Tourism has evolved over the past decades into one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world and a transformative force in global development.
More than one billion people travelled the world in 2012. Tourism represents today up to 9 percent of global GDP in direct, indirect and induced impacts), 30 percent of service exports and employs 1 in 11 people around the world.
Tourism’s growth is truly extraordinary considering that merely 60 years ago, international tourists numbered 25 million. This positive trajectory is expected to continue — the U.N. World Tourism Organization’s long-term forecasts indicate that by 2030 international tourist numbers will reach 1.8 billion, with emerging countries foreseen to welcome more than half of the world´s international tourists.
But this global impact also calls for great social responsibility. Tourism is capable of addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges, and what’s more, it can be a true agent for development.
Tourism’s important role in the global development agenda is steadily becoming recognized among the world’s leaders. The United Nations has identified tourism as one of the ten sectors to drive the transformation towards a green economy, and in 2012 at Rio+20 tourism was included for the first time in the outcome document of a U.N. sustainable development conference as a sector that can make “a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, has close linkages to other sectors, and can create decent jobs and trade opportunities.”
For many developing countries, international tourism is a major source of foreign exchange and investment, creating much-needed employment and business opportunities. Tourism is one of the top three exports in a majority of these countries, and the lead export for at least 11 Least Developed Countries. International tourism receipts represent as much as 6 percent of all exports and 56 percent of service exports of the 49 LDCs. In fact, tourism was a main factor that helped Botswana, the Maldives and Cape Verde graduate from their LDC status.
In spite of tourism’s evident role in socioeconomic development, many challenges remain, none the least ensuring that the world’s poorest countries — over half of which have tourism as a priority instrument for poverty reduction — continue to benefit from the income and social opportunities provided by the tourism sector while tackling the environmental challenge.
A recent joint study by the OECD, WTO and UNWTO shows that there is still a significant disparity between the sector’s high potential for development and the low priority it has been given so far in terms of development aid. The contrast is striking — tourism is only allocated 0.13 percent of total ODA and 0.5 percent of total Aid for Trade.
It is thus critical for tourism to be placed higher in the development agenda and for the level of development assistance to match the immense potential that the sector has to contribute to development objectives.