements.  Donors sometimes include tourism in broader third world development strategies, most commonly for macro-economic growth objectives, but increasingly also for environmental/wildlife conservation and rural development.  According to Deliotte & Touch et. al, “Tourism is seldom invoked by donors as a distinct strategy for poverty reduction although many currently are reconsidering their positions.”  As poverty becomes a topic issue, PPT gains altitude as the best tourism approach that could play a role in poverty reduction.  To a community like the Maasai who’s traditional and husbandry is compatible with environmental conservation, PPT is the better option in the following ways:

1) PPT and the sustainable tourism agenda

The principles of sustainable tourism (ST) are widely accepted and adopted by the tourism industry.  There is considerable overlap between ST and PPT, and many ST initiatives include constructive pro-poor elements.  However:

  • ST focuses mainly on mainstream destinations, which are mainly in the North while PPT focuses on the South, where the poor are.
  • In ST, environmental concerns dominate.  Social or local benefits are usually one of the several elements of sustainability.  Poverty is the core focus of PPT.
  • Where ST does include social concerns, practical guidance is often weak. Certifying energy efficiency is easier than certifying community relations.  PPT experience has generated a number of practical lessons, which could be incorporated within ST and are particularly appropriate to countries where poverty is the pressing concern.

2) Eco-tourism and community based tourism

PPT also overlaps with both ecotourism and community-based tourism (CBT), but it is not synonymous with either.

  • Ecotourism initiatives may provide benefits to people, but they are mainly concerned with the environment.  Conservation approaches emphasis the need for broadly distributed local benefits (often cash) as incentives for conservation, or they may support activities that provide an alternative to unsustainable actions.  In contract, PPT aims to deliver net benefits to the poor as a goal in itself.  Environmental concerns are just one part of the picture.
  • Community-based tourism initiatives aim at increasing local people’s involvement in tourism.  These are one useful component of PPT.  But PPT involves more than a community focus-it requires mechanisms to unlock opportunities for the poor at all levels and scales of operations.


This article has been read 2,393 times