Global tourism: growing fast

Posted: 9 June 2008

Tourism is the world's largest industry, with an annual revenue of almost $500 billion. And it is growing fast, with airline arrivals expected to double by 2010.

Leisure is estimated to account for 75 per cent of all international travel. The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) estimated there were nearly 900 million international tourist arrivals in 2007 from 846 million in 2006, an increase of about 6 per cent. This represents nearly 52 million more arrivals than in 2006 and they are expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2020. Domestic tourism (people going on holiday in their own country) is generally thought to be 4-5 times greater than international arrivals. The international tourism receipts totalled US $ 733 billion in 2006.

Tourists meet elephants alongthe Zambezi River© Victoria Falls River Safaris
Tourists meet elephants alongthe Zambezi River© Victoria Falls River Safaris
Tourists meet elephants along the Zambezi River© Victoria Falls River Safaris
Globally, tourism accounts for roughly 35 per cent of exports of services and over 8 per cent of exports of goods (WTO). Tourism is said to be the world’s largest employer. In 2001, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that globally over 207 million jobs were directly or indirectly employed in tourism. In the UK alone, 10 per cent of total employment is in the tourism sector.

According to the latest research by the industry’s World Travel and Tourism Council released in 2008, world travel and tourism is expected to generate close to US $ 8 trillion in 2008, rising approximately US $ 15 trillion over the next 10 years. The long term forecasts by WTTC also point to a steady phase of growth for world travel and tourism between 2009 and 2018 with an average growth rate of 4.4 per cent per annum, supporting 297 million jobs and 10.5 per cent of global GDP by 2018.

  • For 83 per cent of countries in the world, tourism is one of the top five sources of foreign exchange.
  • Caribbean countries derive half their GDP from tourism. (World Resources Institute)
  • Benidorm's tourism industry accounts for 1 per cent of Spain's GDP.

Where tourists go

All the different regions showed increases in tourist arrivals with the Middle East, fast emerging as a strong tourism destination, leading the regional growth ranking with an estimated 13 percent rise. This was closely followed by Asia and the Pacific and then Africa. The Americas did much better than in 2007. France retains its top spot as the most visited country ahead of Spain and the USA while Germany overtook Mexico in 2006 as a result of its excellent performance while hosting the FIFA world cup.

Between 2001 and 2003, due to world problems such as SARS, terrorism and the Iraq war, long haul travel declined but since 2004 it has seen a definite revival. In 2006, interregional travel increased by 8 per cent and in relative terms Africa recorded the biggest gain followed by the Middle East and Asia and the Pacific.

Just over 50 per cent of all spending on tourism is by travellers from just ten countries namely, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, China, Italy, Canada, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea.

Industry organisations

  • World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC): A trade association based in Brussels and London and made up of around 70 chief executives of major airlines, hotel chains, cruise lines and catering companies.

  • World Tourism Organisation (WTO): based in Madrid and recently taken into the UN family, the WTO consists of a mix of 130-plus governments and 350 affiliated private enterprises. Compiles industry statistics and market trends.

  • American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA): The largest travel trade association in the world, representing 26,500 travel agents in 170 countries.

  • Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA): The trade association of the major British tour operators.

The air industry

According to the WTO, air transport generated 46 per cent of all tourist arrivals followed closely by transport overland. The trend in the last three years has been for air transport to grow at a faster pace than other means of transport. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA),international passenger demand rose 9.3 per cent in November 2007, the fastest growth rate recorded in 18 months, and helped to combat high oil prices, ending the year with the highest profit since 2000.

However, according to their predictions, passenger demand growth is expected to fall to 5.0 per cent in 2008 weakened by slightly slower global economic growth but on the other hand, boosted by liberalization of markets and emergence of new air routes and services.

Growth of tourism

International tourist arrivals increased from 25 million in 1950 to 693 million in 2003, and are predicted to grow to 1.56 billion by 2020 (WTO). Globally, the tourism industry is growing at 4.6 per cent (WTTC).The number of air passengers rose from 9 million in 1945 to 88 million in 1972, 344 million in 1994 and 1.72 billion in 2002 (IATA).

Factors in tourism's growth include:

  • Increasing leisure time: In 1936, the International Labour Organisation convention provided for one week's leave per year for workers in developed countries. In 1970, this was expanded to three weeks, and in 1999 to four weeks.

  • Increased disposable income: The strong economic growth of Asian economies such as China, India, and Singapore has resulted in greater disposable income resulting in increased demand for foreign travel. A research report by AXA insurance in October 2006 showed that UK holidaymakers had already spent a total of £97.3 billion that year, of which £45 billion was only on booking the holiday (www.moneynews.co.uk).

Growth of tourism to the South

In 1950, 97 per cent of international tourists went to Europe or North America (in fact, to just 15 countries). By 2003 this had fallen to 78.8 per cent. In the mid-1970s, 8 per cent of all international tourists were from the North visiting the South. By the mid-1990s, this had risen to 20 per cent. In 1999, more than 70 countries received over a million international tourist arrivals. In 2006, Asia and the Pacific was the second best performing region in the world after Africa with an estimated 8 per cent rise in arrivals.

Growth of tourism in/from the South

In recent years, domestic and intra-regional tourism in the South has grown rapidly, especially in emerging economies such as China, Thailand, India, Korea, China and Mexico.

  • Tourists originating in Asia and the Pacific increased from 114.8 million in 2000 to an estimated 166.5 million in 2006, a total of 19.3 per cent of the world total and with an average growth of 6.4 per cent between 2000 and 2006.

  • In 1995, 108 million people worked in tourism in China and South Asia, compared to only 42 million in the North (North America, Australasia, Japan and the European Community).

  • In 2006, various South-East Asian destinations recorded 10 percent or higher growth of international tourist arrivals with Thailand and Cambodia achieving +205 each. In North-East Asia, Macao (China) recorded +18 per cent growth mainly due to a development of new hotels and casinos, followed by Japan.(WTO)

  • 90 per cent of visitors to national parks in Thailand, India and South Africa are domestic tourists. (Ceballos-Lascurain 1996). Of 200,000 annual visitors to Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, Malaysia, 90 per cent are Malaysian. At Mt Bromo in Java, Indonesia, 70 per cent of visitors are Indonesian.

This section was compiled by Junie Wadhawan from Tourism Concern.