Economic development, growth and employment

Tourism – an opportunity for sustainable development

Tents at the Mutemwa Lodge in Zambia

More and more people are traveling. In 2017 alone, there were more than 1.3 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide, an increase of about seven per cent over 2016. It is expected that global tourism will grow by another four to five per cent in 2018.

The tourism sector is not only one of the fastest-growing but also one of the most significant industries of our time. In 2017, tourism accounted for more than ten per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product). About one in ten jobs worldwide is directly related to tourism. Internationally, tourism is thus economically more significant than automotive products, for example.

Growing numbers of visitors to developing countries and emerging economies

More and more developing countries are harnessing their tourism potential – such as a warm climate, cultural heritage and intact natural environments – and assessing it for possible economic benefits. For one third of all developing countries, tourism is already the most important source of foreign exchange earnings. In half of all least developed countries (LDCs), the tourism sector accounts for more than 40 per cent of GDP.

According to estimates, the number of tourists is going to grow disproportionately in developing countries and emerging economies in particular. From Germany alone, more than 11 million people visit such countries every year, currently contributing 19 billion euros to their GDPs and securing about 1.8 million jobs. The number of tourists from the developing and emerging economies themselves is also growing. The number of air passengers from these regions is increasing rapidly.

Sustainability and responsibility in the tourism sector

Sustainability and responsibility are the key principles of Germany's development policy in the tourism sector. Sustainable development enables economic growth to be consistent with ecological viability. Sustainable tourism adopts a long-term perspective and is geared towards ethical compatibility, social justice, respect for local culture and environmental responsibility. At the same time, sustainable tourism development should be economically profitable and employment intensive so that it can foster local economic development.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) supports inclusive, climate-friendly tourism development. Based on the principle of sustainability and responsibility in the tourism sector, the BMZ has defined six priority areas for action:

  • Sustainable economic development and employment promotion
  • Community and municipal development
  • Protection and sustainable use of biodiversity
  • Resource and energy efficiency and climate action
  • Good governance and a conducive political environment
  • New partnerships with the tourism industry

Opportunities involved in tourism development

Gorilla in the Dzanga Sangha Reserve (Central African Republic)

Tourism provides major opportunities for emerging economies and developing countries to develop their infrastructure, create jobs and income, foster local economic cycles, conserve the natural heritage and thus also reduce poverty.

In many developing countries tourism has turned from a niche product into a mass product. In the past 25 years, developing countries have more than quadrupled their share of the global tourism market. Being a labour-intensive sector, tourism makes an important contribution to sustainable economic development. It is estimated that in the next ten years, five million new jobs could be created through tourism in Africa alone. In the world's emerging economies, especially in the booming regions of Asia, experts predict as many as 40 million new jobs in the same period.

Disadvantaged population groups and small and micro entrepreneurs could also profit from this development. Many jobs in tourism require neither specialist knowledge nor significant investment. The rising numbers of foreign visitors benefit not only the hotel and catering industry but also sectors such as farming, the skilled trades, handicrafts and transport. Thus, tourism serves as a direct tool for poverty reduction.

Risks involved in tourism development

However, in addition to its many positive impacts, uncontrolled growth of tourism also entails a number of risks. For example, tourism is subject to great seasonal fluctuation, and it depends on the local security situation. Sufficient revenue must be earned in the high season to cover the quiet periods when few tourists come. For local people, this means an unreliable employment situation.

Moreover, local people often do not benefit enough from value chains and from income in the tourism sector. Tourism may also lead to undesirable economic developments, for instance if the economy is focused too one-sidedly on tourism. And touristic development of a place can lead to overexploitation of natural resources, to strain on ecosystems or even to their destruction, to sociocultural conflicts, and to human rights violations.

The 2030 Agenda and tourism

The Global Goals

By adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, the United Nations embraced a programme for paving the way for a more just and sustainable world over the 15 years to come. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address all social, economic and political sectors, including tourism.

The 2030 Agenda highlights the great importance of sustainable tourism for development. Tourism is explicitly mentioned in the following Sustainable Development Goals:

  • 8.9: promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products,
  • 12.b: monitor the impacts of sustainable tourism, and
  • 14.7: increase the economic benefits to small island developing states and least developed countries from the sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.

