Laos tourismLaos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia that borders Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China. With a population of around 7.8 million people, the country of Laos relies heavily on agriculture, foreign aid and investments to keep its economy afloat. At one point, three-fourths of Laos’s population was employed in agriculture, with particular engagement in rice farming. Because the forest covers two-fifths of the country’s land, farming and agriculture are an integral part of the culture of Laos.

As of 2023, much of the population lives in poverty. In 2013, more than 80% of the population was making under $2.5 dollars per day. Laos, however, is a beautiful country. The landscape features rivers, waterfalls and beautiful architectural sites. The country has become a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty. Laos has several spas and resorts that operate to encourage tourists to visit and experience comfort and luxury.

COVID-19 Affects Tourism

The COVID-19 pandemic affected many industries, especially tourism. Tourism accounts for 10% of the global gross domestic product and more than 320 million jobs worldwide. As countries went on lockdown, jobs that relied on tourism became severely impacted. More than 100 million jobs were impacted because of the pandemic. Nearly three years since the beginning of the pandemic, many tourism-dependent countries continue to struggle.

The tourism sector in Laos has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a substantial decline in international tourist arrivals. As reported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the outbreak has led to a staggering 74% reduction in the number of visitors. Consequently, businesses operating within this industry have experienced significant disruption, with a detrimental impact on their overall revenue, estimated to range between 70% and 80%. To address these challenges and foster recovery, the Lao PDR Tourism COVID-19 Recovery Roadmap for the period of 2021 to 2025 has been developed. This strategic plan aims to cultivate a tourism industry that is both resilient and sustainable, capable of withstanding future shocks.

Laos Tourism

Laos’s natural beauty is a spectacle that many people feel inclined to experience. With the reopening of previously locked-down countries, Laos has seen a reemergence of tourists entering the country. The country has opened its borders back up to tourists and is beginning to reap the benefits once again. China has officially allowed its residents to travel again, and because Laos borders China, a lot of its tourism comes from its neighbors to the north. On March 4, Laos set its largest Laos-China highspeed railway record in a single day, with 10,000 passengers entering the country.

In 2019, Chinese tourists accounted for a quarter of the country’s 4.7 million visitors. Laos is now expecting to see more than 1.4 million visitors from foreign countries and generate around $340 million in 2023. Tourism also contributes to job creation in Laos. In 2018, there were more than 114,000 tourism-related jobs created for the local people of Laos.

Looking Ahead

Now that many of the lockdowns have been lifted across Southeast Asia, Laos’s tourism sector looks promising once again. With the continuous influx of Chinese tourists and hopefully more from all around the globe, Laos is looking to restore a vital part of its economy. There is hope that the country can continue to benefit from tourism as it did pre-pandemic.

– Olivia MacGregor
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Southeastern Mexico
In Mexico, a 900-plus-mile rail project called El Tren Maya (the Mayan Train) brings hope for reduced poverty in the country. The railway, estimated to cost $6.5 billion at the time of the announcement of the project in 2019, will run through five states in Southeastern Mexico and connect everything between Cancún and the Mayan archaeological site at Palenque. Since 2019, the project has been met with both support and concern: while many praise its ability to create jobs, increase tourism and alleviate poverty in Southeastern Mexico, others have questioned its potential impacts on the region’s rural and Indigenous communities.

The Mayan Train Project

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed the Mayan Train project shortly after his inauguration in 2018, stating that it would be “an act of justice” for the country’s poverty-stricken southeastern states. In 2020, the World Bank reported that almost 44% of the country lived under the national poverty line.

Mexico’s poorest states are located in the south of the country. According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca stand as the poorest states — official 2016 poverty data from CONEVAL indicates that about 71% of people across these three states endured poverty, which is significantly higher than the national average of 44%.

López Obrador is not the first Mexican President to take an interest in improving the country’s railroad infrastructure. In 2012, former President Enrique Peña Nieto aimed to construct a railway connecting Cancún to Mérida, but budget cuts halted the project.

Initial funding for the Mayan Train project came from Mexico’s National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (FONATUR), which issued a €1 billion contract to a consortium of companies in 2021. The project consists of several phases, with plans to both incorporate existing tracks and build new ones. FONATUR has pledged to use federal land for all new construction. In a November 2019 public referendum, 89.9% of the Mexican voters who participated voted in favor of the project.

Project Positives

Those working on the project have estimated that the train will serve 8,000 passengers a day and will attract 3 million people in its initial years of operation. Alstom Transport Mexico, one of the companies involved in the construction, anticipates that the project will immediately generate more than 11,000 jobs and “boost economic growth in the southeast.”

A U.N.-Habitat analysis of the Mayan Train’s larger potential impact concluded that the project would ultimately generate some 945,000 new jobs in the region while enhancing access to education and the labor market. This would help to reduce poverty in Southeastern Mexico and Mexico as a whole, where the unemployment rate stood at 2.9% (more than a million people) in January 2023 and nearly 4 million people lived in poverty in 2020.

