Over the decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and deepening diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Modern tourism is closely linked to development and encompasses a growing number of new destinations. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress.
Today, the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in international commerce, and represents at the same time one of the main income sources for many developing countries. This growth goes hand in hand with an increasing diversification and competition among destinations.
This global spread of tourism in industrialised and developed states has produced economic and employment benefits in many related sectors -from construction to agriculture or telecommunications. The contribution of tourism to economic well-being depends on the quality and the revenues of the tourism offer. Today’s travel and tourism industry has grown into a global economic powerhouse whose combined direct and indirect impact on the world economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2012 was US$1.2 trillion; 260 million jobs; US$70 billion in investment and US$1.2 trillion in exports.
All this represented 9 percent of the world economy last year; one in 11 jobs globally; 5 percent of its economic investment and 5 percent of its exports. Along the way, in 2012, international tourism surpassed 1 billion visitors globally for the first time in history and China became the world’s largest spender in international tourism by spending US$102 billion, surpassing Germany and the US. Better still, travel and tourism’s contribution to the world’s GDP over the next 10 years is set to grow by 4.4 percent on average each year and to outpace the growth of the wider economy and other industries such as retail and public services.
But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story and they are not the only reason we should pay a lot of attention to this industry. A number of factors are fueling not only the industry’s phenomenal expansion but also its impact as a growing cultural and economic force for good around the world. In the process, these forces are transforming the industry’s dynamics as we once knew them.
A dramatic shift is underway in the “world order” of travel and tourism fueled by the emergence of a strong global middle class, especially in countries like China, Russia, India and Brazil whose collective pent-up demand to see the world beyond their national borders and to experience other cultures is boundless. Over the next 15-17 years, Goldman Sachs predicts another 2 billion people will join the middle class in China alone—and these tourists won’t be content to stay put if the recent past is any indication of the future.