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Connecting the sustainable livelihoods approach and tourism: a review of the literature.

Tourism has been increasingly used for, and directly linked with, rural poverty reduction in developing countries. However, the application, and to an extent the principles, of the widely used organising framework for considering poverty reduction, the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA), may not fit fully the tourism situation, and vice versa. Based on a review of the literature we first suggest that sustainable livelihoods for tourism should be viewed in a broader tourism context, rather than merely taking tourism as a development tool. Second, the SLA seeks household livelihood sustainability at the individual or household level, while tourism sustainability is often applied to the industry and destinations at wider, more macro level scales. Thus, a reconciliation of the tensions and opportunities between the SLA and tourism needs to be found. Third, tourism research has demonstrated local residents" increasing concern about participation in political governance associated with tourism development, with less participation jeopardising local people's assets from a livelihood perspective. Therefore, an additional concept of institutional asset (mainly community participation) needs to be incorporated within the SLA. Given the above understandings, a sustainable tourism livelihood was defined and a Sustainable Tourism Livelihoods Approach (STLA) is proposed. The potential applications of the STLA are discussed and future research is recommended.

Keywords: sustainable livelihoods, rural development, poverty, tourism, sustainability, community participation


Although poverty is one of the most compelling challenges confronting humankind, there remains numerous issues when considering scale, form, and evaluation of response within the multiple poverty contexts. As the World Bank (1990, p. 29) points out, 'policies targeted directly to the poor can hardly succeed unless governments know who the poor are and how they respond to policies and to their environment'. Based on this understanding, the World Bank adopted different approaches to rural and urban poverty, respectively, in implementing projects towards poverty reduction. This article focuses on the rural poverty context because up to 75% of the world's poor are in rural populations, and mostly in the 'third world' (World Bank, 2008).

Key economic activities aimed at rural poverty reduction continue to be primary industries including agriculture and fishing (Harriss, 1982; World Bank, 2008). While professionals tried to improve rural conditions through approaches to soil fertility improvement, land reform and advanced technology, these development approaches did little to alleviate rural poverty (Aziz, 1978; Schutjer & Stokes, 1984; World Bank, 2001, 2008). In the 1980s, a new approach to poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods (SL) and the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) was proposed (Conroy & Litvinoff, 1988). It emphasised holistic and integrated thinking about poverty reduction and rural development, and soon gained popularity among researchers, practitioners and developers (Chambers, 1992; Chambers & Conway, 1992; Department for International Development, 1999), while still typically being focused on agricultural practices (FAO, 2002; Larkin, 2004; Start & Johnson, 2004).

Tourism is now the biggest and fastest growing industry in the world, having experienced enormous growth over recent decades (UNWTO, 2002). But only recently has tourism's potential of contributing to rural poverty reduction been widely recognised by policy-makers and others (Goodwin, 1998, 2000; UNWTO, 2002). Unlike agrarian change, the concept of tourism in rural areas originates from developed countries (C. M. Hall & Page, 2002). Research regarding rural tourism has centred on aspects of tourism products, marketing, planning, and impacts (e.g., Hall, Kirkpatrick & Mitchell, 2005; Page & Getz, 1997). This trend has, however, recently been criticised for its reduced focus on rural livelihoods and poverty reduction, with some contending that this deficiency can be addressed by using the SLA (Ashley, 2000; Ashley, Boyd, & Goodwin, 2000). Thus, the question that arises is: will the SLA fit the case in which tourism is taken as a livelihood strategy for rural development? This paper addresses this question by reviewing the theoretical evolution of both the SLA and tourism. Possible gaps between their applications are explored and a sustainable livelihoods framework for tourism is proposed and discussed.

Rural Development

The SL approach arose from the broad context of rural development (see Ahmed & Doeleman, 1995; Aziz, 1978; Conroy & Litvinoff, 1988; Elliott, 1999; Ellis, 2000; Harriss, 1982; Lea & Chaudhri, 1983; Schutjer & Stokes, 1984). In summary it can be seen that rural development has moved through three main bodies of thought since the mid 20th century, namely the population and technology model, political economy theories, and agricultural development (Ahmed & Doeleman, 1995; Aziz, 1978; Ellis, 2000; Harriss, 1982; Lea & Chaudhri, 1983).

In the 1950s the population and technology model was the main discourse. The model emphasises that rural population growth will increase agricultural productivity. Surplus agricultural output closely relates to the advancement of farming technologies, a major driver of agricultural productivity (Schutjer & Stokes, 1984). In the 1960s, concerns with increasing income disparities in the rural economy led to the theory of political economy of agrarian change focusing on the equality of job opportunity and income, including appropriate social reform (Aziz, 1978). This theory, however, failed to stress livelihood diversification away from agriculture on which the rural poor have always survived (Ellis, 2000). The third stage of rural development, agricultural development theory, prevailed in the 1970s. Its emphasis on small-farm agriculture was very successful in raising agricultural productivity, so that for nearly 20 years it remained the dominant rural development philosophy (Ellis, 2000).