Concerns among Indigenous Communities

Despite the project’s projected ability to alleviate unemployment and poverty in Southeastern Mexico, there are some concerns, specifically among Mexico’s Indigenous communities. In 2020, 69.5% of Mexico’s Indigenous population lived in poverty, mainly in the country’s southern states. In 2020, the Mayan communities of Campeche issued a petition, signed by 268,000 people, to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources requesting the suspension of the Mayan Train project.

Members of the Regional Indigenous Council of Xpujil stated that the communities did not receive “timely and sufficient information to give their consent” to the construction. Their concerns centered on the environmental impact of the Mayan Train project and its potential threat to the conservation of sacred lands. Indigenous communities have also expressed concern that the project will only benefit tourists and the wealthy.

Looking Ahead

Addressing these concerns, the U.N. estimates that 46% of the nearly 1 million jobs generated by the Mayan Train will benefit Indigenous peoples. FONATUR and U.N.-Habitat have also collaborated to develop a set of urban planning and design guidelines aimed at ensuring environmental responsibility, social inclusion and equitable benefit across the region’s communities.

A sign of progress and hope for Southeastern Mexico, construction of the Mayan Train resumed in late 2022, with plans for the first segment of the railroad to begin operating in December 2023.

Audrey Gaines
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Fiji
Over the last three years, COVID-19’s impact on Fiji has been devastating. The pandemic’s effects hit Fiji’s thriving tourism industry particularly hard, which in 2020 accounted for 38% of Fiji’s gross domestic product (GDP). As a result, Fijian leaders acted quickly to implement recovery efforts, aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth and adapting to the “new normal” that the pandemic imposed. While the general public met some of these measures with opposition, these measures remained necessary in the face of new unprecedented challenges.

The 2020 Initial Response

The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through Fiji in 2020, with businesses closing and international travel restrictions put in place to keep the country safe from outbreaks. During this time, the focus was on adapting to the short-term new market realities brought by the pandemic, which resulted in these business closures. By July 2020, 50% of tourism-focused businesses had either temporarily or fully closed and 20% of non-tourism-focused businesses “indicated a need to defer loans,” according to an International Finance Corporation (IFC) report.

In 2019, 24% of the population lived below the national poverty line, a number that has slowly grown since 2013. Unemployment figures also rose from 4.3% in 2018 to 4.9% in 2021.

The IFC conducted a survey to better assess the situation. The survey received 3,596 responses from businesses, with 17% of those primarily servicing the tourism industry. This survey’s findings helped establish strategies for moving forward, with the long-term goal of reducing COVID-19’s impact on Fiji.

The 2021 Outbreak

After a year of minimal COVID-19 cases, an outbreak occurred in April 2021. By July 2021, COVID-19’s impact on Fiji worsened, with the nation averaging more than 900 new COVID-19 cases daily. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services led Fiji’s response effort to this outbreak and successfully implemented quarantine and lockdown measures, provided COVID-19 vaccinations and utilized contact tracing and cluster investigations to surveil infection trends. By that same month, more than 31% of the target population had received their first doses of the vaccine and Fiji had already fully vaccinated many frontline workers.

International partners also showed their support during this critical time. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom assisted by providing life-saving medical supplies and pledging donations. Multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EU assisted by ensuring better accessibility to COVID-19 vaccines and equipment, including testing machines and miscellaneous medical supplies totaling more than $2.6 million in value.

Curbing Concerns in 2022

Despite controversies and civil unrest surrounding hard-line regulations, such as Fiji’s “no jab, no job” policy, the country achieved a significant milestone by the end of 2021. Approximately 90% of the target population had received second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although the country’s health care efforts saw success in curbing the spread of the virus, the pandemic’s impact on Fiji’s economy continued, with significant public debt-to-GDP ratios resulting from the persisting 2020 deficits. In addition, the global economy witnessed some of the highest surges of inflation in the past 20 years. These inflated prices include shipping, import, energy and food costs.

To revive its tourism industry, Fiji re-opened its borders to travel with modified guidelines. However, despite these efforts, economic growth did not rebound as expected due to the lingering civil unrest from the previous year and the emergence of an Omicron variant outbreak.

Current Concerns and Trends

As of March 2023, Fiji has made significant progress in its vaccination campaign, with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services reporting a 95% full vaccination rate for the target population. Infection trends are continually decreasing as well, and over the past month, Fiji reported only one new case. One can attribute this positive development to the general public adhering to effective health measures.

The tourism industry is also gradually recovering, with international travel to Fiji fully resuming after a long hiatus. As of February 2023, travelers to Fiji no longer need to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or travel insurance. Initial figures from 2022 show that tourist arrivals sat at around 45% of pre-pandemic figures.

