Global tourism is even bigger than oil exports

The business volume of global tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, ‎food products or automobiles. Now that I have your attention, read on.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism is one of the most remarkable economic and social phenomena of the past century. It’s become one of the major players in ‎international commerce, and is one of the main income ‎sources for many developing countries.

Tourism development has been particularly strong in Asia and the Pacific (13 per cent on average a year) and in the Middle East (10 per cent) while the Americas (5 per cent) and Europe (6 per cent), grew at a slower pace and slightly below the world’s average growth. These UNWTO figures are from 1950-2000, and are now clearly out of date – especially considering the turbulent nature of the past decade and what’s happening right now in the Middle East.

Some markets just stagnate. According to the experts from the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) the domestic tourism market in Russia will be at a standstill during 2011. It cites lack of competiveness among tourism services with a general lack of quality.

Tourism is one of the top three sources of export earnings for nearly half of what the UN calls the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Those countries are mainly in South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Increase tourism and it can help kick poverty out the door.

Bangladeshi tourism expertMajbritt Thomsen, of says the Bangladeshi tourism sector has indeed potential to develop – if the country learns from the success and failures of other tourism destinations. A Danish expat who lived there for several years, she moved back to Denmark in 2010 but continues to campaign tirelessly for growth in the sector.

“There is no doubt that if the tourism stakeholders in Bangladesh and South Asia unite they have the resources, knowledge and visions to succeed,” she says.

The sub-Sahara is a long A-Z starting with Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic and so on to Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The contribution of tourism in advancing development was addressed at a meeting  on Tourism for Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction organized by the recently-created UN Steering Committee on Tourism for Development (SCTD), during a major UN conference on LDCs in Istanbul this week.

The potential of tourism in contributing to lift people out of poverty is increasingly acknowledged. International tourist arrivals in the 48 LDCs grew from 6 million in 2000 to over 17 million in 2010. In the same period, international tourism receipts climbed from $US3 billion to over $US10 billion. That’s a staggering figure.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon says most LDCs are rich in resources.

“All have young and vibrant populations. These men and women need decent jobs, education, training, so they can make the most of their country’s assets – minerals and other commodities, farmland, rich stores of biodiversity and tourism potential,” he said when opening the Istanbul conference.

The UNWTO  is the leading international organization in the field of tourism. It serves as a ‎global forum for tourism policy issues and a practical source of tourism know-how.‎ Established in 1975, its membership includes 154 countries, seven territories and over 400 affiliate ‎members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations ‎and local tourism authorities.‎

It’s a roll call of most countries on the planet, starting with Afghanistan and ending with Zimbabwe – oddly, neither of those countries has much tourism at the moment and we all know why.

The organization encourages the implementation ‎of the Global Code of Ethics for tourism, helping member ‎countries, tourist destinations and businesses maximize the positive economic, ‎social and cultural effects of tourism, while minimizing its ‎negative social and environmental impacts.‎ That’s a massive agenda.

In 2009, international tourism generated $US852 billion (€ 611 billion) in export earnings. By 2020 international arrivals are expected to surpass 1.5 billion people.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. You may now talk among yourselves.

CHECK LIST: More info on tourism in developing countries

One thought on “Global tourism is even bigger than oil exports

  1. The problems with these LDCs, as they are called, is that they may be resource rich, but their service industries are primitive and the UNWTO is conveniently skipping over the fact that some of these countries are downright dangerous for foreign visitors. I don’t know anybody who would choose Sierra Leone and Angola as their vacation destinations.


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