Background: Tourism – an opportunity for sustainable development

More and more people are traveling. In 2019, there were more than 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide, an increase of about six per cent over 2018. It is expected that global tourism will grow up to 2.2 billion arrivals until 2030.

The tourism sector is not only growing quickly and continuously, it is also one of the most important industries in the modern world. In 2018, 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. In the least developed countries, the tourism growth is twice as high as in as the global average.

According to estimates, the number of tourists visiting developing countries and emerging economies is going to grow more than for other countries. 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

German development policy in the field of tourism is guided by the principles of sustainability and responsibility.

Sustainable development enables economic growth to be consistent with ecological viability. Sustainable tourism adopts a long-term perspective, adheres to ethical principles, and is geared towards 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.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) supports tourism development that is in line with these principles and also inclusive and climate friendly.

Based on the said principles of sustainability and responsibility, the BMZ has defined six priority areas for Germany's activities:

Opportunities involved in tourism development

Tourism provides great opportunities for emerging economies and developing countries to develop their infrastructure, create jobs and, thus, income opportunities, boost local economic cycles, conserve their natural heritage, and 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, three million new jobs could be created through tourism in Africa alone. Worldwide, some 100 million new jobs in tourism could be created over that 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, skilled trades, handicrafts and transport. Thus, tourism serves as a direct tool for poverty reduction.

Risks involved in tourism development

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 fluctuations, and is impacted by the local security situation. Sufficient revenue must be generated during the tourism season to cover the quiet periods when few visitors come. This can lead to an insecure employment situation for local workers.

Moreover, local people often do not benefit enough from value chains and 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 unsustainable 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

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. 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:

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 achieving many other goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, for example 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).

The "Tourism for SDGs" platform

The "Tourism for SDGs" platform ( addresses tourism sector players, encouraging them to become part of strategies to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

Special characteristics of the tourism value chain

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 inclusion 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.