However, even with progress in the medical and tourism industries, economic figures are still hurting. David Gould, the World Bank’s lead economist for the Pacific, estimated that while economic output is growing, levels may not exceed pre-pandemic levels until 2024. One contributing factor may be the record-breaking 30% unemployment rate in 2022, according to the Fiji Times.

The World Bank’s Pacific Economic Update advises Fijian leaders to be cautious when accepting fiscal support. Concerns include global economic uncertainty, debt servicing and rising inflation rates. To address these concerns, re-budgeting and public spending cuts can help to maximize the efficiency of taxpayer dollars and to prevent future public debt. Once Fiji’s economic output recovers to pre-pandemic levels, policymakers can invest in fiscal buffers to allow for economic leeway during future economic disasters.


In 2021, the World Bank swiftly approved a $50 million credit for Fiji as vigorous support for unemployment assistance, strengthening the Fijian social protection system and ensuring equitable access to social protection services. While this relief is not a permanent solution to Fiji’s rising poverty levels, it did push GDP growth from -15.2% in 2020 to -4.1% in 2021 and then from 6.3% in 2022 to 7.7% in 2023.

To this day, the World Bank continues its support to lessen COVID-19’s impact on Fiji. After discussions held with the Fijian government and other civil and private organizations, the World Bank Group developed a Country Partnership Framework for Fiji with the primary goal of reducing poverty emphasized by the pandemic and increasing sustainable wealth from 2020 to 2024. To do this, officials prioritize fostering inclusive and private sector-led economic growth, building fiscal and climate-based resilience and increasing gender equality.

The framework paints a picture of a bright future for Fiji. However, humanitarian efforts from the broader international community must continue in order for Fiji to return to its once-booming economic self.

– Anthony Lee
Photo: Flickr

Tourism in NicaraguaNicaragua is the largest country in Central America by land with many attractions for tourists to visit and explore from volcano walks to sandy beaches to the largest forest reserves in the region. Indeed, tourism in Nicaragua has steadily increased over the past two decades, accounting for 9.1% of GDP in 2013. Of note, according to Dartmouth, “Nicaraguan tourism accounted for 7.9% of employment in 2013 and is expected to increase to 8.8% by 2024.” This trend has the potential to help address poverty in the Central American nation.

Tourism in Nicaragua to Alleviate Poverty

In 2007, Manuel Vanegas and Robertico Croes authored a report on the relationship between economic growth, poverty and the expansion of tourism for Nicaragua’s economy. The results of the study found that tourism in Nicaragua has a positive effect on both development and economic growth. 

The study looked further into the relationship between tourism, growth and poverty alleviation in Nicaragua, highlighting the need for government intervention to support growth within the tourism sector which would in turn help create more job opportunities. Vanegas and Croes also explained how foreign exchange earnings come mainly from tourism in developing countries such as Nicaragua.

Croes also looked at poverty alleviation using an error correction method and found that a 1% increase in tourism receipts reduces the poverty index in Nicaragua by 1.23 points. 

Luxembourg Development

In 2005, the Nicaragua Institute for Tourism asked for financial support to develop a national program to support the growth of the tourism industry within the country. The Luxembourg ministry of foreign affairs via its department of Cooperation and Humanitarian action (Lux-Development) funded the project which aimed to promote tourism in regions where poverty is a major problem.

More specifically, Lux-Development placed its attention on education Nicaragua’s economy has been heavily reliant on informal sectors where workers have not had six years of primary schooling. Beginning in 2006, the Ministry funded the building of a platform of educational training for job creation and poverty reduction. Lux-Development also launched a five-year program in 2014, focusing on strengthening training and employability for young people in the tourism sector

COVID-19 Impacts on Tourism in Nicaragua

Although a full evaluation of the economic effects of COVID-19 is still not conclusive, tourism in 2020 did decline from 1.46 million tourists to 474,000. However, World Bank figures show that the economy expanded by 10.3% in 2021 and a further 5% in the first half of 2022 with hotels and restaurants being one of the leading sectors.

Despite this achievement, employment percentages were 2% lower in the second quarter of 2022 in comparison to 2019 and 10% of formally employed individuals shifted to the informal sector in 2021. Furthermore, 28% of households reported a decline in total income.

Looking Forward

Nicaragua has successfully managed to sustain its tourism industry over the past 20 years, positively impacting employment and investment nationwide. Hopefully, as the effects of COVID-19 begin to lessen, the tourism sector will continue to develop and support the alleviation of poverty across the country.

– Amy Sergeant
Photo: Unsplash

Tourism in Mexico
Although the Mexican tourism industry took a hit during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in recent months it has seen a revival, with more than 36 million international tourists visiting the country between January and July 2022, according to the Mexican government. The recovery of the industry will be a relief to many because the Mexican economy depends heavily on foreign visitors — a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that tourism accounts for around 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP and 5.8% of full-time employment. This makes the sector a prime contributor to the fight against poverty. Investment in tourism in Mexico has the potential to stand as an integral part of the country’s plan to alleviate poverty and grow the economy.