In the 1980s, the notion of rural development in developing countries was critiqued and questions were asked about the overall success of 'small-farm enterprises'. While small-farm agriculture raised agrarian productivity it helped little to alleviate poverty, and worse, social inequality and unbalanced income distribution increased (e.g. Ho, Eyferth & Vermeer, 2004; Lea & Chaudhri, 1983; World Bank, 1990). More holistic, integrated, rural development thinking was called for. Thus, the sustainable livelihoods concept was proposed in the late 1980s, a concept that has subsequently undergone substantial theoretical and practical development.

Sustainable Livelihoods Approach

SL is a way of thinking about rural development. It calls for integrative thinking for poverty reduction rather than conventionally alleviating poverty through raising crop productivity and external aid (Cahn, 2002). Although the term Sustainable Livelihoods has been used widely in poverty and rural development research, there is no broadly accepted definition, and different governments, organisations and individuals have adopted their own understandings (Cahn, 2002; Carney, 1999; Carney et al., 1999).

The notion of SL can be traced back to the first proposition of sustainable development in the Brundtland Commission Report of 1987 (Solesbury, 2003). In the same year the Advisory Panel on Food Security, Agriculture, Forestry and Environment produced a report to the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), in which the concept of SL was first, and officially, proposed (WCED, 1987). This report reversed the normal view that always starts with things rather than people, urban rather than rural, the rich rather than the poor (Conroy & Litvinoff, 1988).

Reviewing the WCED panel definition, Chambers and Conway put forth their understanding of SL:

A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the short and long term (Chambers & Conway, 1992, p. 6).

Chambers and Conway (1992), in their definition, accentuated the importance of capabilities, not only the ability of being and doing, but also the ability of recognising and recovering from the potential shocks and stresses which they consider are key features of sustainability. Ellis (2000) however, points out that the meaning of 'capabilities' in the above definition overlaps greatly with assets and activities, and use of the term 'capabilities' can bring confusion. Therefore, he argued that access to assets and activities mediated by institutions and social relations should be highlighted, rather than capabilities. When applied to Pacific cultures, Cahn (2002) notes that culture and tradition are prominent in a Pacific livelihood, and proposed a sustainable Pacific livelihoods model incorporating the integration of culture and tradition. Such deliberations indicate that a 'one size fits all' SL approach is neither possible nor appropriate--context is important.

Existing definitions of SL remain arguable and unclear (Ellis, 2000; Scoones, 1998). Among various definitions, the SL work of Chambers and Conway (1992) was considered fundamental, and led to a number of government departments, international agencies and (I)NGOs, for example UK Department for International Development (DFID), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Oxfam and CARE, adopting their own related understandings of SL and employing SL approaches to facilitate and help rural development practice (Carney et al., 1999; DFID, 1999). Comparing various agencies' livelihoods work, the approaches employed appear to have much in common although there may be some different operational emphases. Among these approaches, the pentagram-based module (Figure 1) developed by DFID (1999) is most prominent, and this framework is believed by some to have captured well, the essential concept of 'livelihood' (Baumgartner & Hogger, 2004).

The DFID-based framework (Figure 1) reinforces a people-centred approach, based around five key features:

1. Assets: Livelihood assets consist of Natural, Physical, Social, Human, and Financial forms of capital (DFID, 1999). Assets are fundamental to the poor.

2. Transforming structures and processes: Structures are hardware which involve public and private sectors. Process is made up of policy, laws, culture and institutions, and is more like software (DFID, 1999). Transforming structures and processes play important roles in shaping livelihood assets and outcomes.

3. Vulnerability context: Vulnerability is a key to livelihood sustainability. It includes shocks, trends and seasonality (DFID, 1999). It can adversely affect the poor's assets and their choice of livelihoods, although not all vulnerabilities are negative.

4. Outcomes: Livelihood outcomes are reflections of successes and objectives that livelihood strategies aim to achieve. Outcomes are always the pathway to assessing livelihood sustainability, and the scale of analysis is of paramount importance (Scoones, 1998).

5. Strategies: Livelihood strategies are the activities employed to generate the means of household survival.


A number of authors have considered various types of rural livelihood strategies. Scoones (1998) identified three, namely agricultural intensification or extensification, livelihood diversification, and migration. Ellis (2000) identified two categories, natural resource based activities and non-natural resource based activities. Regardless of groupings, the fact is that these strategies focus mostly on primary industries like agriculture, forestry, livestock, and timber harvest (Ellis, 2000). However, to what extent do these strategies help achieve sustainable livelihoods? From

1993 to 2002 in developing countries (outside China), with an international poverty line of US$1.08 a day, 'the number of poor people in rural areas fell only slightly, from 1 billion to 0.9 billion' (World Bank, 2008, p. 45). During the last decade by contrast, the rapidly growing tourism industry has attracted much attention from governments, NGOs, researchers and practitioners, including a focus on rural development.

Tourism and Poverty Alleviation

Poverty reduction has not traditionally been at the heart of tourism development, although tourism is believed to be one of the few development opportunities for the poor to reduce poverty levels (Goodwin, 2002, 2006; Holland, Dixey & Burian, 2003; Jamieson, Goodwin & Edmunds, 2004; Marsland, Wilson, Abeyasekera & Kleih, 1998; Roe, 2001; Saville, 2001). It has been always assumed that the poor will economically benefit from tourism through a 'trickle-down' process, even though tourism projects are not poverty-oriented (Ashley, 2002; Mowforth & Munt, 1998). However, Yunis, former Chief of Sustainable Development at the UNWTO, argued that tourism 'will not address poverty automatically', and there exists little hard evidences to bolster the trickle-down view (Goodwin, 2006, p. 3). This debate has grown in recent years, as poverty concerns became increasingly endorsed by NGOs, governments and researchers.

