Tourism and inclusive growth: Towards a diagnostic framework

Martine Bakker

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Economic growth has been recognized as important for the development of a country, especially for emerging economies, as it can provide jobs and increase the living standard. Growth, however, has proven to be insufficient in reducing poverty across countries as not all people might be included in the growth process or benefit equally from the outcome. Growth that is not inclusive can be both a danger to social and political stability as well as a threat to the sustainability of the growth. This has led to a focus on more inclusive growth strategy, which can be defined as “growth coupled with equal opportunities”. Tourism is considered a labor-intensive market that can offer employment for low-skilled workers, ethnic minority groups and immigrants, unemployed youth, long-term unemployed as well as women.

The main objective of this research was to develop a diagnostic framework to identify the binding constraints to tourism-driven inclusive growth, which supports policy making, with specific attention to tourism in emerging economies.  This led to four research questions: (1) How does tourism fit into the inclusive growth theory and how is this different from other approaches? (2) What are the constraints to tourism-driven inclusive growth? (3) What is the most suitable design for a tourism-driven inclusive growth diagnostic framework? and (4) What are the strengths and weaknesses of a diagnostic framework that analyzes and prioritizes the constraints to inclusive growth in a tourism sector context? In this thesis, I conceptualized tourism-driven inclusive growth as well as developed, tested and evaluated a diagnostic that can help to assess and prioritize the binding constraints that need to be addressed to achieve a tourism sector that can contribute to an inclusive growth strategy.

The concept of inclusive growth involves two dimensions: sustainable growth that (1) will create and expand economic opportunities, and (2) ensures broad access to these opportunities so that members of society can participate in and benefit from growth. Based on these concepts, the ability of the tourism sector to drive inclusive growth depends on the combined impacts and interaction of three different elements or pillars: (1) Growth of productive employment opportunities; (2) Equal access to these opportunities and (3) Equal outcome of tourism opportunities (income and non-income). The constraints to tourism-driven inclusive growth can be categorized under each of the three pillars of tourism-driven inclusive growth. An analysis of the academic literature resulted in a total of 18 constraints under three pillars.

The three pillars and its constraints formed the basis for the Tourism-driven Growth Diagnostic (T-DIGD). The methodology for the T-DIGD is based on the HRV Growth Diagnostic. This country-level diagnostic framework calls for a set of statistical methods and benchmarking tests against a set of comparator countries to evaluate whether a factor constrains growth or not. The HRV diagnostic is adapted in order to fit the specifics of the tourism sector and to include constraints to inclusion. The T-DIGD was tested in North Macedonia, a country that has relatively high levels of inequality and where the tourism sector has been identified by the government as one of the key growth sectors.

The main advantage of the T-DIGD is that it provides a systematic approach for researchers through its framework that enforces a step-by-step process of considering all factors that can constrain the tourism sector from contributing to inclusive growth. With its mixed-method approach, the T-DIGD bridges the gap between purely quantitative approaches, such as econometric studies, and qualitative methods, including case studies.

The concept of tourism-driven inclusive growth touches several academic debates. The first is the growth paradigm in the context of tourism where proponents stated that further tourism growth is inherently incompatible with sustainable tourism: tourism should be less focused on economic growth but should change production and conception patterns to be more in line with sustainable and just outcomes. I argue that growth of the tourism sector can be an opportunity in those countries or regions which are currently attracting relatively low number of visitors, where alternative economic opportunities are limited and where expanding the tourism sector could meet the demand for more inclusive job opportunities while meeting sustainability criteria.  The second debate is on the deep-rooted or structural inequality that hinders increased inclusion efforts. Here I argue that while the T-DIGD can identify constraints, deeper analysis of underlying structural inequalities will be needed to fully comprehend if and how these can be addressed. The third debate is about governance and who should be responsible for addressing the issues that hinder inclusive growth through tourism. Many of the constraints under the T-DIGD fall under the responsibility of the public sector. This requires a ‘whole of government’ approach as tourism policymaking involves not only crosses different ministries but also requires different regional and municipal level public agencies to come together and address specific issues. Balancing the need for more inclusive employment and entrepreneurial opportunities while protecting limited resources and securing long-term sustainability will require a strong role of the government in tourism governance and hence a need for evidence. The last debate is on evidence-based decision making and the role of the T-DIGD in policy making. I argue that the T-DIGD provides a structured approach to analyzing tourism in the context of inclusive growth. However, political buy-in is required to assure the acceptance of the results and the subsequent addressing of the identified binding constraints.

Future research could first determine if the number of indicators can be condensed without possibility of reducing the effectiveness and reliability of the model. Second, further examination of how to identify the causal relationships between the factors under the different pillars is recommended and could include regression analysis of the factors that are most likely to contribute to the tourism sector’s ability to contribute to inclusive growth. Third, future research should focus on applying the T-DIGD to countries that have either less or more availability of quantitative data to understand what effect this has on the applicability and usefulness of the diagnostic.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van der Duim, Rene, Promotor
  • Peters, Karin, Co-promotor
  • Klomp, Jeroen, Co-promotor
Award date19 Oct 2021
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463959551
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2021


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