International tourist arrival figures increased from 20 million in the 1950s to 1.1 billion in 2015, putting tourism in the forefront of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries. As such, tourism is better placed than many industries to address the subject of socio-economic progress, and the alleviation of poverty.
This was addressed at the First World Conference on Tourism Development this week in Beijing. It was aptly located, as tourism in China – up 4.1% for inbound, and 12% for outbound traffic – is having a far-reaching impact on many an international tourism destination. Furthermore, with the capital’s pace of change highlighted in my recent blog on Beijing’s Underground City (with images from my trip over 30 years ago), I feel the Great Hall of the People was a poignant choice of venue, located as it is at the centre of the world’s most populated country.
Attended by delegates from over 100 countries, the conference emphasised the importance of enhancing dialogue between the world’s tourism stakeholders, and focussed on the industry’s potential to enhance ‘Peace and Development’ through sustainable development programmes.
It is exciting to see that the impact of an ever-expanding global tourism industry is being addressed at the highest level. As China’s Prime Minister, Xi Jinping stated “Due to a low level of development in China, not many used to be able to afford to travel …. But in the last few years, living conditions have been improving and many Chinese now travel, which has passed from being a luxury pursuit to being an everyday possibility”.
The crux of the issue is that while tourism remains one of the most potent weapons in the war on poverty, the need for appropriate planning to maximise on this force for good remains more important than ever. Fed by an expansion in the world’s middle classes, over a billion international travellers contributed in excess of US$1 trillion into the global economy. This sum represents 10% of global GDP, gives employment to one in 11 people and boosts many otherwise economically desolate economies.
For example, in Europe, Greece’s tourism industry has continued to lead the charge in addressing the fiscal targets, contributing 20% of the Greek GDP.
Tourism development in Africa plays an integral part in developing and sustaining social, economic and environmental issues. However, although activity and adventure tourism are becoming more mainstream, the continent’s true tourism potential is only just beginning to be realised. This is reflected in the fact that during a year dominated by the Ebola outbreak, Africa only received 5% (60 million) of global tourists. Countries from north to south and east to west urgently require well thought out sustainable development programmes.
Warning signs that appropriate development is needed are out there. Destinations such as Cuba, Burma and Columbia for example, are experiencing unprecedented growth in tourism after years of isolation. So much so that while their underdeveloped tourism infrastructures are bursting at the seams because of the weight of demand, their eager people are keen to tap into the sudden cash king of new international arrivals.
In broader terms the overall tourism market share of emerging economies increased from 30% in 1980 to 45% in 2014, with future predictions pointing towards 57% by 2030. That number is equivalent to the 1 billion+ amount of global international travellers today.
No wonder the United Nations has declared ‘2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’.