An Overview of Poverty in Mexico

The World Bank has reported that Mexico has struggled to stimulate economic growth and lift its large proportion of disadvantaged citizens out of poverty. In 2014, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development (CONEVAL) revealed that 46.2% of Mexicans lived in multidimensional poverty and Reuters reported a 44% national poverty rate in 2020.

Income and regional inequality are some of Mexico’s most significant challenges. According to a 2021 study, data from 1989 to 2016 shows that the most impoverished 10% of the population have never had an income share higher than 2%. In addition, poverty affects rural areas the most severely. With tourism raking in approximately $25 billion for the Mexican economy in 2019, according to CNN, the potential of the industry to solve this issue is massive.

3 Ways that Tourism Alleviates Poverty

  1. It stimulates the local economy. According to globalEDGE, tourism provides a large amount of revenue to small businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and shopping malls, because of visitors’ desires to experience local food and products. A 2015 study from South Africa also found that increased investment in the tourism industry serves to diversify the local economies of a country, which can be a positive step for areas with declining “traditional” industries, like manufacturing.
  2. It stimulates the national economy. Tourism can be a significant contributor to the GDP of a country — the global tourism industry accounted for 10.3% of the global GDP in 2019.
  3. It creates jobs for locals. One of the key benefits of the tourism sector is that goods are consumed where they are produced, meaning that businesses can count on visitors to consume local goods and services. Tourism can create both full-time and part-time employment for people living in the area who can capitalize on their local knowledge to offer an authentic cultural experience. The industry also generates job opportunities that do not require extensive training, which can be invaluable to people who have little formal education or who live in disadvantaged circumstances. In countries like Mexico, many people have employment in tourism. TravelPulse reports that 4.49 million Mexicans work in the sector as of 2022.

Investment in Tourism in Mexico

In 2019, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced a new National Tourism Strategy in the hopes of achieving “6% economic growth by 2024” and promoting sustainable tourism practices to benefit a larger proportion of Mexican citizens. The strategy includes infrastructure projects aimed at spreading tourism into the southeast of the country, investments that will increase spending by visitors and efforts to make tourism a more lucrative industry for Mexicans living in disadvantaged areas.

One of the infrastructure projects is the Maya Train, a railway line that will run from popular destinations like Cancún and stop off in areas where tourism has traditionally been low, allowing tourists to visit a more diverse range of places and spread the wealth that the industry produced more evenly across the country. The project was originally estimated to cost around $150 billion Mexican pesos, or $7.8 billion USD.

Although plans for the construction of the railway lines and stations have suffered some setbacks, the Mexican government stated in a press release on October 17, 2022, that the construction of a station in Yucatán had begun. The Yucatán Peninsula is known for several interesting archaeological sites and the rail line will allow tourists to easily visit these cultural landmarks and support local businesses.

On a regional level, the state of Quintana Roo has spent the quieter period of the COVID-19 pandemic honing a new branding strategy. Cancún is its most popular destination, but the state is making efforts to expand tourists’ horizons. In an interview with Skift, the director of strategic planning for the state’s Tourism Promotion Council, Benjamin Jimenez, explained that the council is focusing on promoting a wider range of options than just sun and sand. This strategy will hopefully entice tourists to visit areas that are culturally significant but not typically popular with foreign visitors, pumping money into local economies and small businesses.

Looking Ahead

The future is bright for tourism in Mexico after a tough few years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also evidence that the Mexican government is looking to expand its tourist industry into deprived areas, which will provide a funding surge, not just from tourist spending but from government and foreign investment too. Perhaps this could be the boost that Mexico needs to eliminate poverty for good.

– Abbi Powell
Photo: Flickr

Nature-Based Tourism in Laos
Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country located in Southeast Asia and shares borders with Thailand, China, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. While it is one of the poorest countries in the region, its economy has significantly increased in the last 20 years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 42,000 people in Laos or 60% of the labor force had employment in tourism, with 62% of the workers being women. Tourism was growing fast in the Lao PDR, having as many as 4.1 million international tourists in 2018. However, with the travel distribution of the COVID-19 pandemic, half of the tourism businesses closed temporarily. This caused the furloughing of 70% of their employees. The Asian Development Bank recognizes nature-based tourism in Laos needs undergo enhancement, especially as it ties to agriculture. Organizations such as the World Bank have offered recommendations on how to expand nature-based tourism in Laos. Additionally, the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative has highlighted how Laos’ practices to preserve the country’s environment can lead to job expansion in the tourism industry.

