The travel and tourism industry is often described as the largest industry in the world. It accounts for 9% of world GDP, $1.3tn in exports and 6% of world trade across multiple sectors, including transport (aviation, rail, road and sea), accommodation, activities, food and drink. It is estimated that it creates about 120 million direct and 125 million indirect jobs and is closely linked to other sectors in domestic and international markets, such as the manufacturing industry, agriculture and the service sector. In turn, these create broad multiplier effects for local and national economies.
In 2012, for the first time in history, the number of tourists crossing international borders in a single year reached over one billion. While just over 50% of these arrivals were from Europe, much of the demand is being fuelled by rising household incomes in emerging economies – not only the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) but increasingly across the rest of south-east Asia and Latin America. In addition another five to six billion people travel in their own country every year. Technological innovations are fuelling this growth, and include developments in low cost air travel and the widespread use of increasingly sophisticated applications that aid online researching and booking travel.
Mass tourism was one of the great game-changers of the 20th century. Thomson Holidays ‘Sustainable Holiday Futures’ report explains: “Cheap flights meant travel was no longer the preserve of a wealthy elite, enabling millions of people to travel beyond their border and dramatically widening the horizons, tastes and expectations of an entire generation in the developed world.” Today I see the mobilisation of the middle classes in the Indian Subcontinent, Asia and South America as the game-changer for the early part of the 21st Century.
In general people like traveling and which is probably why the industry has remained resilient, adapting in the face of a range of challenges such as armed conflict (particularly the Gulf Wars) and disease (Sars, H1N1, Foot and Mouth, and more recently Ebola), earthquakes and other natural disasters. Looking ahead the future looks positive; for example international tourist arrivals worldwide are expected to increase by c. 3.3% a year to reach 1.8 billion by 2030 with the majority of market share tipping toward the emerging economies over this period.
Despite the positive trajectory the Thomson Future Holidays report warns that the challenges for the industry are formidable: “The dream of affordable travel for all is being obscured by climate change, future long-term projections of rising fuel prices and a growing awareness among consumers that sustainability and responsible travel are set to have an impact on how we understand, embrace and manage our holiday plans.” Given this, I see that there are broadly two main challenges ahead for the development of a robust travel and tourism industry: how to continue to grow further to deliver jobs, exports, economic growth and development, and in doing so, how to manage this sustainably.