Economic development, growth and employment

Sustainable tourism – an opportunity for developing countries

Tents at the Mutemwa Lodge in Zambia

The tourism sector is not only one of the fastest-growing but also one of the most significant industries of our time. In 2015, tourism accounted for almost ten per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product). Nearly one in ten jobs worldwide is directly related to tourism. 

More and more developing countries, too, are making use of their tourism potential. For one third of all developing countries, the tourism industry 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.

Opportunities and risks involved in tourism development

Gorilla in the Dzanga Sangha Reserve (Central African Republic)

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

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. Moreover, local people often do not benefit enough from value chains and from income in the tourism sector. 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 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 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 speaking about sustainable tourism at the International Tourism Fair (ITB) in 2016

Sustainability and responsibility are the key principles of Germany's development policy in the tourism sector. Sustainable tourism adopts a long-term perspective and is geared towards ethical compatibility, social justice, respect for cultural differences 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.

In its development cooperation, Germany seeks to utilise 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. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has identified five priority areas for action:

  • Sustainable economic development and promotion of broad-based employment
  • Community and municipal development
  • Protection and economic use of biodiversity
  • Resource and energy efficiency, climate action
  • Good governance and political environment

In total, the BMZ currently operates three projects that focus on tourism and about fifty projects that have tourism components.

The Ministry is also involved in implementing the German government's interdepartmental action plan on protecting children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation. It supports organisations that are active in this field and funds appropriate measures in its partner countries, often collaborating with tour operators.

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. Tour operators should use their expertise, creativity, capital and innovative capacity at their target destinations in order to help reduce poverty.

The BMZ supports the private sector, for example, 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.

Links to project examples

More information


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