About Nature-Based Tourism

Tiger Trail Travel defines ecotourism as “tourism activity in rural and protected areas that minimizes negative impacts and is directed towards the conservation of natural and cultural resources, rural socio-economic development and visitor understanding of, and appreciation for, the places they are visiting.” According to the World Bank, Lao’s “lush nature and rich culture offer an opportunity to develop nature-based tourism, which can generate revenue, create green jobs and livelihood opportunities and lay the groundwork for greener economic growth.”

The Overall Issue

The Asian Development Bank advocates “raising competitiveness and strengthening the links between agriculture and tourism” in order for the Lao PDR to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. An ADB report found that tourism in Laos also supported growth in several sectors including livestock, fisheries and organic vegetables, potentially creating new “agricultural value chains.” Travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced around 180 tourism businesses the ADB surveyed to temporarily close, furloughing 70% of workers. Support for the tourism sector could include financial assistance and increases in vaccination, and reopen travel with “transparent, effective, and clear communication of health and safety protocols.”

Measures Laos Can Implement

The World Bank has found that the Lao PDR has beautiful landscapes of rainforests, waterfalls and mountains, all of which offer an opportunity to generate revenue and green jobs through greener economic growth. The World Bank claims, “in the next decade, nature-based tourism could grow in Laos from 4.3% of 2019 GDP and 3.5% of jobs to the global average of about 10% of GDP and 10% of jobs.” Laos has around 15% of the country set aside for conservation purposes on 23 national reserves, having more than 1,200 villages with 840,000 people residing within the boundaries. Additionally, because of international demand, Laos has the opportunity to develop nature-based tourism, as well as have “policies that enable responsible private investment and effective conservation.”

The World Bank gives two recommendations for strengthening nature-based tourism in Laos such as facilitating private investment and managing protected areas. To facilitate private investment, they suggest reducing barriers to tourism businesses for investment, creating regulations pertaining to small businesses in the tourism industry, establishing regulations and procedures in protected areas and giving “vocational training in nature-based tourism and innovating market development, and hospitality.” For managing protected areas, they suggest creating and finalizing plans for those areas, elevating the skills of departments protecting those areas, managing waste in protected areas and establishing a system involving fees and revenues around protected areas.

What Laos is Doing

The Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative recognizes tourism has been a large part of Laos’ economy since the mid-2000s and the country has a lot of untouched nature. GCCA+ reported that for nature-based tourism in Laos, innovations have occurred that include the banning of chemical cleaning products in order to preserve water, wildlife and plants. Some local markets sell only organic foods to local restaurants, creating full-time jobs such as sustainability managers. GCCA+ also recognizes other organizations such as LuxDev, “which runs a ‘skills for tourism’ programme in Laos.” LuxDev recognizes that by having local and young people involved in the sustainable tourism industry in Laos, everyone benefiting is less likely to trash the environment.

LuxDev is an organization that “manage[s], monitor[s], and support[s] Luxembourg developing efforts in Laos,” after first setting up an office in Vientiane in 2016. It is an agency that supports skills development in Laos’s tourism sector, helping the poorer and more vulnerable groups in remote areas of Lao PDR. 

Looking Ahead

Laos has many options to enhance its tourism industry, especially in a region so rich and prosperous in nature. Through strong nature-based tourism in Laos, more people will see the country’s beauty, thereby creating more jobs and further helping the agricultural sector. With a stronger focus on tourism, Laos’s economy can continue to grow.

– Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG 8 in Cuba
The United Nations (U.N.) Division for Sustainable Development Goals grades member countries on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One can discover the most direct links to potential poverty in a country by analyzing the economy and labor market. The Sustainable Development Report from May 2022 provides updates on SDG 8 in Cuba.

What is SDG 8?

SDG 8 focuses on economic growth and decent work. The factors that influence updates on SDG 8 in Cuba include the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, the unemployment rate, potential victims of modern slavery and “fatal work-related accidents embodied in imports.” Previous updates on SDG 8 in Cuba also showed progress. Both the 2020 and 2021 Sustainable Development Reports showed that Cuba had met SDG 8 and maintained it.

How Did Cuba Do?

The most recent updates on SDG 8 in Cuba come from the 2022 report, which once again, shows Cuba achieving the goal despite economic setbacks in recent years.

In the last decade, Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) averaged a growth of about 2% a year, according to the World Bank. The Caribbean island nation’s GDP had not seen negative growth in the 21st century until a slight dip in 2019. Like most countries, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a steep drop in GDP in 2020. After recording a -10.9% GDP in 2020, Cuba rebounded slightly in 2021 with a 2% growth in its economy.

The unemployment rate in Cuba is also relatively low, only hitting 3.87% in 2020.  The 2022 Sustainable Development Report places Cuba’s unemployment rate at 2.5% in 2022. Trading Economics predicts that, by 2023, the unemployment rate will drop to 2.2%.