In 2002 the UNWTO launched 'Tourism and Poverty Alleviation' at the World Summit on Sustainable Tourism in Johannesburg. In this report, tourism's function in reducing poverty was reexamined. It is accentuated that tourism could be one of the few effective means to contribute to poverty alleviation if properly managed. To implement this understanding the UNWTO established the Sustainable Tourism--Elimination of Poverty (ST-EP) programme to meet the objectives of reducing poverty in developing and the least developed countries (UNWTO, 2002). This is a significant shift from an initial focus on economic benefits, and later environmental and cultural protection, to a poverty emphasis from the beginning of the new millennium. In 2006, the UNWTO officially initiated the ST-EP programme (Goodwin, 2006), which aims to develop 5000 small projects by 2015 (UNWTO, 2004c).

In response to the poverty-oriented development trend, a more poverty-focused form of tourism development has been promoted. In this context, pro-poor tourism (PPT) has recently emerged and been explored and operated at theoretical and practical levels. PPT refers to tourism that increases net benefits for the poor. Strictly speaking, 'PPT is not a specific product or niche sector but an approach to tourism development and management' (Ashley, 2002, p. 18). The PPT can be any tourism segment, but one common ground is to improve the linkage between tourism business and the poor and to expand benefits to the poor.

The poverty-centred principles of PPT cater to public demand in the new millennium, and it generates great interest among researchers and practitioners. Compared with other productive sectors, tourism has some advantages. For example it is labour intensive; consumption occurs normally at the point of production; and tourism can capitalise on natural scenery and cultural elements which are normally some of the few assets the poor have and have access to (UNWTO, 2002). PPT takes antipoverty as its primary goal. Based on this understanding, governments and donors have more or less integrated tenets of PPT into many alternative tourism forms, even some mass tourism projects to fight against poverty.

No matter what the definitions of the ST-EP and PPT are, the key theme is to unlock opportunities to the poor with the focus on poverty alleviation. However, relevant tourism research, according to Zhao and Ritchie (2007, p. 119), 'to date is fragmented, limited in scope, and lacks a consistent methodological development'. For maximising the principle of poverty alleviation in tourism development, increasing tourism research has been devoted to seeking a more appropriate approach to practically guide tourism against poverty. Zhao and Ritchie (2007, p. 119), for example, developed an integrative framework for antipoverty tourism research. This approach, however, is tourism-centric and parochial. Being a livelihood strategy against poverty, tourism is not isolated. Rather, it complements or predominates other livelihood portfolios, agriculture or labour migration for example (Tao & Wall, in press). Therefore, a growing view contends that the SLA offers more holistic thinking and understanding of the complexity of tourism and related developmental issues against poverty (Aronsson, 2000; Ashley et al., 2000; Jamieson et al., 2004). However, tourism may not have the same characteristics as primary industries, like agriculture, for which the SLA was originally designed to work. Thus, to better understand relationships between the SLA and tourism, it is necessary to examine both in a broader context--development theory.

Development, Rural Development, and Tourism Development

The SLA is rooted in the evolution of rural development practice. Rural and tourism development both link to the parental paradigm--development theory (Ellis, 2000; Reid, 2003; Sharpley, 2000). To better understand the implications of connecting SL and tourism, the SLA concept cannot be viewed in isolation from the broader development context. The term 'development' is, however, elusive and has suffered from the lack of a precise meaning. One common understanding is that 'development' is an evolutionary process moving from one condition to another, and is also the goal of the process (Sharpley, 2000; Welch, 1984). Since the 1950s, the concept of development has evolved chronologically through four main schools of thought, namely modernisation, dependency theory, alternative development, and sustainable development (Clancy, 1999; Sharpley, 2000; Welch, 1984).

Some, however, contend that the so-called neo-classical counter-revolution between dependency theory and alternative development ought also to be identified as a distinct development paradigm (e.g., Little, 1982; Sharpley, 2000; Toye, 1987). Yet Hettne (1995, p. 47) questions the orthodoxy of the counter-revolution and asks, 'who are the counter-revolutionaries and what is the content of their ideas apart from the belief in the magic and miracles of the market?' He also notes that the counter-revolution only highlights economic significance while not recognising broader social and political situations in Third World countries. In contrast to the modernisation paradigm, 'the proverbial old wine seems to have been poured into equally old bottles' (Hettne, 1995, p. 47). Therefore, the counterrevolution will not be considered as a distinct development paradigm in this research.

