Tourism is a leading economic sector, now accounting for 10% of the world’s gross domestic product and jobs and representing 30% of exports in services. The considerable economic weight of the sector, as well as its reach into a wide range of sectors – from infrastructure, energy and communication to food production, transport and sanitation – gives it the responsibility and the power to play a key role in securing a sustainable and secure future for our societies and economies.
As a sector that has proven its resilience by growing consistently for almost a decade despite external shocks, with 1.3 billion international tourist arrivals recorded in 2017, tourism can contribute effectively to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) charting our common action towards 2030. As an example, tourism offers one of the most viable and sustainable solutions to SDG 1 on poverty alleviation, as a leading employer, driver of trade and source of foreign exchange earnings in many fast-growing economies.
Tourism is firmly established as the world’s third-biggest export category, ahead of automobiles and food, after fuels and chemicals. And in many fast-growing economies, tourism is already the top export. This highlights the importance of the sector to the trade balances of economies across the globe. What’s more, there are huge potential positive effects of tourism on trade in services, which remain mostly untapped. For this reason, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is pleased that this year’s G20 agenda, in calling for stronger engagement in general and on trade and investment specifically, reflects the UNWTO’s priority to work with its members and development partners to make tourism more of a catalyst for international trade.
Beyond its positive economic impact are the social and environmental contributions of tourism to the SDGs. In today’s globalised, connected world, more people than ever before have access to travel, to encounters with different cultures. Any sector working across borders and boundaries as tourism does must therefore be a leading promulgator of peace and intercultural understanding.
As it grows each year, tourism is a living record of the positive, unifying power of our increasingly connected, informed and outward-looking world. Not only do travellers themselves come from a wider spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds than ever before, but the tourism sector has also expanded to reach into many communities in emerging and established economies alike. By creating truly inclusive tourism destinations, projects and activities planned and managed in line with responsible tourism principles, we can help to minimise the societal divides that exist.
There are already cases showing how tourism development helps societies to feel included and communities to enjoy a wide range of socio-economic benefits. For example, youth and female labour participation in tourism is above parity with other economic sectors. By providing opportunities for women and youth in a variety of roles, tourism contributes to several SDG target areas surrounding the empowerment of vulnerable groups and more equal and inclusive societies. By extension, more inclusion further strengthens tourism’s power to unite people across cultures in a celebration of diversity, increasing overall social resilience. This year’s G20 focus on inclusivity and greater equality, strengthened by the engagement of the Youth 20 and Women 20 dialogues, will prove integral to meeting the G20 objectives with the help of empowered and committed stakeholders.
Tourism is embedded in the dynamics of globalisation and technological transformation. Making travel inclusive is becoming more of a priority as globalisation, interconnectivity and a growing consumer class lead to ever more people travelling, and digital technologies continue transforming the way we travel, connecting us on a global level and empowering the vulnerable. Our challenge, in tourism and in all sectors, is to continue harnessing their power for sustainable development while safeguarding against potential risks attached.
I am delighted to see high-level political commitment to this key challenge from the group of the world’s leading economies, exemplified by the G20 digital economy ministerial meeting in August exploring the future of work, governance and infrastructure in the digital age. This year’s World Tourism Day on 27 September also explored opportunities that innovation and digital transformation can bring towards a more sustainable and competitive tourism sector.
agent of positive change
These are common tasks that can only be addressed through common efforts and shared responsibility between government, civil society, businesses, and international bodies and organisations. By building on each other’s strengths, providing collective support, and ensuring consistent engagement through ambitious agendas like the G20’s, the global community can help tourism become a leading agent of positive change worldwide.
On the occasion of the Buenos Aires Summit, I call upon the G20 to continue advancing the integration of tourism into mainstream development policies, strategies and business plans as a part of the global effort at safeguarding a better shared future. The UNWTO stands ready to continue supporting your countries in this endeavour.