Don’t miss out on a massive destination opportunity writes Valere Tjolle
International tourism is expected to reach one billion tourists this year with international tourism receipts delivering a trillion dollars according to the latest forecasts.
And these figures do not take into account domestic or drive-in tourism, which is estimated to represent at least 5 times the international total.
Taking all this into consideration, the global tourism economy is calculated to grow to at least 6 trillion dollars in 2012.
Clearly tourism is not only now the world’s biggest industry, but it has also proven its astonishing economic strength, resilience and durability in a time of global economic crisis.
What an amazing opportunity this represents.
As Taleb Rifai, the Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation said in his recent report:
"Imagine how business models would be transformed if one billion people demanded sustainable practices from hotels and tour operators. Imagine how many would benefit if one billion people bought local produce or hired a local guide. These are small actions, but given the size of our sector, their impact would be huge."
Precisely. This is a clarion call not only to tourists but also to destinations.
Make no mistake, tourism is certainly the largest potential peaceful wealth-transfer mechanism we have ever seen and maybe the world’s greatest missed development opportunity.
The truth is that six billion tourists could tramp the Earth with their tourism spend going largely to global companies - their effect on the destinations they visit just to wear out local infrastructures - OR their tourism spend can be focused on making the destinations they visit better places to live in - this way everyone benefits.
Tourists would get better destinations, local communities would get better home towns, villages, cities.
The whole of the world tourism industry would laud this approach and this result, but how is it to be accomplished?
First it is good to consider who has the primary responsibility for the delivery of a healthy tourism industry.
Tourists obviously want to get the best deal they can. Particularily in today’s challenged economic times, they are understandably keen to minimize their expenditure and maximize their benefits. Over the next decades more and more of the world’s population will be living in megacities and looking to get the best, healthiest break they possibly can for the least expenditure.
The global tourism players have grown big and powerful by fulfilling these tourist needs profitably. Although they see the benefits of destinations getting rewards from tourism and they see the advantages of a sustainable tourism industry, their primary focus will always be the sustainable profitability inherent in the efficient delivery of high value, low cost travel arrangements.
This approach is reflected by the current popularity of all-inclusive destinations and cruises, both of which give the tour operator power to command all aspects of the travel arrangement for good or ill. It may well be that such holidays can deliver a reduced carbon footprint and that destinations can benefit from opportunities offered by operators, nonetheless the destination is clearly disenfranchised as soon as the operator ring-fences its clients.
The primary responsibility for positive, healthy destinations is clearly that of the destinations themselves in the form of properly constituted organizations and destinations’ tourism entrepreneurs.
And, although there are many destinations that are making quite enormous steps to get maximum benefits for their communities - this report is crammed full of examples - there are many destinations who have not yet woken up to the opportunities that tourism provides or are timorous in their marketing and management.
This report shows that to fully grasp the tourism wealth-giving opportunity, destinations need to undergo a shift of perception to recognize that:
Tourism is not a numbers game: Numbers of tourists in a destination represent a cost only balanced by tourist expenditure that stays in the destination for its benefit and does not ‘leak’ out. Reporting on increased tourism numbers as a positive is simply stupid without focusing on tourism spend, targeting it and forensically analyzing its palpable local effects and benefits.
Tourism is not just the ‘tourism industry’: There is a multiplicity of destination enterprises that can benefit from tourism from agriculture to zoos and these should be fully consulted and integrated in the tourism development process.
Tourism can deliver development benefits not only in less developed countries: There are many opportunities for tourism to alleviate social problems (such as homelessness and unemployment) in developed nations too.
Tourism can be an environmental plus or a minus: The air we breathe, the noise we hear, crowded streets and sidewalks, the natural and built environments, our biodiversity - in effect the quality of our community - is the responsibility of our community. If this is offered to tourists it should be on the basis of equitable exchange and buy in to local cultural, social and environmental aspirations.
Finally, tourism is not just about money: Tourism at its very best is two-way un-intermediated communication where both tourists and members of host communities can learn sufficient about each other to foster understanding, possibly even harmony and peace.
In this 2012 Sustainable Destination Report there are hundreds of examples of good practice and outstanding good practice. The report incorporates literally hundreds of destinations who are learning how their communities can sustainably benefit from the world tourism boom.
There is a cornucopia of potential benefits that may be gained from healthy tourism initiatives. Tourism could lead the world into the coming green economy. Or we could all miss a massive opportunity.
At the end of the day it will be thousands of destination communities around the globe who will actually make the decision and create a healthy tourism industry with the power to transform the world we live in.
The above is an excerpt from the new BUMPER edition of the Green Tourism/TotemTourism Sustainable Destination Report 2012: 88 pages including more than 200 examples of destination good practice and outstanding good practice, 33 sources of tourism funding, 140 global leaders in sustainable tourism PLUS insights and critical analysis of all the current key sustainable tourism issues from certification to Green MICE
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