Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world
Travelling was not always as easy as it is today. Think about your grandparents: how much have they travelled in their long life, compared to you? Or compared to your friends? There is little doubt that the world has become ‘smaller,’ but what are the consequences of this?
Tourism’s Place in the Global World
If you look at numbers from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), there is a big chance that you will be surprised to know how much tourism actually matters to the world. To give a few examples:
- Every year more than 1.1 billion people participate in global tourism
- Tourism stands for 10% of the global GDP
- 1 out of 11 jobs in the world are related to tourism
This makes global tourism one of the biggest industries in the world, and it gives no indications of stagnating: a report from UNWTO predicts that by 2030 the number of international tourists pr. year will increase to 1.8 billion people. That will be 72 (!) times more than the 25 million people who travelled internationally in 1950.
Environment, of course. But what else?
A very obvious consequence of global tourism is the increase of CO2 emissions. The more we travel, the more CO2 is used to transport us from one place to another. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), tourism accounts for 5% of the global emissions. If the predictions of a strong increase turn out to be correct, this number might grow significantly over the next years.
In addition to the impact it has on climate, UNEP points at the socio-cultural impacts and the economic impacts of tourism. To begin with the first one, imagine how tourism can affect local cultures and local identity. As soon as tourists lay their love on a new destination, the demand for souvenirs and commodities can slowly change the culture and the lifestyle of the natives in that area. One example is the molas (shirts) made by the Kuna women in Colombia. Originally, these shirts were made with a design which reflected the world, the nature and the spiritual life of the Kuna Nation. Because of an increase in touristic demand to buy these shirts, the design is changing to adapt to their requests, and the Kuna women are losing their knowledge of the old designs and their interpretations. This is just one of many negative socio-cultural impacts. Examples of others are an increase in child labour, prostitution and sex-tourism and ethical issues.
When it comes to negative economic impacts, one of the biggest challenges to global tourism is leakage. A study estimated that 70% of the money generated from tourism in Thailand end up leaving the country through foreign-owned tour operators, hotels etc. For less developed countries, this is of course a challenge in the search of building a sustainable tourist industry in their own country. Other economic problems that can arise are the cost of infrastructure, increase in prices and the increased possibility of creating a local dependence on tourism.
It is not all bad
Negative impacts aside, global tourism still creates jobs, it creates opportunities for local businesses and generates local income. It also contributes to raise global awareness about human rights issues and poverty, it helps people to gain a better understanding of other cultures, religions and ethnicities and it can contribute to preserve landscapes (such as the rainforest) by making them assets for increased tourism.
So don’t misunderstand: global tourism is wonderful, and we are lucky to grow up in a time when it is easier than ever to get to know far away lands and places, to meet people from the other side of the planet to listen to their stories, learn from their experiences and hopefully cultivate global friendship.
As long as we understand and keep in mind that while we reap the benefits of our growing opportunities, we must also actively work against the existing negative impacts in order to create a lasting, sustainable global tourism.