As subsets of development, rural development and tourism have experienced a similar evolving process. Rural development can be, in its simplest sense, understood as development in a rural area. As stated above, it has gradually developed from a techno-centric approach in the 1950s to a people, poverty-oriented approach since the late 1980s (Ellis, 2000). In the case of tourism, Jafari's (1990) four-platform framework clearly elucidated the evolution of tourism. The first platform, 'advocacy', considered tourism as 'without fault' and tourism's economic contribution were widely supported. It was popularised after the Second World War and embedded in the modernisation paradigm (Jafari, 1990). Some key indicators, for example, foreign exchange earnings and the multiplier concept, were evidence of this platform (Sharpley, 2000). Upon entering the 1960s, this platform was gradually substituted by the second platform, 'cautionary'. It recognised the negative prospects of tourism and criticised tourism's seasonal and unskilled employment, destruction of the natural environment, and deintegration of host society structure (Jafari, 1990). The cautionary platform directly related to dependency theory. Over time, debates between the advocacy and cautionary platforms led to the third platform--'adaptancy' in the early 1980s. This platform called for developing alternatives to mass tourism, for example ecotourism, rural tourism, and green tourism, in response to increasing concerns with tourism's negative impacts. Clearly, adaptancy follows the pattern of the alternative development paradigm. The fourth platform, 'knowledge-based' surfaced in the early 1990s and can be compared with the 'sustainable development' paradigm. Unlike 'the general foci of the advocacy and cautionary platforms on tourism impacts and of the adaptancy platform on forms of development' (Jafari, 1990, p. 35), the fourth platform accentuates holistic thinking of tourism as a system, including its structures and functions.

Based on the above, a diagrammatic framework to demonstrate the relationship between SL and tourism development is proposed (Figure 2). In the framework rural and tourism development are both embedded in the wider development context. SL for tourism is a convergence of sustainable, rural, and tourism development. Not only should SL be viewed and analysed in the context of rural development but also in the context of tourism. Accordingly, it is necessary to examine the peculiarities of tourism to better understand the relationships between SL and tourism.

Tourism Peculiarities

As a rural livelihood choice, tourism needs to be understood in comparison with other traditional rural livelihoods (e.g., crops, fishing, forestry). In this sense, tourism is a livelihood opportunity and its peculiarities can be examined from the angle of production-consumption. In fact in the early 1970s, Jafari (1974) had identified tourism's peculiarities, focussing initially on a production-consumption perspective. Overall then, is tourism fundamentally different to the traditional rural livelihood forms? And, if it is, do these differences require special consideration in terms of SL?


From the standpoint of production, tourism 'products' include tourism-oriented products (e.g., accommodation, food services, transportation), as well as generic resident-oriented products (e.g., infrastructure, police force, hospitals, barbershops or hairdressers), and background tourism elements (i.e., landscapes, cultures and public attractions). In addition, Prentice et al. (1998, p. 1) contend that 'the core product of tourism is the beneficial experiences gained'. This point has gained increasing endorsement (e.g., Prentice et al., 1998; Vittersu, Vorkinn, Vistad, & Vaagland, 2000; Wang, 1999). Thus, tourist experience is an important tourist product.

Tourism products are characterised as monopolistic (there is no identical tourism destination in the world), nontransferable (tourism destinations are not shippable), and perishable (tourism products cannot be 'stored' and are consumed at the point of production). From a consumption standpoint, the tourist product is experienced 'in situ' which involves the consumer travelling to the 'product', and its simultaneous consumption as the 'tourist's experience'. Taking consumers' experience as products, this trait is, however, only attached to the tourism industries. In addition, tourism product quality is largely judged by consumers' aesthetic rather than economic value. Finally, tourism is not applicable to the law of diminishing marginal utility which defines the consumption of most 'physical' products (Jafari, 1974).

In sum, tourism is different to primary (rural) industries. Thus, simply using the SL framework to analyse tourism may over-formularise and oversimplify complexity and fail to provide a holistic understanding of rural tourism livelihoods. Gaps between the SLA and tourism need to be examined.

Gaps between the SLA and Tourism

Based on the discussion above, gaps between the SLA and tourism can be addressed in three areas.

Tourism Context Versus Development Tool of the SLA

With primary industries, the rural poor are the producers. They sell products on the market and gain some of the benefits. Consumers are typically distant outsiders who consume products away from their sites of production. Such consumption does not entail consumers' direct socio-cultural influences on producers (in this case the rural poor) and affect their social integrity. For tourism, however, producers are most likely outsiders such as external investors, national or local governments, rather than local rural poor. In decision-making about how and where tourism will develop, the local rural poet's voice is rarely heard (Reid, 2003; Richards & Hall, 2000). Local people are therefore no longer the only 'sellers' but often their livelihoods and daily activity patterns constitute the core of the tourism product/destination experience. In terms of consumption, tourists have to travel to the rural poor to consume tourism products. In coming from different environments the development and cultural divergence between guest and host ensures that social, cultural and ideological differences are often significant issues in tourism development and management. In fact, 'the literature on tourism impacts has long since assumed a central position within the emergence of tourism research' (Hall & Page, 2002, p. 223). Tourism is therefore no longer a simple production-consumption phenomenon.

In a broader sense then, tourism has developed its own body of knowledge in many research fields, for example, Butler's (1980) 'Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC)', Getz's (1987) four tourism planning approaches, Doxey's (1976) community irridex model, and Clarke's (1997) four-position pathway to understand the relationship between mass tourism and sustainable tourism. Tourism has thus formed its own ontological and epistemological bases. Methodologically, a set of research methods and techniques dedicated to tourism have been developed (e.g., Jennings, 2001; Simmons, 1994; Veal, 1992). All these underpin an increasing set of theoretical paradigms. Although arguments remain about whether tourism is multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or extradisciplinary (Echtner & Jamal, 1997; Tribe, 1997), a common ground is that tourism is increasingly not viewed as a separate phenomenon or as an isolated development tool. It has its own research disciplines, a body of knowledge, and it is a context for wider considerations. Consequently, it may be argued that tourism should not be treated the same way as other productive sectors in addressing livelihood strategies. Rather, tourism should be considered as a context from which the SLA is considered and viewed. This is the first gap between the SLA and tourism.

