The power of travel
G7 Summit

The power of travel

Investing in tourism should be seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge – and investment in transforming the sector has the potential to deliver significant economic and social dividends

The 2024 Apulia Summit comes as world leaders, including those of the G7 members, face mounting and varied challenges: wars, including conflict in Europe, geopolitical tensions, the climate emergency, and increased inequalities both between and within countries. 

At the same time, this vital meeting of the world’s biggest economies – held at the start of the peak season in one of the world’s most popular destinations – comes as the tourism sector consolidates its recovery from the biggest crisis in its history. Without a doubt, tourism is a leading pillar of growth and opportunity. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the G7 economies themselves. In 2023, G7 countries welcomed 338 million international tourist arrivals, an increase of 25% compared to 2022, and 92% of pre-pandemic levels. With one in four of all international tourists visiting these seven G7 country destinations, tourism generated around $490 billion in receipts, again about 96% of pre-pandemic levels. 

The challenge we face, however, is to make this return to strength count. That is, to deliver on the unique potential of tourism to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth and opportunity. Certainly, we have a blueprint to follow in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They are a clear roadmap for peace and prosperity for people and planet. But, as United Nations secretary-general António Guterres reminds us, “halfway to 2030, that promise is in peril”, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic having stalled three decades of steady progress. I remain confident, however, that we can get back on track. 

A valued career path

UN Tourism recognises and is addressing the key challenges standing in the way of ensuring tourism does indeed deliver on its potential. First, we must prioritise education and jobs. We need young people everywhere to see tourism as a valued career path. That means ensuring tourism jobs are decent jobs and giving workers of all backgrounds the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the sector rather than seeing it as a stepping stone to other things. Last year, we launched our Education Toolkit, a landmark initiative designed to help governments everywhere make tourism a subject in their high schools. Several of our member states have already started to make use of the resource, and its use in the G7 economies would be hugely welcome. At the same time, we are getting ready to welcome the first students into our first bachelor’s degree course in Sustainable Tourism Management, offered in partnership with the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. We are supporting tourism workers through every stage of their careers in our sector, from high school to university and then through ongoing professional training, and we urge governments and businesses everywhere to join us. 

Growing investment

Alongside this focus on education and jobs, we also urgently need to grow investment in tourism. Our colleagues at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report that foreign direct investment into all sectors, tourism included, reached approximately $1.7 trillion in 2023, a steady 3% increase despite challenging economic circumstances. By increasing the volume going into tourism-related projects, and more significantly directing investments where they will make the biggest difference, we can accelerate our work in transforming the sector and making it both more sustainable and more resilient. At UN Tourism, we serve as the bridge between investors and destinations, including those in Africa, the Americas, and Asia and the Pacific, where for too long a lack of investment has prevented plans from being transformed into reality. 

For G7 economies, as well as for countries everywhere, investing in tourism, including in its people, should be seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge. The sector is a proven pillar of employment and growth, and an investment in tourism has the potential to deliver significant economic as well as social dividends. Moreover, against the backdrop of heightened insecurity, tourism stands out for its ability to foster understanding among and between peoples. As we look ahead to World Tourism Day 2024 on 27 September, this year to be celebrated on the theme of ‘Tourism and Peace’, we ask all leaders to join us in embracing and amplifying this message of hope.