According to the Sustainable Development Report of 2022, 3.8 out of every 1,000 Cubans fell victim to modern slavery. This number likely links to accusations of modern slavery against Cuba in relation to the nation’s international medical outreach program. The most recent allegations pertain to doctors, with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s rapporteur making an official inquiry in November 2019.

Based on reports from Cuban doctors themselves, the United States alleges that Cuban doctors working in other countries are overworked and endure underpayment in the international medical assistance program that brings billions to Cuba each year. The U.S. also alleges that Cuban doctors have to leave their families behind in Cuba to discourage defection while abroad.

As for the factor of fatal work accidents embodied in imports, the 2022 Sustainable Development Report notes 0.2 per 100,000 Cubans. This data is consistent with the 2020 and 2021 reports, indicating stagnation in work-related fatal accident rates.

Potential Progress on SDG 8 in Cuba

One beacon of hope that Cuba is leaning toward to further its economic growth and recovery is the tourism industry. Despite the United States embargo from the Kennedy administration, Cuba used to welcome about 4 million visitors each year from across the globe before the pandemic.

As pandemic restrictions ease, the tourism industry is seeking to capitalize on increased travel. The Cuban government has dedicated 24% of its 2022 budget to tourism, focusing on building new hotel rooms as well as relying on entrepreneurs in the country to bolster the uptick in tourism to the island.

The United States easing travel restrictions to Cuba will help increase the number of visitors to the country. According to an announcement in May 2022, while U.S. citizens cannot travel to the island for tourism purposes, those traveling to Cuba for research or meetings can enter the country.

The State Department announced on May 17, 2022, that it will allow flights from the U.S. to land at other airports in Cuba going forward, lifting a restriction that only permitted flights to land at the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

Barring any unforeseen setback, Cuba expects to increase its GDP by 4% in 2022, according to Prime Minister Manuel Marrero in a report from December 2021. Cuba could maintain SDG 8 for next year by increasing GDP, keeping unemployment low and maintaining the improvements presented in the 2022 Sustainable Development Report. This would mark a small victory for a nation battered by economic stagnation and sanctions from its neighbor to the north.

– Emma Rushworth
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Timor-Leste
In 1975, Timor-Leste declared independence from Portugal. In the same year, Indonesia launched a military invasion and annexed the fledgling state. In 1999, 78% of Timor-Leste’s population voted for independence from Indonesia, and in 2002, Timor-Leste finally gained full independence. The nation’s road to independence was anything but smooth, especially considering that anti-independence Indonesian militias conducted a scorched earth campaign in 1999, which led to the deaths of 2,600 civilians and the displacement of 30,000 locals. Despite these setbacks, Timor-Leste has grown into a strong democracy with multiple peaceful transfers of power.

While Timor-Leste has consolidated its political institutions, the Global Hunger Index describes the hunger level in Timor-Leste as “serious” in 2021, ranking the nation 108th out of 116 countries in terms of hunger severity. In addition, Timor-Leste ranks 121st out of 190 countries in nominal GDP per capita at $2,377 as of 2017. USAID programs in Timor-Leste continue to support Timor-Leste’s democratic institutions while also working to address Timor-Leste’s economic and infrastructural setbacks.

USAID’s Tourism for All

Launched in 2018, USAID’s Tourism for All initiative aims to promote Timor-Leste as an internationally competitive tourism destination. The project goal is to “diversify [Timor-Leste’s] economy by promoting eco-friendly tourism based on the country’s rich heritage” and promote sustainable investments from the private sector by locals, international institutions and NGOs.

One accomplishment of the Tourism for All initiative in promoting sustainability and independence from assistance is training local Timor-Leste citizens. USAID gave 611 participants in the private and public sector more than 11,000 hours of job training in hospitality, tourism and food safety. This training aims to foster a new generation of Timor-Leste locals to continue sustaining Timor-Leste’s tourism industry independent of external assistance.

In 2019 and 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to Timor-Leste’s tourism industry. However, the local Timor-Leste “Ha’u Nia Timor-Leste” campaign and USAID’s Tourism for All initiative helped pivot Timor-Leste’s tourism industry from focusing on foreign tourism to placing a greater emphasis on domestic tourism.

This partnership is based on the idea of national love for Timor-Leste and solidarity with the struggling tourism industry in the face of the pandemic. USAID describes one of the objectives of this campaign as “inspiring Timorese people to engage in recreational travel on a more regular basis and to consider taking up leisure activities such as scuba diving.”

USAID Customs Reform Project

To address Timor-Leste’s financial issues, the USAID Customs Reform Project, which began in 2017, seeks to make trade easier with Timor-Leste by implementing standard customs clearance and transit procedures. This initiative has provided Timor-Leste with technical assistance and reformed Timor-Leste’s customs process to better facilitate trade and increase domestic revenues. One way the USAID Customs Reform Project is making transit into Timor-Leste more efficient is through the development of the Inter-Ministerial Despacho in 2019 to standardize and integrate the operating hours between customs authority and other government agencies.

