n Nick Hornby's most recent novel, "How to Be Good," the author of "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy" explores the confusion a woman feels when her husband begins "walking the walk" of being good: He offers a spare bedroom to a homeless youth, hands over large sums to a panhandler and insists that their children give some of their toys to the needy.

The woman, a doctor who feels she's a perfectly "good" person who contributes to society (albeit in more conventional ways), is troubled by his actions, but also is chagrined by her own critical response to her husband's idealistic schemes.

I empathized with her predicament when I read a press release from the World Tourism Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development that stated, "The world's poorest countries can expect a brighter future" because these two groups have agreed to join efforts to reduce -- if not eliminate -- poverty through the encouragement of tourism development.

Reduction of poverty, the press release said, is a means to solve a variety of problems, including poor health standards, social inequality and even terrorism. The creation of sustainable tourism leads to the enhancement of social development and participation in international trade in services, it continued.

Now, why should reading about this undertaking make me a little uncomfortable? Why does it leave me feeling even vaguely sad? Here are people deciding to take action to alleviate poverty, and they're interested in doing it through tourism, an industry I believe capable of spurring meaningful economic growth.

It may be that I, and perhaps other observers of mass-scale tourism, see the huge gap between the travel habits of most Westerners and the ambitions of the WTO and UNCTD. I can't help but notice that most travelers tend to vacation in Las Vegas, on cruise ships and at Caribbean inclusives rather than spending holidays in Haiti, the Congo or Bangladesh.

I've also noticed that most people who visit developing countries that are tourism-oriented -- for instance, Kenya, Nepal and Egypt -- will visit on packages that enrich the already-haves rather than the have-nots.

It's the insidious nature of cynicism that belief in failure precedes effort, and like the protagonist of "How to Be Good," I'm uncomfortable with my negative reaction to this altruistic project. I've been to Las Vegas, on cruise ships and to Caribbean inclusives, but I've also been to the Congo and Bangladesh. I know that yesterday's backwater can be featured on next month's cover of Conde Nast Traveler. So why do I have doubts about this effort before its details have even been drafted?

Ultimately, I think my discomfort stems from the language of the announcement: The world's poorest nations can expect a brighter future through tourism. Tourism can solve health problems, social inequality and terrorism. The press release uses the phrases "poverty alleviation," "poverty reduction" and "poverty elimination" interchangeably, as though they were synonyms.

Maybe I'm being a bit churlish to criticize these well-intentioned people for the crime of hyperbole. I'd certainly hate to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for alleviating poverty, creating jobs or increasing international trade in the world's poorest countries because they express their dreams in bold terms.

So let me position what comes next as a friendly caution rather than as a criticism. As the two groups collaborate on producing an action plan, I hope expectations are stated, and not overstated. Otherwise, I would worry that modest but meaningful successes can be viewed as failures, and support for worthy programs can dry up.

WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli is quoted in the press release as saying, "Words are not enough, we must take concrete steps."

"Words are not enough"? Perhaps I'm feeling that, at times, words can be too much.


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