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How Digital Payments Can Support Tourism in Developing Countries

It’s hard to overstate the importance of travel and tourism to the global economy. It is central to economies in the developing world where tourism-focused industries have contributed to the elevation of entire regions out of poverty, have encourage improved environmental protection measures and increased economic inclusion for traditionally underserved populations.

Tourism, which accounts for over 5% of global GDP, is one of the fastest-growing industries in the developing world. In Latin America, travel and tourism and its directly linked industries accounted for 8.8% of GDP in 2017. Mexico alone hosted nearly 35 million tourists, with tourism accounting for 7.4% of the country’s total GDP.

Money and Travel

Modern travel is far removed from the days of paper airline tickets and traveler’s checks. Most travelers now book flights online, use sites like TripAdvisor and Airbnb to find accommodations, and travel with credit cards or withdraw cash from ATMs. And while the ‘roughing-it’ experience and off-grid adventure tourism are taking off, the majority of tourists seek and expect a degree of convenience, which includes having secure access to their travel funds.

Making it Easier to Spend

Uulala’s digital wallet is a great travel resource, especially in areas off the beaten path. Since the platform can process wallet to wallet transfers with low exchange rates and low transfer fees, travelers can more easily access their funds in areas with little banking infrastructure. This allows them to spend more than they might otherwise, bolstering the local economy.

Even in areas with good financial infrastructure, credit card processing fees can be prohibitively expensive for small businesses, amounting to around 3% of total transaction cost and cutting significantly into profits margins for already struggling businesses; digital wallet payments are a cost-effective alternative.

Travel Money Troubles

A common travel experience is having your debit card frozen by your bank because of seemingly suspicious card activity. While this is done as a security measure, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience as a traveler who can’t take out money to pay for food, a hotel or a taxi. It can be even more nerve-wracking if that debit card is the only one you have.

Travelers often come unprepared to developing countries, expecting to pay for everything with credit, like you can in North America. These travelers often wind up frequenting businesses that do accept credit, which unfairly skews commerce towards larger businesses that have the money to invest in the infrastructure for credit card payment processing.

Uulala’s platform, which can work on any mobile phone with internet access, allows even the smallest businesses to accept another payment method.

Tourism is Crucial to Developing Economies

Tourism in developing economies is acknowledged as a gateway to economic growth, and for this reason, international financial institutions encourage the expansion of the tourism industry in developing countries.

Unfortunately, in Latin America this is proving to be ineffective, particularly in outlying areas without the infrastructure to support formal institutions like bank branches or ATMs. Digital payment platforms like Uulala are beginning to bridge the gap in financial service in these regions, helping bolster tourism by giving travelers more payment options and access to their funds in regions previously off the banking grid.

The Uulala mobile node network has broad reach, without the need for supporting infrastructure beyond cell towers. As of 2016, mobile penetration in Latin America had already reached 70% and is continuing to rise.

Almost Anyone Can Participate in the Tourism Industry

The travel and tourism industry can provide an excellent entry point to financial and economic inclusion for traditionally underserved segments of the population such as youth, women and the poor.

Tourism is an accessible service industry because it requires minimal education, is labor-intensive, and it can thrive outside urban centers. In fact, rural areas often have an advantage over cities, as tourists place a premium on things like climate, natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Off the Financial Grid

Secluded beaches, lush forests, icy lakes and rugged mountains attract tourists and tourist dollars to regions that often don’t support other industries. Beach towns and small villages boasting cultural heritage sites can be centers of eco and cultural tourism. Unfortunately, without ATMs or banks, travelers are limited in how much they can spend and how long they can stay, making it tougher for small rural businesses to thrive.

Small and medium-sized enterprises account for at least 60% of GDP in emerging economies, significantly more if we include informal businesses. Mobile payment options can increase tourism in rural areas, helping them attract travelers and keep them there longer.

While the appeal of some areas is their very remoteness, modern travelers still expect a certain level of access to their funds in order to pay for these experiences. By removing financial limitations with digital payment technology, more individuals and businesses can be a part of the tourism industry, increasing economic and financial inclusion for communities in outlying regions in the developing world.



Uulala facilitates and accelerates the financial inclusion of the under-banked and unbanked population across the Americas. Our blockchain based platform provides the tools Latinos need to participate in secure financial transactions, build credit and send remittances, and more.

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Matthew Loughran, EMBA

Social Impact Entrepreneur at FounderX.co, Emerging Technology Advocate, Certified UN SDG Impact Measurement Specialist