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Innovation Infusion - Dr. Jarkko Saarinen: Review and Reflection

On Jan 27, 2015, Dr. Jarkko Saarinen, from the Finish University of Oulu, gave a public presentation on the topic: Tourism, Leisure and Poverty: Searching for Responsibility in Sustainability Tourism Development. He points out that even though tourism has been regarded as a method to alleviate poverty around the globe, the fact is host communities don’t necessarily benefit from the mainstream tourists, due to a series of reasons, such as the revenues dominated by a few companies and retention of poverty and underdevelopment as an attraction for international tourists. Dr. Saarinen raised a question to the audience: who should be responsible for this? Tourists? Companies? Or governments? He concluded that  sustainable tourism development must play a role. His presentation spurred our thoughts on sustainable tourism development and its responsibility.   

Reflections from Dr. Suzanne de la Barre, Professor of Faculty of Management

Tourism and Poverty Alleviation: Is There a Connection?
Finding ways to increase the positive benefits of tourism has long been a preoccupation for tourism scholars and practitioners from around the world. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and ‘pro-poor tourism’ firmly positioned the potential connection for tourism to benefit the world’s most vulnerable people. Using a case study from his research in Botswana as a backdrop, Dr. Saarinen brought this preoccupation to a recent Innovation Infusion event.  Responsible tourism is becoming more ‘popular’, and the social enterprise model more widespread, across many sectors, including the tourism sector. Even so, he underlines the many questions that still exist due to the inequitable economies that tourism is often immersed in, including: who defines and supports the ‘collective good’ and ‘collective benefits’? He reminds us that the economic pillar of sustainability still dominates, and that ‘mainstream tourism is driven by either the private sector or is under government control’. In consideration for the influence that control has, Dr. Saarinen proposes that at its foundation the relationship between poverty alleviation and tourism can only be addressed first and foremost through good governance. That perspective shifts the discussion from whether or not tourism benefits for poverty alleviation can occur (practical strategies), or should occur (ethical motivations), to the more politically engaged conversation that results from asking ‘what happens to tourism benefits when they do occur?’ Dr. Saarinen points out that ‘sustainable tourism is often presented to us a formula; but it’s not’. Different types of innovation are required. Specifically, he asks us to consider if there are any that can impact governance and mainstream economics. Being able to meet sustainability objectives that include addressing how tourism benefits are distributed are generally linked to levels of existing social justice. Active and engaged citizens (in a tourism context, both hosts and guests) count for a lot when supporting the objective to increase the positive relationship between tourism and poverty alleviation. On that note and as Dr. Saarinen reminds us, we are the ones we have been waiting for …

Reflections from MASLM Students

A Structural Transformation Is Needed for Sustainable Tourism Development
Dr. Jarkko Saarinen’s innovation infusion lecture provided rich insights into the misaligned reality of which of these forces exist on different scales. The concepts of sustainability and tourism development are often presented magnanimously as an ideal resolution to alleviate the social concerns of a destination. By contrasting both the prevailing and polarized perceptions of sustainable tourism development through a series of examples in Developing Nations as both an equitable agent of social change and as an exploitative force that perpetuates financial inequality, Dr. Saarinen was able to outline the hypocrisies that undermine the ideology of sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty.
There is however hope. While the industry may be in disrepair, it is not beyond mending. In order to enact positive change towards realigning sustainable development as a tool to relieve the socio-economic inequalities of a destination Dr. Saarinen believes we must decentralize the tourism development process; create reliable indicators for sustainable development; fix a responsibility for sustainable development, and ensure good and responsible governance. In order to change the way the tourism industry and its systems act with respect to sustainable development, a structural transformation must take place in the way we think about the concepts involved.
-- Jeff Wahl

Alleviating Poverty vs. Retaining Poverty
Dr. Saarinen provided solutions and ideas for all of these problems [regarding sustainable tourism development] brought up, but the solutions and ideas are things that can only be changed after the thinking of the individual is changed, as he concluded at the end of his presentation. For me the most interesting part of the presentation was how he talked about people and organizations making money off of poverty by continuing to allow it to happen. This really stuck with me because it is something that was explored through our trip to Vancouver and is something that I believe to be very prominent in the world today.
-- Hugh Weir

Local Government Needs to Encourage Community Participation.
The lecture by Dr. Jarkko Saarinen showed me a new concept of sustainable tourism. It reminds me of northwest Hubei, China. Because the areas in northwest Hubei are mountainous and traffic inconvenience, the development of the economy in these areas are greatly restricted. However, the tourism resources in these poor areas are very rich and diverse. Both the natural and the cultural tourism resources have very high value and strong attraction. It is the ideal place for sightseeing and culture exploration. In the process of tourism development, the local government does pay attention to the ecological environment protection and hold a strong belief in the importance of sustainable development. Tourism is also seen as a method to reduce poverty in the local communities.
In my opinion, the local government needs to make more efforts to encourage community participation. Because according to Dr. Saarinen, the participation of local community residents is critical in every aspect of tourism development. The local government should also create awareness of sustainable tourism among the local residents. Cultivating the sustainable awareness can help people to take their responsibility of being sustainable, because sustainable tourism means to consume in a responsible way. 
-- Huazhao Huang (Victoria)

Dr. Saarinen’s presentation reminds us that sustainable tourism development can not happen without good and responsible governance. The goal of poverty reduction won’t be achieved without the structural transformation in our economic development model, more accurate indicators to measure sustainable tourism, and  more active civic engagement. We hope that an increasing number of nations and regions can realize that tourism should not only be the tool for economic development, but also the catalyst for social justice, and take action to make them come true.

Edited by Xinting Liang & Joanne Schroeder

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