Since tourism involves many different services (such as transport, accommodation, catering and leisure activities), it is closely linked to the production and supply of a broad variety of goods and services. Thus, it can contribute to many other goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, for example towards strengthening small-scale food producers (Goal 2.3), achieving sustainable management of natural resources (Goal 12.2) and reducing inequality within and among countries (Goal 10).

German activities for sustainable tourism

Federal Minister for Development Gerd Müller at ITB 2017

In its development cooperation, Germany seeks to harness the potential of tourism for sustainable development while minimising any risks that may arise, such as harmful impacts on the global climate and overexploitation of natural environments. In its partner countries, the German Development Ministry supports sustainable tourism development and seeks to foster respect for human rights and the introduction and enforcement of minimum social and environmental standards.

Projects with broad sets of objectives

In the tourism sector, the BMZ supports mainly projects that address multiple goals, such as sustainable economic development, natural resource and biodiversity management, climate action, resource efficiency, vocational education, and community and regional development. In total, the BMZ currently operates three projects that focus on tourism and about fifty projects that have tourism components. Seconded personnel in the tourism sector includes several integrated experts sent by the Centrum für internationale Migration und Entwicklung (International Centre for Migration and Development, CIM) and numerous development workers.

Protection of children and youth

The Ministry is also involved in implementing the German government's interdepartmental Plan of Action for the Protection of Children and Teenagers from Sexual Violence and Exploitation. It supports organisations that are active in this field and funds appropriate measures in its partner countries, often collaborating with tour operators.

Development education

As part of the educational aspect of its work, the BMZ provides comprehensive information about developing countries and raises German tourists' awareness of socially responsible and eco-friendly travel.

Cooperation with the private sector

Cooperation with the tourism industry is a key issue for the BMZ. This is not only about making sure that tourism itself will develop in a socially and environmentally sound manner but also about using it as a driver for sustainable development across industries. This requires all players to assume social responsibility, and interaction with private sector players must become part of German development cooperation programmes.

Fostering private sector involvement

Tour operators should use their expertise, creativity, capital and innovative capacity in the countries where their target destinations are in order to help reduce poverty. One way in which the BMZ supports them is by creating a better business environment in its partner countries. For example, it seeks to foster legal certainty and good governance, it supports investment and the tapping of new markets, and it assists with training for industry staff. In addition, the Ministry provides funding and expertise to German and European tour operators so that they can make their operations in developing countries and emerging economies sustainable and inclusive and ensure compliance with social criteria.

To that end, the BMZ uses a broad range of instruments, such as the programme, integrated development partnerships and the lab of tomorrow.

Industry dialogue on tourism for sustainable development

In March 2016, the BMZ and the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry (BTW) launched an industry dialogue on tourism for sustainable development. Representatives of the political arena, the tourism industry, civil society and academia meet twice a year in order to develop solutions for tourist destinations so as to harness the potential of tourism for sustainable development.

Development scout working at German Travel Association

Under the BMZ's "development scout" programme, an expert for development cooperation and tourism has been working at the German Travel Association (DRV) since autumn 2017. Thanks to her expertise on the interface between tourism and development cooperation, she helps this industry federation to tap synergies and provides advice to tour operators that want to get involved in development-related activities.

Special characteristics of the tourism value chain

Local guides accompany the visitors of the Dzanga Sangha National Park in the Central African Republic.

Compared with other industries, tourism is relatively labour intensive and less capital intensive.

Tourism generates income

In developing countries in particular, tourism offers promising job and income opportunities for workers with low to medium skills and for poor and disadvantaged population groups – especially for women, youth and indigenous communities.

Tourism reduces poverty

Tourism can make an effective contribution to poverty reduction – provided that local producers (typically small and micro enterprises) are made part of the tourism value chain, thus creating income opportunities for local people. It is particularly important to ensure the participation of farms, as a relatively high number of households in rural areas suffer from poverty. 

Tourism lends impetus to development

What is special about the tourism industry is that consumption of the product in question takes place locally, which means that jobs are created locally. In addition, the tourism industry is closely linked to other domestic industries, which means that it can lend impetus to broad-based development in other areas as well, for instance agriculture, skilled crafts and trades, and transport.

Links to project examples

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