To further facilitate transit into Timor-Leste, the Customs Reform Project has been implementing anti-corruption measures. In 2019, the USAID team began to develop training material for a Code of Conduct. Furthermore, during the same year, the USAID Customs Reform Project developed an Interests, Assets and Liabilities Declaration form that any customs authority staff must complete. These employees must declare their own and their direct family’s financial interests, assets, liabilities and any potential conflicts of interest. These drafted reforms intend to stifle corruption while ensuring the more efficient transit of goods in Timor-Leste.

Looking Ahead

USAID programs in Timor-Leste promote economic investment, anti-corruption measures and the elimination of unnecessary trade barriers. While Timor-Leste has come a long way since its independence from Portugal and Indonesia, economic issues and oil dependency still plague Timor-Leste. USAID programs in Timor-Leste continue to play an important role in addressing and mitigating these issues.

– Alexander Richter
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Tourism Industry
Iceland’s tourism industry is one of the country’s most dependable money-makers and job providers. Like many countries, Iceland’s tourism industry underwent severe economic losses and lacked new jobs and job security because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Bank of Iceland, Islandsbanki, released a report publishing its expectations for a significant resurgence in tourism for Iceland in 2022.

Tourism’s Importance to Jobs and Economic Growth in Iceland

Tourism provides 39% of Iceland’s annual export revenue and contributes about 10% to the country’s GDP. Iceland’s tourism industry accounts for 15% of the workforce. In 2017, 47% of Iceland’s newest jobs were in some way related to the tourism industry.

Iceland experienced a devastating financial crisis in 2008. Job availability dropped nationwide, the poverty rate increased and the GDP dropped dramatically in the following years. It took some forecasting, but the Icelandic government developed plans calling for the tourism industry to be the savior of the Icelandic economy.

To this end, the government established a brand new Tourist Control Centre, which coordinates the government’s work in tourism nationwide. It creates new typical tourist surveys and improved cooperation under the government’s four tourism ministries. The government also implemented efforts to track the most popular tourist destinations and receive input from tourists on how to improve their experiences at those destinations.

Iceland’s tourism is so popular that the government has had to devise limits on how long individuals can rent on Airbnb and on whom must receive limitations. Rental cars are similarly limited, with nearly 80% of tourists reported renting a car at least once during their visit to Iceland. The airfare to Iceland is one of the cheapest deals year-round.

The tourism industry has been primarily responsible for the economic boom that has occurred since 2012. The plans that the Icelandic government developed went into effect in Fiscal Year 2012 and involved the government’s expanding funding opportunities in the tourism industry.

Since the expansion of the tourism industry, the increase in job availability and economic growth, Iceland has made great strides in keeping the poverty rate low and the population of those at-risk of poverty lower than what was possible pre-2012.

Impact of COVID-19 on Iceland’s Tourism Industry

Iceland has the lowest poverty rate in the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic put this at risk. The international average for a country’s poverty rate is 11%, but Iceland has the world beat. The country’s poverty rate is at 4.9% and has been dropping since the expansion of the tourism industry.

Furthermore, there were an estimated 36 Icelandic citizens for every 1,000 who were at risk of falling into poverty in 2008, at the beginning of the economic crisis. Since then, the number rose briefly above 40 individuals then rose and fell for several years, but distinctly dropped in 2014. This coincided with the beginning of the full establishment and implementation of Iceland’s expanded tourism industry.

The pandemic’s impact on tourism left the country with another drop in jobs and an economic dip. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Iceland experienced a 10-month long halt in tourism. Iceland’s GDP dropped from $24 billion to $19 billion in one year largely because of the loss of tourism between 2019 and 2020, according to Data Commons.

Expected Resurgence in Iceland’s Tourism

As soon as it became feasibly safe, Iceland reopened its borders to tourists with clear instructions. First, it allowed tourists to travel to the country as long as they isolated themselves for 14 days prior to their trip and were able to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Iceland. Since then, Iceland has allowed its visitors to arrive without those other restrictions as long as the tourists are fully vaccinated and boosted against the virus.

The increase in Iceland’s tourism is not unprecedented. In 2018, the increase in tourism was 5.4% and in 2017, it was 24.1%. Icelandair, the main airline for travel to Iceland, has its own plan for balancing safety and getting as many tourists to Iceland as feasible in the works.

Iceland’s central bank, Islandsbaski is expecting a minimum of 1 million tourists to Iceland, but as many as 1.3 million may come. In November 2021, there were a meager 75,000 tourists for the entire month. However, this is more than 20 times the final tally for tourists for that month in the preceding year.

