Published on : Wednesday, August 16, 2017
As an economic activity, travel and tourism is relatively young; yet it has become a sector central to our societies. tourism generates 10% of the world’s GDP, 1 in every 10 jobs and 7% of world trade. It is key to many countries’ balance of payments.
Recognizing how tourism can help us address many of our common challenges, the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, reminding us that with growth comes responsibility.
A sustainable tourism sector is one that promotes environmental preservation and protection of tangible and intangible heritage, but also engagement, commitment and respect for local communities. Managing the growing number of visitors to many popular areas of our planet, including cities, is crucial for both hosts and foreign visitors, as well as national travellers – in countries such as Spain or France the share of domestic tourists is higher than that of international visitors.
Growth is not the enemy. Tourism growth leads to economic prosperity, jobs and resources to fund environmental protection and cultural preservation that would otherwise not be available. It also means that through meeting others we can broaden our horizons, open our minds and our hearts, improve our well-being and be better people.
Yet ensuring that tourism is an enriching experience for visitors and hosts alike demands strong, sustainable tourism policies and the engagement of all – national and local governments and administrations, private sector companies, local communities and tourists themselves.
The sector needs regulation, but not regulation that curbs its growth. Rather, regulation that ensures its sustainable management – actions that help diversify visitor activities; effective, holistic and integrated mechanisms to manage visitors at sites; policies to reduce seasonality; and incentives for the private sector to invest in new areas and products, and to reduce energy and water consumption.
There have been several case studies of destinations struggling to maintain a fair and inclusive sector while managing exponential tourism growth – Venice and Barcelona being prominent recent examples. But it should be emphasised that, whilst local communities must be consulted and considered in tourism planning, ‘tourism-phobia’ on the part of citizens is largely unjustified. The wrongdoing of illegal companies, damage to marine and terrestrial ecosystems or misbehaviour of a small number of travellers do not represent a dearth of tourism ethics by the sector as a whole.
All the efforts of enterprise, government, civil society and travellers in the last decades to shape a more responsible and committed global tourism sector should not be in vain. We can and should be able to continue capitalizing on the sector and its benefits in terms of job creation, economic development and cultural interaction, while curbing its negative effects and impacts. We should ensure that our conviction to improve the sector is today stronger than ever. Otherwise, the value of the sector will naturally be contested.
Together we can continue building a sustainable, equitable and well-managed tourism sector that supports many livelihoods around the world and can enrich us every time we cross borders and exchange culture.