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Tourism in the new cycle of economic growth

By Taleb Rifai
Secretary-General, World Tourism Organisation

As the world’s largest economies gather in St. Petersburg to address the major challenges facing the global economy and find ways to start a new cycle of economic growth, the tourism sector finds itself in a significant period of consolidation.

2012 was in particular a milestone year for tourism, when more than one billion people travelled the world for the first time in a single year.

Last year was also a landmark year when it comes to the political recognition of tourism. It was at the last G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, that world leaders recognised tourism ‘as a vehicle for job creation, economic growth and development’ and ‘while recognising the sovereign right of States to control the entry of foreign nationals’, expressed the commitment to ‘work towards developing travel facilitation initiatives in support of job creation, quality work, poverty reduction and global growth’.

climate-untwo-2Tourism also made great strides at Rio+20 with the Conference’s Outcome Document identifying tourism as one of the key sectors capable of making a significant contribution to sustainable development.

Tourism has come of age as one of the biggest and fastest growing economic sectors – a trillion dollar economic powerhouse whose vast developmental potential is indisputable. With many of the G20 leaders looking for solutions to address the current challenges, tourism is a strong option, being a key contributor to balancing trade deficits and creating much needed jobs. The sector accounts for 9% of global GDP and employs one out of eleven people across the world (direct, indirect and induced impacts considered). Tourism also plays an important role in the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, namely in eradicating poverty, promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability, and forging global partnerships for development.

Maximising tourism’s significant contribution to socioeconomic growth and development requires us to look at the existing obstacles to the sector’s growth, namely unbalanced taxation, policies limiting air travel connectivity, and the current financial scenario which constrains the investment capacity of both the public and private sectors. Working to remove these barriers is among UNWTO priorities.

Furthermore, complicated visa processes, high costs and long waiting times are still in the way of travel, especially out of emerging countries, which are some of the fastest growing tourism source markets today. UNWTO/WTTC research shows that improving visa facilitation could result in substantial gains in the G20 economies, creating more than 5 million additional jobs by 2015. We hope that last year’s commitment by G20 leaders to facilitate travel as a means to foster economic growth continues to advance.

At the current economic juncture, and as G20 leaders look into ways to build a new economic cycle, a closer consideration must be given to tourism’s contribution to sustainable growth and development as the sector can be one of the fundamental pillars supporting G20 goals of delivering fair and balanced economic growth.


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