Even though tourism paused for the better part of a year, the tourism industry is ready and raring to go. Despite the pains of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Icelandic tourism industry will reopen in 2022 as much as possible and the economic boost to come from it is invaluable.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

The Maasai of KenyaWhen the COVID-19 pandemic decimated Kenya’s tourism industry and forced the closures of livestock markets, food insecurity became a reality for many of the Maasai people. In particular, the Maasai of Kenya tribe faces hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Heart of Kenya’s Tourist Industry

Traditionally, the Maasai people’s pastoral life meant there was no need for the modernities of money. Cattle stood as a source of both food and currency, with Maasai livelihoods depending exclusively on the tribe’s “cattle economy.” However, as prolonged droughts ravage grazing lands and privatization and wildlife conservation lead to the displacement of the Maasai, the tribe has had to supplement its semi-nomadic lifestyle with income from tourists: selling souvenirs, conducting safaris and guiding tours of Maasai villages.

Visitors travel to Kenya from all over the world to witness Africa’s wild animals, and when it comes to spectacles, the Maasai of Kenya have an advantage. The majority of tourists flock to the Maasai Mara National Park to witness a yearly phenomenon known as the Great Migration — the largest animal migration on earth. Although much of the migration takes place from the Serengeti in Tanzania, the most sought-after scene for nature enthusiasts occurs when the animals cross the crocodile-populated Mara River into Kenya.

Severe Weather and COVID-19 Create a Food Crisis

Prior to 2020, tourism accounted for 10% of Kenya’s economy, employing more than 2 million citizens, many of whom “lost their jobs due to the pandemic.” In March 2020, after Kenya’s first report of COVID-19, President Kenyatta canceled “all international flights scheduled to enter the country,” allowing access only to Kenyans or foreigners with permanent residency. Although the government’s efforts proved crucial in preventing the spread of the virus at the time, the result was an 80% plunge in Kenya’s tourism during 2020, causing an economic loss of more than $1 billion.

Exacerbating circumstances further, flash flooding in April 2020 and severe hailstorms in September 2020 followed the collapse of tourism. The deadly storm patterns led to severe crop destruction, damaging homes throughout southern and eastern Kenya, including Narok county, home to the Maasai Mara National Park.

Despite standing as a hub for Kenya’s tourism, Narok county has an absolute poverty rate of 33.7%, with 12% of the population enduring food insecurity and 32.9% of children experiencing stunting. During the pandemic, when government mandates included the closures of livestock markets and the Maasai lost all income from tourists, hunger became a reality for many of the Maasai who also could not afford to purchase hygiene products such as soaps and hand sanitizers.

Nashulai Maasai Conservancy Supports the Maasai

The Nashulai Maasai Conservancy protects 5,000 acres of critical habitat and is the only conservancy that the Massai people entirely govern and run. During the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Nashulai organized a crowdfunding plan and sought the help of Avaaz, an international advocacy campaign that promotes community-organized humanitarian movements.

The campaign mobilized 100,000 people who helped to pay ranger salaries and secure sanitation, medical supplies and food for communities living within the conservancy. Recognizing a need to reduce the Maasai’s reliance on tourism, Nashulai also began training people in farming, beekeeping and making hygiene products such as soaps and sanitary pads to sell at local markets.

The Maa Trust

The Maa Trust is a nonprofit organization that partners with nature conservancies in the Maasai Mara region to “increase the benefits of wildlife conservation to Maasai families.” The organization promotes sustainable businesses for Maasai women, such as jewelry-making and honey production. The organization also supports conservation education, builds schools and invests in clean drinking water, solar energy and alternatives to using firewood as fuel.

In April 2020, The Maa Trust partnered with the Mara Elephant Project to distribute food donations from the Sidekick Foundation to 637 Maasai families “in the Talek and Pardamat regions of the Maasai Mara.” The Sidekick Foundation is an international force that works both on the ground and politically to combat poaching, collaborating with organizations such as The Maa Trust and the Mara Elephant Project to protect elephants and aid local humanitarian efforts.

The Rotary Club of Nome Assists

In November 2021, the Rotary Club of Nome, Alaska, worked with local contacts in Narok, Kenya, to provide a month of food security to 450 residents in the Maasai village of Nkorkorri. The project to assist Nkorkorri village stands as part of the Rotary Club of Nome’s 75-year commitment to humanitarianism. The Rotary Club of Nome is part of a worldwide network of more than 1.4 million Rotarians who work together to reduce poverty, fight diseases, support local economies and protect the environment.  In an interview with The Borgen Project, club member Marcy O’Neil says that Nome Rotarians hope to turn this emergency donation into a long-term program.

Although tourism has helped the Maasai survive in a challenging economic landscape, the industry’s fall during the COVID-19-pandemic put a spotlight on the tribe’s increasing vulnerability. As a result, organizations are answering the call for help. Whether the support comes from near or far, ongoing efforts to assist the Maasai are crucial to ensure the tribe’s ability to survive while maintaining traditional values.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Flickr