Tourism Sustainability Versus Sustainability in the SLA

A second gap lies in the notion of sustainability. As discussed earlier, sustainability is a predominant tenet in much tourism research as well as within the SLA. According to DFID (1999), sustainable livelihood approaches should seek social, economic, environmental as well as institutional sustainability. However, sustainability in the SL framework, just as the definition of SL implies, seeks to strengthen the rural poor's capability and resilience for dealing with external shocks (DFID, 1999). Therefore, the operationalisation of SL often occurs at the individual or household level. In contrast, tourism sustainability mostly focuses on the tourism industry itself and destinations at the macro or meso level (e.g. Hardy, Beeton & Pearson, 2002; Hunter, 1995, 1997; Sharpley, 2000), rather than the rural poor at the micro level (UNWTO, 2004b). Livelihood sustainability may sometimes therefore conflict with tourism sustainability, e.g., in allocating water rights, tourism may seek to preserve water as a tourist attraction while livelihood use may advocate the allocation of water for crop irrigation purposes.

Relationships between tourism and other product sectors (e.g., agriculture) in rural areas are not always competitive. Rather, the issue is how to effectively allocate resources (Cox, Fox & Bowen, 1995; Fleischer & Tchetchik, 2005; Hjalager, 1996; Sharpley & Sharpley, 1997). However, most of these views developed in the developed country context. Situations often differ in developing countries, and it is in the context of developing countries that rural poverty is targeted by poverty-oriented development strategies. Significant differences between the rural poor in developing countries and farmers in developed countries may be land tenure and inequality (Campbell, Luckert & Mutamba, 2003; Larkin, 2004; Mansuri & Rao, 2004). According to the World Resources Institute, rural people in developing countries had arable permanent cropland averaging 0.3 hectare and permanent pasture of 0.7 hectare per capita in 2005, whereas in developed countries these figures were 1.8 and 3.2 hectare respectively (WRI, UNDP, UNEP, & World Bank, 2005). In developing countries this plot mainly supports a subsistence economy. Multipurpose use of agro-land may push the rural poor to a point where they cannot fulfil basic needs, although tourism can sometimes complement other nature-based livelihood activities. Accordingly, gaps exist between tourism sustainability and SL sustainability. The issue of sustainability within a SL framework for tourism should be addressed, taking note of the potential trade-off between SL at the individual/household level and tourism at the community/collective level.

Tourism Participation Versus Participation in the SLA

A third gap concerns community participation, where it is necessary to understand the difference between community participation in tourism and the SLA. Most rural poverty research focuses on developing countries. In developed countries, most farms are large-scale and owned by corporations. In developing countries, small-scale farms, largely family owned and operated, on the contrary, are 'owned' by the poor. Small-scale farming 'remains labour intensive and often lacks access to irrigation, fertilizer, or other inputs that raise productivity [and] is the silent giant that supports the great majority of the rural residents in poor nations' (WRI et al., 2005, p. 45).

With small-scale farms, 'the producer and consumer is frequently the same household' (WRI et al., 2005, p. 45). Because of lack of land and financial capital, agricultural cooperatives, common in developed countries, are hardly seen in developing countries. Therefore, in developing countries and for the rural poor, the rural economy is very often a subsistence economy. With conventional livelihood strategies, productive resources and units are individual/household-based, and relations among the rural poor are relatively simple. Consequently, although the SLA sheds light on the local poor and calls for participatory analysis in practice, there is little evidence to show local people's motivation for participation in decision-making processes and political governance (Ashley, 2000).

In the case of tourism, in contrast, productive resources have typically become collective-based. Tourists consider the whole destination as a product rather than each small farm unit. Changes in one farm may influence the image of the destination as a whole and further affect others' livelihood results. In this context, relations among local people become complicated, leading over time to an increasing awareness of involvement in tourism marketing and political governance to safeguard their benefits (Cottrell, Vaske & Shen, 2007; Mitchell & Reid, 2001; Tosun, 2000). Owing to the collectiveness feature of tourism resources, tourism products, to some extent, can be compared with common property. This leads to issues of benefit-sharing and access to tourism markets, two important forms of community participation in tourism development. With other rural industries like agriculture and fisheries, benefit-sharing and access to markets, however, are not always the greatest concern.

Most tourism research has demonstrated local people's concern about involvement in tourism marketing and political governance (Cottrell et al., 2007; Mitchell & Reid, 2001; Tosun, 2000), and its significant influence on local people's livelihood outcomes (Farrington, Carney, Ashley & Turton, 1999). Notwithstanding, participation by local people in many developing countries is all too often confronted with operational, structural and cultural barriers (Tosun, 2000). Neto (2003, p. 9) notes that 'it is increasingly realised that promoting greater community participation in tourism development can lead to a more equitable sharing of benefits and thus greater opportunities for poverty alleviation'. Accordingly, community participation in a tourism system is crucial and can significantly change the rural poor's livelihood outcomes.

