By: Patricia Ann Talley, MBA.
Tourism, as the biggest industry in the world, can help to solve many of the world’s current challenges, like climate change, poverty reduction, preserving eco systems and helping to sustain our planet.
Many people do not realize how big the global tourism industry is. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism is both the largest and the fastest growing industry in the world. The UNWTO reports that tourism contributes 11.5 percent of the world’s GDP and employees 12.5 percent of the world’s workforce. In 2012, the tourism industry generated US $1.3 trillion in export earnings. In 2013, tourism grew by five percent to 1.087 billion visits and is expected to grow another 4 percent in 2014.
Travelers visit beaches, mountains, national parks, historic sites, festivals, museums, worship centers, and countless other attractions. Travels buy local souvenirs, products and goods. All purchases boost the local economy.
Climate Change and Poverty
The tourism industry helps to address many world challenges – for example, climate change. Unlike fossil fuel industries, which often resist efforts to address climate change, the tourism industry realizes that the environment and a sustainable planet are crucial for business. Tourism destinations and resorts have a high interest in keeping their beaches and environment clean and pristine in order to attract visitors.
Tourism also helps to eliminate poverty. The potential of tourism contributing to lift people out of poverty is increasingly acknowledged and is supported by the growing relevance of the sector in poor countries. According to the UNWTO, tourism is one of the top three sources of export earnings for nearly half of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world and is a priority sector for their further integration in the global economy.
Women in Tourism
Women play an important role in the tourism industry. In 2010, the United Nations World Tourism Organization and UN Women (formerly UNIFEM) collaborated to report on women’s active participation in the tourism industry worldwide. This report found that much of the contribution of women in the tourism industry is invisible. Many women work behind the scenes in office jobs, in the kitchens, or in other support jobs (See: Global Report of Women in Tourism 2010)
Gender equality has proven to be profitable in the business world in general. This fact opens up new and interesting opportunities in the tourism sector, where the enormous potential of women has not been fully harnessed. Women with higher levels of training and greater opportunities to develop their businesses contribute to exponential quality improvements in all areas of tourism activity. With training, and given the opportunity, tourism can help women to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty.
How Do You “Sustain” Tourism?
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is a global leader in promoting sustainable tourism. The GSTC represents a diverse membership that includes the United Nations agencies, leading travel companies, hotels, country tourism boards, and tour operators.
The GSTC has created a set of criteria to help come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism, which are the minimum that any tourism business should aspire to reach. The GSTC’s criteria also serve to help consumers identify sound sustainable tourism programs and businesses. The GSTC Criteria for Sustainable Tourism are organized around four main themes:
- Effective sustainability planning
- Maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community
- Enhancing cultural heritage
- Reducing negative impacts to the environment
If implemented on a large scale throughout the tourism industry, these criteria will go a long way toward solving some of the world’s most important challenges. Business is encouraged to embrace these goals. Tourists are encouraged to travel to destinations and to stay in hotels that promote sustainable tourism.
The tourism industry is vital to the world’s economy, it provides social and economic benefits for the local community, it enhances cultural exchange, and it is good for the environment!
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