The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017) is a watershed moment for making tourism a catalyst for positive change. As the United Nations General Assembly affirmed when announcing the adoption of the International Year, tourism can contribute to all the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Not only does the sector spearhead growth, it also improves the quality of people’s lives. It can bolster environmental protection, champion diverse cultural heritage, and strengthen peace in the world. To harness tourism’s impressive potential to advance sustainable development, clear evidence is needed on progress made to date – it is vital to understand what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be done to surmount current challenges and capitalize on opportunities.
It sets out tourism’s strengths and the challenges it faces, while underlining the need for careful planning and management. As a first step towards gathering evidence of the nexus between tourism, sustainability, and development, it is by no means exhaustive. Rather, with this document UNWTO invites governments, organizations and individuals to submit further evidence and case studies to inform a flagship report on the ways in which tourism can further the course of sustainable development.
Tourism offers significant opportunities as a tool for development, given the sector’s substantial size, contribution to international trade, rapid growth, and linkages to other sectors through the tourism value chain. Opportunities also abound given the prospects it offers for women and youth; its relative importance for developing states, rural areas and indigenous communities; its potential to incentivize the conservation of natural and cultural assets; and its capacity to spur interaction and understanding. Nevertheless, challenges persist – such as tourism’s susceptibility to market influences; over-dependence on tourism; issues of overcrowding; concerns over working conditions; emissions and pollution; and potential adverse effects on biodiversity, heritage and communities.
Sustainable Economic Growth
Whether growth is tourism-led or economy-led, tourism clearly makes an immense contribution to the global economy – estimated at US$ 7.170 trillion – through direct, indirect and induced contributions.11 International tourism generated US$ 1.5 trillion in exports in 2015, equivalent to 7% of all global exports in goods and services and 30% of exports in services alone – making tourism the world’s third largest export category.
It is especially significant in developed economies – accounting for an average of 77% of tourism consumption in OECD countries15 – but is also crucial in several developing nations, representing 90% of tourism spending in China. The sector’s rapid growth means that tourism will only continue to grow in economic importance. Domestic tourism is growing swiftly, by 6% per year, while international tourism – which grew by an average of 3.9% each year between 2000 and 2014 – will grow by 3.3% per year up to 2030,16 with international tourist arrivals predicted to reach 1.8 billion.17
Social Inclusiveness, Employment and Poverty Reduction
Tourism is not just a major part of the global economy; it is also a means of furthering “inclusive” growth which increases opportunities for all. The sector is a major source of employment, providing an estimate one in eleven jobs worldwide. In 2015, tourism accounted for 283 million jobs – 9.5% of global employment – through direct employment and indirect jobs across the supply chain. Tourism is especially notable for the opportunities it offers for economic activity at the local level, as well as for women and youth – the sector employs higher proportions of women and young people than are represented in the overall global workforce.
Resource Efficiency, Environmental Protection and Climate Change
As a sector which depends so much on the natural environment, tourism has a special responsibility towards the planet, with the potential to harness this dependency to promote conservation. Challenges abound as tourism is a generator of emissions and pollution which drive climate change – accounting for an estimated 5% of global CO2 emissions. The sector consumes vast quantities of resources – for instance, tourism can strain freshwater resources, with tourist facilities using between 100 to 2,000 litres per guest, per night, far more than most local populations. Energy consumption, food waste, and overall waste management are also pressing concerns. Opportunities for “greening” the tourism sector are not only environmentally sound, they also promise substantial businesses savings through efficient resource management and sourcing local supplies, materials and services, which in turn can benefit local employment. Far more needs to be done to ensure efficient resource management, including among small businesses.
Cultural Values, Diversity and Heritage
The global wealth of cultural heritage is one of the principal motivations for travel. 40% of international arrivals are considered “cultural tourists”, i.e. travellers who participate in a cultural visit or activity as part of their stay. The myriad links between tourism and culture can contribute to catalysing inclusive, sustainable development. Tourism presents notable opportunities for safeguarding the world’s rich cultural heritage, since the revenue it generates can be channelled back into initiatives to aid its long-term survival. Culture, in turn, offers innovative means of gaining socio-economic benefits through tourism.
Mutual Understanding, Peace and Security
Where are we now? There appears to be a strong, positive correlation between tourism and peace. On the one hand, the very existence of tourism depends on peace and security. On the other, the transformative power of tourism – grounded upon billions of encounters that occur every day – paves the way towards dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance, the cornerstones of a culture of peace. A sustainable, well-managed tourism sector also contributes to the building blocks of peace – the “attitudes, institutions and structures” upon which peaceful societies are built , alongside economic development, democratisation, social justice, education, equality, empowerment, and reconciliation.