Clearly, the normative concept of community participation has originated and been popularised in developed countries (Tosun, 2000). Community participation has traditionally meant power distribution (Arnstein, 1969). Timothy (1999) points out that participation should be viewed from at least two perspectives in the tourism development process, namely 'participation in decisionmaking process' and 'tourism benefits sharing'. In developing countries, particularly in rural areas, local people however, are commonly 'denied any significant opportunity to participate in the tourism market' (Goodwin, 1998, p. 3), a factor proven to be of great importance to the poor's livelihoods (Ashley, 2000). Thus, access to the tourism market needs also to be identified as a significant form of community participation. According to the 'Prism of Sustainability' theorised by Spangenberg (2002b), the institutional dimension of sustainability requires strengthening of people's participation in decision-making processes. Thus, an additional livelihood asset--the institutional asset--needs to be identified and be included and treated equally with the other five livelihood assets in theory, as well as in practice.

Overall then, tourism, as a tertiary service sector, is different from other productive sectors. This is especially true for rural development where tourism is used as a livelihood strategy. Neither the SL approach nor conventional tourism research theories can exclusively guide tourism to achieve sustainable rural development. Consequently, integration of SL and tourism is necessary.

Sustainable Livelihoods for Tourism

Based on the above, a tourism-livelihood approach must be broader and include core livelihood assets (natural, human, economic, social and institutional capital), activities related to tourism, and access to these to provide a means of living. A sustainable tourism livelihood is embedded in a tourism context within which it can cope with vulnerability, and achieve livelihood outcomes which should be economically, socially, environmentally as well as institutionally sustainable without undermining others' livelihoods (adapted from Chambers & Conway, 1992; Ellis, 2000). Thus, sustainable tourism can only exist within a sustainable destination.

A sustainable tourism livelihoods approach thus aims to incorporate key principles of SL and tourism. A proposed 'Sustainable Livelihoods Framework for Tourism' (SLFT) demonstrates the key features of a tourism livelihoods system (Figure 3). The system includes assets, tourism-related and non-tourism-related activities, outcomes, institutional arrangements and vulnerability context. In SLFT, tourism is seen as a context in which all factors are embedded, influenced, and shaped.

Tourism Context

In a wider tourism context, consumers' profiles first need defining--international tourists, domestic tourists or both. Different market orientations shape tourism products and the local community in different ways (Cattarinich, 2001; Curry, 1990; Jafari, 1986; Seckelmann, 2002; Sindiga, 1996; Wen, 1997). Economically, international tourists generally require high quality accommodation and services needing high levels of investment. This need, however, is an obstacle to local people, especially the local poor, getting involved in tourism. Domestic tourists, in contrast, 'may prefer medium quality, lower priced forms of accommodation ... domestic tourism industry may be serviced largely by local people and supplied mainly from the local markets' (Archer, 1978, p. 140). Thus, domestic tourism likely contributes more to local incomes. Culturally, international tourists come from different backgrounds to domestic tourists, especially in developing countries. The impact of domestic tourists on local social and cultural integrity might therefore be much less than from international tourists.


Second, the types of tourism need consideration. From the perspective of community involvement, there is a continuum from enclave tourism to a communal approach to tourism development. Enclave tourism is often criticised for excluding local people involvement (Freitag, 1994; Hemandez, Cohen, & Garcia, 1996). The communal approach to tourism, a new concept, can 'ensure local communities a basic involvement in sharing economic benefits from tourism' (Ying & Zhou, 2007, p. 96). Third, the stage of tourism development also needs consideration. Development is a dynamic process. It is hard to predict when primary industry is the livelihood strategy. Tourism development, however, generally follows Buffer's TALC model which provides a conceptual framework to analyse development at different stages.

Tourism Livelihood Assets

Similar to the assets in the DFID-based sustainable livelihood framework (SLF), tourism livelihood assets are fundamental to the poor and are at the heart of the SLFT. But, there are differences. Tourism livelihood assets in the SLFT comprise human, social, natural, economic, and institutional capitals.

* Human capital 'represents the skills, knowledge, ability to labour and good health that together enable people to pursue different livelihood strategies and achieve their livelihood objectives' (DFID, 1999, p. 17).

* Social capital 'is taken to mean the social resources upon which people draw in pursuit of their livelihood objectives' (DFID, 1999, p. 19).

* Natural capital 'is the term used for the natural resource stocks from which resource flows and services (e.g., nutrient cycling, erosion protection) useful for livelihoods are derived' (DFID, 1999, p. 21).

* Economic capital has been used by Scoones (1998, p. 8) to refer to financial and physical capitals. In a broader sense, physical and financial capitals both belong to the orthodox economic concept of capital. For the rural poor, what they know and care about is economic benefits rather than how the framework terms are academically defined. Thus, for the sake of operationalisation, it is both justifiable and necessary to combine these two forms of capital into 'economic capital'. The notion of economic capital here is different from the rigid academic definition--'the capital level that bank shareholders would choose in the absence of capital regulation' (Elizalde & Repullo, 2004). Economic capital here is defined as the basic infrastructure, producer goods and the financial resources that people use to achieve their livelihood objectives.

