State of the industry
The global tourism industry has the potential to massively aid the cause of sustainable and inclusive economic development around the world. Tourism is the world’s third largest employer, sustaining twice as many jobs as the financial sector and accounting for 10% of global GDP. Tourism has also managed to consistently outperform the global economic growth rate for the last few years.
The tourism industry is also unique in the type of people that it employs. Tourism is the largest industry in many developing countries and is almost twice as likely to employ women than other industries. Because of their low-skilled nature, tourism jobs also serve as a great provider of opportunities to marginalised communities.
Tourists are attracted to a country because of its natural beauty and unique culture. However, these pulling factors are often tainted by global corporations and their all-inclusive resort franchises.These corporate giants often take advantage of local communities and capitalise on cheap labor costs. Sustainable tourism has the ability to help developing countries avoid debilitating ‘races to the bottom’ where conditions and wages are driven down in order to attract big corporations.
Trends and challenges going forward
In 2017, the UN recognised 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, recognising the potential of tourism to eradicate poverty, empower disadvantaged groups and minimise adverse impacts on the environment. However, for this to occur, sustainable tourism practices must be embraced. The good news is that the trends lines show that tourism is becoming increasingly sustainable.
AIG Travel’s 2017 Pulse poll found that 78% of respondents viewed sustainable tourism as important, a massive 26% increase from the previous year as awareness of the industry’s huge potential spreads.
This development has been noted by Lonely Planet, who reported that sustainable tourism will become a ‘top industry trend.’ Not only do sustainable travellers leave a lighter impact on the environment and local culture, but they also spend about 61% more than the average tourist.
However, despite the positive trends, the tourism industry has no shortage of challenges as it attempts to transition to a more sustainable model. Overcrowding continues to be a challenge for many destinations. Moreover, only 5% of the money spent by tourists actually remains in local economies. As an industry, tourism remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels and will have to undertake significant adjustments as the global economy transitions towards renewable energy.
Although governments and tourism operators have a huge responsibility, tourists have a vital role to play in the transition to a more sustainable tourism industry. With the internet at their disposal, tourists have the ability and the responsibility to ensure that the companies they travel with hire local, buy local and have a limited impact on the environment.
If tourists chose the right companies, demand for sustainable tourism practices will increase, thereby encouraging other companies to embrace a more sustainable model.
Tourism has the potential to be a massive force for good, but it is up to us all to ensure that the transitional to responsible, sustainable tourism actually occurs.