Can the world cope with more tourists?

The environment was the focus at the annual summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) at Dubai this week, with an emphasis on the need to promote the tourism industry’s green credentials. Meanwhile, at the XII United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Accra, Ghana, the UNWTO has presented a message that tourism offers the only sustainable development opportunity to many developing and least developed countries. But with international tourist numbers projected to double by 2020, can this increased traffic really be catered for in a sustainable way?

UNWTO push tourism for development

The UNWTO advocated the reinforcement of the tourism sector’s role in assistance programmes and projects by mainstreaming tourism into general policies at this weeks UNCTAD conference.

“On the whole, developing countries are the principal beneficiaries of international tourism trade, achieving a surplus in their tourism balance of payments which can fund imports of food and energy resources, development plans, or contribute to debt reduction”, said UNWTO Director of Programme and Coordination, Eugenio Yunis.

UNWTO statistics show that since the year 2000, developing countries have led international tourism growth and reached a current market share of 40%. From 2000-2007, international tourist arrivals in developing countries increased by 54%, reaching 360 million. Tourism growth in the 50 least developed countries increased by 110% between 2000-2007, compared with 20% in developed countries.

Against the background of the solid economic development potential of international tourism, UNWTO recommends the participation of local communities and other stakeholders in tourism development. This requires the active involvement and leadership of governments and the reinforcement of the role of sustainable tourism in the general development policy.

“The successful implementation of tourism policies – focused on technical cooperation, development financing, or poverty alleviation programmes – is proof of the key support of this sector to sustainable development. Mainstreaming tourism policy into the broader development agenda represents therefore a further step towards achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals”, Mr. Yunis added.

Emerging markets key to global tourism growth

At the WTTC summit in Dubai, tourism leaders highlighted emerging markets as the new vehicles of global tourism growth. Asia, the Middle East and Latin America were pushed into the spotlight as rising powerhouses, capable of bolstering growth in the travel industry.

The WTTC has trimmed its projections for tourism growth down to three percent for this year, taking the U.S. economic downturn into consideration. But delegates suggested hat although emerging markets may not offer high-value tourists, they certainly offer volume, especially for markets such as China and India. They are also displaying economic growth well above that of more mature western markets.

While stressing the importance of improving environmental performance of the travel and tourism industry, delegates also said that the industry should not be singled out, with tourism accounting for only around 5% of global warming.

The industry should do more to try and not make people feel guilty about travel, and advertise the giant strides that key players are taking to make their businesses more environmentally sustainable, expressed speakers. As sustainable tourism enters the mainstream there were also calls for the industry to set some meaningful targets at the summit for emissions and that by 2020 the sector should look to being 20% more efficient.

“We need a global framework for accrediting all the carbon emissions schemes,” said Geoffrey Lipman, assistant secretary general of the UNWTO.

Can the world cope with tourism growth?

Few could argue with the importance of travel and tourism to the world economy, or with the key role of the industry in many of the poorest and least industrialized countries. Nevertheless, there are real concerns for the impact of projected increases in international travel, not just on carbon emissions but in environmental, social and cultural pressures on destinations.

The UNWTO’s Tourism 2020 Vision forecasts a mean annual tourism growth of 4%, leading to 1.6 billion international tourism visits by 2020. This is 2.5 times the volume recorded in the late 1990s. By the year 2020 more than US$ 5 billion will be spent each day on foreign tourism, excluding the costs of international transport.

Domestic tourism is also forecast to increase, and the UNWTO say that while most industrialised countries will come close to their ceiling for domestic tourism in respect to the proportion of the participating population and the incidence of their participation, the proportion of the population actively participating in domestic tourism will increase strongly in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

Again, few would deny the aspirations of those from emerging markets to enjoy the same access to travel that we in the West have had for the last few decades. However, only so many people can visit a particular building or beach in a given year. So what will the effects be of this spiralling demand?

Restrictions on numbers for more sensitive destinations may become more commonplace. In Peru, there are strict limits on numbers starting the Inca Trail each day, for example, but calls for limits on overall traffic to key sites such as Machu Picchu are likely to increase both to protect the site itself and the visitor experience, with hordes of other tourists one of the things that seriously detracts from the enjoyment of visiting such a monument. Paradoxically though, extension of ‘rationing’, or the threat that it may occur, is likely to increase demand, as travellers move to visit iconic sites while they can.

Costs of many attractions are likely to increase, both to try and limit demand, and to maximise tourism revenue from sites where permit systems may eventually restrict overall visitor numbers. In Tanzania, entry fees to the more popular game reserves have increased steeply in recent years, and the government of Ecuador, concerned about the effect of increasing tourism on the fragile Galapagos Islands ecosystem, is discussing doubling the park’s entrance fee and further restricting the number of visitors. In Peru, Machu Picchu’s entrance fee went from $27 to $45 this year, and roundtrip train fares from Cuzco to Machu Picchu now start at around $100 – but tourist numbers continue to increase. Recently, protestors in Cuzco have been demonstrating against plans to allow more luxury hotels to be built near the Inca ruins.

As demand increases, then unless more hotels are built in popular destinations, with unavoidable environmental consequences, then tourism-related prices such as hotel room rates will continue to escalate as demand outstrips supply.

Increasing pressures on established destinations are likely to prompt the creation and expansion of new ones. While this will spread the economic benefits of tourism, it is vital that development is regulated, with due concerns for pressures on natural resources, the environment, and local cultures. There are no easy answers, just an increasingly difficult balancing act between the desires of a rising population for tourism experiences, and the need to minimise any harmful effects of further tourism development.

This blog entry is adapted from an article at Leisuretourism.com, CABI’s internet resource on all aspects of tourism, travel, leisure and the hospitality industry.

4 thoughts on “Can the world cope with more tourists?

  1. Chris Lloyd April 30, 2008 / 2:02 am

    For many places tourism is one of the major earners and there are also many ‘Ma and Pa’ tourism operators like bed and breakfast providers.

  2. Dave April 30, 2008 / 5:03 pm

    Yes, tourism is a major earner and a vital one in many areas. Bed and breakfast providers etc are what I’d class as a low-impact part of the tourism infrastructure given that they are usually people using their own houses rather than new developments. It’s the overdevelopment of new hotels that often bring little benefit to locals that are more controversial, as witness the current protests at Cuzco in Peru about new luxury hotel development there.
    Thanks for the comment

  3. John Moore September 18, 2008 / 7:22 am

    Thanks for sharing. Tourist is a part of it.

  4. Peru Tours February 3, 2009 / 8:14 pm

    I agree with you, but I think if the demand for luxury accommodation is growing in Peru (a direct reflect of Peruvian economic growth that has driven more foreign investment and increased as well the touristic flow), the main problem is not to allow the construction of hotels luxurious in certain cities of the country, but under what conditions these hotels will be built; respecting the visual appeal of each city, without imposing special concession for these buildings, and to reach a clear agreement with local authorities and the population.

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