* Institutional capital. The newly added institutional livelihood asset introduced here is defined as 'providing for people's access to tourism markets, tourism benefits sharing, and access and participation in the policy-making process, and the extent that people's willingness to be involved is reflected in political decisions to achieve better livelihood outcomes'. It calls for strengthening people's participation in political governance.

The greatest change to the livelihood pentagon proposed by DFID (1999) lies in the addition of institutional capital into the SLFT. The revised pentagon in Figure 3 displays people's access to tourism livelihood assets. The central point of the pentagon, where the lines intersect, stands for zero access to assets while the outer perimeter has the greatest access. The shape of the pentagon is not fixed but changes with time when access to assets varies. The five assets are interrelated and are inter-convertible. Lack of access to one asset can sometimes be compensated by greater access to others.

Institutional Arrangements

According to Imperial (1999, p. 453), institution refers to 'an enduring regularity of human action structured by rules, norms, or shared strategies and the realities of the physical and biological world'. Institutional arrangement is 'the structure of the relationships between the institutions involved in some type of common endeavour'. In a tourism context, individuals, governments, (I)NGOs, enterprises and tourists interact and each party's behaviour may have a direct or indirect influence on individual livelihoods. Consequently, the mediating processes in vertical and horizontal institutional arrangements becomes vital to help ensure the tourism system runs as harmoniously as is possible in often contested contexts.

With tourism, institutional arrangements are reshaped. Vertically, tourism-related governmental sectors, which did not exist before tourism, are created, which reinforces the relations between governments at the national, regional and local levels. Horizontally, tourists, external investors and (I)NGOs move into the destination and change the local institutional structures. These alterations result in changes in laws, policies, regulations, and infor mal rules like norms which directly affect the rural poor's livelihood choices and livelihood outcomes.

Vulnerability Context

The vulnerability context includes shocks, seasonality, trends, and institutions. Shocks can refer to human health (e.g., disease epidemics), economic (e.g., 1997 Asian Financial Crisis), natural (e.g., 5.12 Earthquake in China in 2008), and conflicts (e.g., wars and terrorism). Seasonality mainly points to seasonality in tourism markets that directly connects to tourism prices, products and employment opportunities. Trends include national/international economic trends, resource trends (e.g., energy availability), population trends (e.g., population expansion), and tourism market trends (e.g., from mass tourism to alternative tourism). Institutions consist of formal (e.g., laws, policies and regulations) and informal rules (e.g., behavioural norms).

Shocks mostly relate to tourism external market risks and are largely unpredictable and unmanageable, but the outcomes they cause can be fatal for tourism livelihoods both at the macro and the micro levels. Occasionally, shocks, however, also mean opportunities for tourism development at the destination level that is quite different from the case with conventional livelihood strategies. A barrier lake formed after an earthquake, for example, can itself become a major tourism resource in a destination, or contribute to the richness of tourism destination attractions.

With tourism as a livelihood strategy, seasonality becomes one of the greatest challenges faced by most tourism destinations and has a significant influence on livelihood assets and outcomes. As for trends, they are more predictable and are not always negative (e.g., trends in favour of ecotourism). Institutions that shape livelihoods are rarely taken as livelihood constraints in livelihood literature. For a tourism livelihood, inappropriate institutional actions sometimes do increase vulnerability, so institutions should also be considered one of the vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability at different levels varies. At the national and regional level, trends are more of a concern than shocks, seasonality and institutions. At the local levels, seasonality is a more direct risk; institutions also can harm local tourism development, while shocks and trends become less important. However, some vulnerability detrimental to livelihoods at the individual/household level may not negatively affect tourism at the destination level, and vice versa, given consideration of livelihood diversification. Thus, all vulnerability contexts need consideration, as individual livelihood outcomes and developmental consequences of the tourism industry interact and will over time affect each other.

Livelihood Strategies

In a tourism livelihood system, strategies are activities that people undertake to achieve their livelihood goals, consisting of tourism-related activities (TRAs) and nontourism-related activities (NTRAs). In a tourism destination, local people typically rely on diverse income sources rather than only one livelihood activity. A livelihood portfolio can therefore be tourism-related as well as nontourism related. TRAs include direct and indirect tourism-related employment, formal and informal tourism business and tourism-related services, and farming for tourism purposes. NTRAs includes labour migration, nontourism-related employment, nontourism-purpose farming, and others (e.g., timber harvesting). Before tourism, livelihoods normally comprise NTRAs. Along with tourism development, parts of NTRAs will change to TRAs. Tourism may not necessarily replace existing livelihood activities but will become dominant over NTRAs. Both TRAs and NTRAs should therefore be viewed in the tourism context.

Tourism Livelihood Outcomes

Livelihood outcomes have conventionally been discussed and measured at individual and household levels. However, in the tourism context, the image of rural tourism products is based on the local community as a whole rather than just each family or individual. In addition, according to Scoones (1998) and DFID (1999), sustainability can be embodied in achieving livelihood outcomes. Therefore a trade-off between sustainable household livelihood, and sustainable tourism, outcomes needs examination.

Sustainable livelihood outcomes should seek to achieve people's, especially the rural poor's, livelihood objectives while sustaining tourism for the long-term. For tourism to achieve this it needs to: economically offer local people a long-term, reliable income source; socio-culturally maintain a stable local society and integral culture; environmentally protect local natural resources; and, institutionally maximise opportunities for local participation and involvement. Thus a sustainable destination will be maintained. The issues of sustainability of both livelihoods and tourism, in this context, need consideration.

