In recent years tourism has come to be reognised as a powerful tool to stimulate economic development as well as to promote world peace and understanding. World Tourism Day is commemorated each year on 27 September with the purpose of fostering awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value.
The event seeks to address global challenges outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to highlight the contribution the tourism industry can make in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. It was at its third session (Torremolinos, Spain, September 1979), that the UNWTO General Assembly decided to institute World Tourism Day, commencing in the year 1980. This date was chosen to coincide with an important milestone in world tourism: the anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO Statutes on 27 September 1970.
Recognizing the importance of international tourism in fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, in leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations, on 22 December, 2015, during its 70th session, the United Nations General Assembly designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development through a special resolution in which it “encourages all States, the United Nations system and all other actors to take advantage of the International Year to promote actions at all levels, including through international cooperation, and to support sustainable tourism as a means of promoting and accelerating sustainable development, especially poverty eradication.” This year thus provides a unique opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to sustainability and move forward to ensure the positive impact of well-managed tourism on inclusive and equitable growth, sustainable development and peace.
Needless to say, World Tourism Day is an opportunity to recognize the importance of sustainable tourism as a tool for intercultural dialogue, peace building and economic development. The United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017 has focused its efforts on promoting tourism as a catalyst for positive change.
According to UNESCO, tourism presents both opportunities and challenges. With more than 1.2 billion people travelling across borders each year, World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks around the world are attracting a growing number of visitors. This is creating significant opportunities for local economic development, investment, and revenue for conservation. It is also enabling us to educate more people about our cultural and natural heritage, and the need to protect it for future generations. Tourism is also being used as a tool for creativity and innovation, to support intangible cultural heritage and the creative industries.
An increasing number of people are visiting many destinations and World Heritage sites around the world each year. The large volume of people visiting during peak seasons is placing increased strain on management systems, infrastructure and local communities. Sites are increasingly under pressure to strike a balance between managing visitor numbers and protecting their Outstanding Universal Value. Climate change is a major challenge and the tourism industry is under increasing pressure to be more accountable and sustainable.
UNESCO is working with many World Heritage sites to address these challenges through its World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme. To improve visitor management planning and systems, UNESCO has developed an online World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit. The toolkit provides site managers with a step-by-step guide to all levels of tourism management, from strategy development to monitoring systems, and has already been tested and utilized across the world.
To address tourism congestion challenges and increase regional dispersal of tourism in Europe, UNESCO is working with the European Union and National Geographic to develop an online promotional platform entitled “World Heritage Journeys”.
In a larger context, tourism has a significant role to play in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and these are just a few examples of UNESCO’s contribution towards these goals. With 2018 declared both the “European Year of Cultural Heritage”, and the “EU/China Tourism Year”, UNESCO will be working closely with its State Parties to promote and protect the diversity of our shared heritage.
Over the past six decades, tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification, and it has become one of the fastest growing and most important economic sectors in the world, benefiting destinations and communities worldwide. International tourist arrivals worldwide have grown from 25 million in 1950 to nearly 1.2 billion in 2015. Similarly, international tourism revenues earned by destinations around the world have grown from 2 billion US dollars in 1950 to 1,260 trillion in 2015. The sector represents an estimated 10% of the world’s GDP and 1 in 10 jobs globally.
It is estimated that tourism will continue to grow at an average of 3.3% annually until 2030. This growth over the second half of the 20th century and the 21st is due to the fact that access to tourism has progressively expanded thanks to the recognition of the right to holidays in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the improved adoption of labour rights in many countries and the growing middle class worldwide. Furthermore, in recent decades the emergence of new technologies applied to tourism and the decline in the price of transport, especially air transport, have led to an increase in international travel. Noteworthy is the resilience shown by the sector in recent years, which despite challenges such as the global economic crisis, natural disasters and pandemics, has experienced almost uninterrupted growth.
Like any activity, tourism has powerful effects on the economy, society and environment in generating countries and especially in the receiving countries. In addition to the socioeconomic impact of tourism, the sector, if managed sustainably, can be a factor for environmental preservation, cultural appreciation and understanding among peoples. Sustainable tourism 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. It should thus make optimal use of environmental resources, respect host communities and ensure viable, long-term economic operations so that benefits are equitably distributed among all stakeholders.
Sustainable tourism is a positive instrument towards the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment and the improvement of quality of life, especially in developing countries. Well-designed and well-managed tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development —economic, social and environmental—has close linkages to other sectors and can create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities. It is therefore essential for all actors, including companies operating in the sector, to be aware of opportunities and responsibilities alike, and to act accordingly so that their actions leave a positive mark on the society in which they operate and ensure the sustainability of the destination and their businesses.