Background- Sustainable Tourism for Development

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Over the last decades, tourism has experienced continued growth  and increased diversification, becoming one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. The business volume of tourism today equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles, offering millions of direct entry points into the workforce, particularly for youth and women, and a diversity of investment opportunities for young entrepreneurial talents. Tourism has become one of the major sectors in international trade, at the same time representing one of the main income sources for many developing countries.  It is their only service sector with recorded surpluses in trade compared to the rest of the world.


.... However, tourism can also be a source of environmental damage and pollution, a threat to the socio-cultural structure, a heavy user of scarce resources and a potential cause of negative externalities in society.  What must be done?

Tourism in the Global Development Agenda:

The future we want Rio+20 outcome document

"Sustainable tourism is highlighted in the final outcome document of Rio+20 as a thematic area and a cross-sectorial issue within the framework for action and follow-up.

Sustainable tourism

130. We emphasize that well-designed and managed tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, has close linkages to other sectors, and can create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities (…)

131. We encourage the promotion of investment in sustainable tourism, including eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which may include creating small and medium sized enterprises and facilitating access to finance, including through microcredit initiatives for the poor, indigenous peoples and local communities in areas with high eco-tourism potential (…)"

Read more: (full outcome document) (Green Economy Report leaflet)

In recent years, sustainability has emerged as a critical concern that must be addressed in any viable tourism development strategy. Expressed simply, sustainable tourism can be defined as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”. Tourism is one of the ten economic sectors identified in the UNEP Green Economy Report, whose greening could increase prosperity, create employment and reduce poverty. In addition, tourists are increasingly demanding the greening of tourism. Tourism development should hence have a sustainable approach, to be able to promote growth in the long-term while maintaining a balanced use of resources. This should be supported at local, national, regional and international levels.

Developing Countries surpassing advanced economies’ international tourist arrivals in 2015

Although developed countries remain both the major tourism destinations and source of international tourism, developing countries are reducing the gap. In recent decades there has been a substantial diversification in international tourism destinations, and many developing countries have registered phenomenal growth in tourist arrivals and receipts. Tourism also particularly thrives on assets such as natural environment, warm climate, rich cultural heritage and plentiful human resources, where developing countries have a comparative advantage.

  • Tourism is the first or second source of export earnings in 20 of the 48 LDCs
  • In some developing countries, notably small island states, tourism can account for over 25% of GDP.
  • From 2015, emerging economies will, for the first time receive more international tourist arrivals than advanced economies
  • By 2030, 58% of international arrivals will be to emerging economy destinations of Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa

However, tourism can also be a source of environmental damage and pollution, a heavy consumer of scarce resources and a cause of negative impacts in society.  For these reasons, it is imperative that it is well planned and managed, embracing the principles of sustainable tourism which is defined as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry the environment and host communities”.


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