Over the past decade, academic research into the use of tourism as a contributor to poverty reduction has grown considerably; however, there are few insights on how the poor perceive the connections between poverty and tourism. Based upon interpretive and participatory fieldwork with the poor of Elmina, in Ghana, this paper explores their understanding and constructions of poverty and how they comprehend tourism as a provider of alternative livelihood opportunities. It emerged that poverty is understood as a multi-dimensional construct, including low and irregular incomes, depletion of natural resources, a lack of access to social assets and educational opportunities, and denial of meaningful participation in society. At a time of structural readjustment in Elmina's economy, the potential of tourism to enhance livelihoods and reduce poverty is high, but remains hindered by major barriers to entrepreneurship development and employment within the sector, which is worsened by the lack of access to credit, exclusion from decision-making, poor skills and excessive bureaucracy. It became evident that a focus on the use of tourism for macroeconomic gains will not necessarily benefit the poor. They need to be included in tourism policy and practice, not only as a target group, but also in participatory mechanisms to ensure the appropriate use of tourism for poverty reduction. It is argued that it is only through a better understanding of poor people's experiences of poverty, that tourism can be used more meaningfully as a strategy for its alleviation.