Application of the SLFT

The SLA was proposed and conceptualised in developed countries, but employed in rural poverty reduction and development in developing countries. From initially focusing on rural poverty to be extended to poverty alleviation in a broader sense, the SLA proved adaptable (DFID, 1999). Unlike PPT which considers poverty in the tourism vein, the SLFT integrates key principles of both the SLA and tourism and offers an organising framework to examine rural development with tourism as a livelihood strategy.

When conducting research applying the SLFT, all key elements need to be addressed and be integrated to achieve holistic thinking. First, a close study of the tourism context is necessary. Questions need to be asked like: What is the tourism market composition? What type of tourism is it? What stage is the local tourism developing at? A good understanding of the tourism context facilitates identification of the main issues for the next step and further analysis. Tourism livelihood assets are central to the research. Issues need to be investigated, for example, what assets do the rural poor have? Do they have access to these assets? If not, what are the obstacles? How do these assets interact to support one's livelihood? How can institutional capital be addressed? In terms of livelihood strategies, what kinds of livelihood activities do local people use? What are the relationships between TRAs and NTRAs? How do they contribute to livelihood outcomes and evolve along with tourism development? Meanwhile, consideration needs to go to institutional arrangements to see how tourism changes local political structures, and formal and informal rules both vertically and horizontally. How will these changes affect local people's access to their assets and their livelihood outcomes? Do these changes influence the rural poor's ability and resilience to vulnerabilities? What vulnerabilities do rural livelihoods and tourism face? How can the rural poor cope with these vulnerabilities?

According to Ashley and Carney (1999, p. 33) 'despite the words 'sustainable livelihoods', relatively little attention is paid to integrating sustainability with other concerns'. They (1999, p. 2) further note that 'use of SL approaches does not necessarily ensure that sustainability is addressed. Environmental, social, economic and institutional aspects of sustainability all need to be addressed, and negotiated among stakeholders'. Therefore, examination of tourism livelihood outcomes needs to be careful planning. What should be analysed? How to address the issue of sustainability and measure it with a focus on the trade-off between livelihood sustainability and tourism sustainability? Sustainability indicators have been widely used in evaluating tourism sustainability (see Cottrell et al., 2007; Shen, 2004; Shen & Cottrell, 2008; Spangenberg, 2002a; UNWTO, 2004a). Thus, developing a set of indicators may be a better way to address these concerns.

Overall, the SLFT can be applied in multiple contexts. Practical application and results may vary, but key principles should be similar. First, the SLFT is people-centred. This approach recognises the importance of people's primacy and puts people at the centre of analysis. Their perception of poverty, assets and livelihood strategy priorities need to be highlighted. Second, The SLFT is a holistic approach. Tourism livelihoods are multi-actors involved and multi-factors influenced. Therefore a complete understanding of tourism livelihoods needs a holistic development philosophy. Third, the SLFT is a dynamic process rather than static. Ongoing monitoring and analysis, therefore, is very important and necessary. This can be guided by Butler's TALC model. Fourth, sustainability is a key principle of this approach. Unlike other conventional livelihood strategies, the tourism market not only depends on producers (the host) but also consumers (the guest) and other factors (e.g., host-guest encounter). Therefore, tourism is relatively fragile and can be easily destroyed, and the issue of sustainability needs detailed consideration.


Tourism has been increasingly used for rural poverty reduction due to its perceived development advantages, especially in developing countries, and has been regarded by some as a panacea for rural development. The emerging SL approach provides an organising framework to analyse individual and household livelihoods at the local level and offers basic information for macro policy-making at a nation--global level. However, the principles of SL do not appear to easily fit the tourism context. Conversely, tourism has formed its own research system theories and practices. The principles of tourism research focus mainly on tourism evolution at the (meso) destination level. Accordingly, theories and methods of tourism research might not guide appropriate livelihoods research at the micro (household) level. Thus, new thinking is needed and knowledge about SL and tourism need to be constructed and developed in order to maximise tourism benefits to the rural poor, and to guide sustainable rural development practice with tourism as a livelihood strategy.

The proposed SLFF does not aim to be all-inclusive, but rather to bridge the gaps between SL and tourism. Its intention is to provide for broader scale thinking about the complexity and dynamism of a tourism livelihood system in its wider development context. In fact, the tourism context is always case-specific and research and application results may vary hugely. Therefore, future research should first evaluate and improve the proposed framework's applicability. Second, the SLFT contains many elements and complex interrelationships. Putting the concept into practice is therefore challenging. Thus, indicators of change, success or failure (e.g. sustainability) need to be explored and developed as a means for evaluating the usefulness of this proposed development framework.


This article was adapted from a paper presented at Council for Australian University Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) Conference 2008. The authors would like to thank Lincoln University, New Zealand for funding this research.


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Fujun Shen,

Kenneth F.D. Hughey

and David G. Simmons

Lincoln University, New Zealand


Fujun Shen, Environment, Society & Design Division, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Canterbury 7647, New Zealand. E-mail:

Shen, F., Hughey, K.F.D., & Simmons, D.G. (2008). Connecting the sustainable livelihoods approach and tourism: A review of the literature.
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Publication:Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management
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