Global Tourism drives history’s greatest shift of wealth

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – The world’s largest and fastest-growing industry, tourism, has become the most effective tool to fight poverty and should be harnessed to better the lives of the world’s poor, says the head of Counterpart International, a global development and humanitarian organization.

“Tourism represents the greatest voluntary shift of wealth from rich to poor in history,” says Lelei LeLaulu in a speech to the World Tourism Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development hosted in Porto Alegre November 29th to December 2nd. “In recent years billions of dollars have moved from “have” to “have-not” economies through increasing global travel,” he adds, “making tourism the world’s richest funnel of money for economic growth and development”.

LeLaulu says the United States` share of the world tourism market had declined by 17% and business travel by 10% leaving the world’s third biggest tourism draw (behind Spain and France) with just 6% of the global market last year compared to 7.4% in 2000. Quoting from the recent Discover America Partnership report, he says losing a one percent share of the world tourism market in the US represents a loss of $12.3 billion additional spending; 150,000 jobs; $3.3 billion additional payroll and $2.1 billion in lost taxes.

Pointing to the Caribbean, he says the World Travel and Tourism Council confirmed that by 2016, travel and tourism employment in the Caribbean will total 3,645,000 jobs. This is equal to 18.1% of total employment or 1 in every 5.5 jobs. The Caribbean’s travel and tourism industry is estimated at contributing 5.1% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006 (US$11.6 billion), rising in nominal terms to US$23.7 billion (5.8% of total) by 2016.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, tourism represents as much as 66% of commercial services in very poor countries where traditional economies are still the norm. This rapid growth of travel means poorer nations are waking up to the opportunities to attract wealth through tourism.

Stating “tourists take – and leave – more cash in the poorer parts of the world than rich governments give in aid,” LeLaulu added, “Our challenge, as economic and social development specialists, is to ensure that the cash left behind by tourists finds it way to local communities in need.” The driving force of sustainable tourism, he said, “was to improve the lives, health and wealth of the people in those destinations.”

Strategies to maximize the positive impact of global tourism for poorer economies include:

• Ensuring local people are proud stakeholders in tourism facilities and attractions

• Designing Development Funds through which tourism revenues are used to improve the health of locals through the provision of better
clinics and public health education

• Ensuring monies go to the education of the young, which among other benefits, shows how tourism creates wealth

• Showing youth that careers in tourism go beyond hospitality and commercial airlines to include architecture, medicine, agriculture, culinary arts, conservation and many other fields not normally associated with tourism

• Making a keen distinction between “customer service” and “servitude.” The real benefits of tourism should be taught in the first year of elementary school. We have to ensure that the best and brightest young people treat tourism as their first — and not last – career option

• Guiding money to communities to revive culture and traditions that attract tourists – including arts and craft industries.

Travelers want to meet local people, eat local food, enjoy the local culture and increasingly, they want to know their money is helping people who host them where they visit, says Lelaulu. Also, studies confirm that tourists who meet local people are much more likely to return to those destinations.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the business activity of the tourism industry is to promote the “salable” or appealing aspects of the community, transport non-residents into the community, manage the hospitality for and guide the activities of these visitors, and provide them with goods and services to purchase during their stay.

Bringing sustainable tourism to areas rich in natural and cultural resources gives local communities a financial incentive to preserve their natural resources. Tourism also creates meaningful interactions between tourists and inhabitants, bringing together a diverse group of backgrounds, cultures and people. It is important to look at ways of benefiting from the growth of this huge industry; to use the power of tourism for the benefit of these local communities.

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