Your questions answered: Why is tourism so important to the economy?

Tourism isn’t just about holidays and new adventures on distant shores. This incredible industry, quite literally, makes the world go round. From supporting local businesses to making up trillions of dollars of the global GDP, the importance of tourism on the economy is simply massive. And with the COVID-19 pandemic crushing the tourism industry this year, the damage has been felt across the world.

In celebration of World Tourism Day on 27 September, we take a look at why tourism is so important to the economy and why it’s crucial this industry makes a comeback. 

What is the importance of travel and tourism?

iconic red bus old buildings London

In 2019 alone, the tourism industry contributed 10.3% of the global GDP – that’s US$8.9 trillion! It also provided 330 million jobs, or one in 10 jobs around the world, while over the past five years the tourism industry created one in four new jobs. The sector also experienced a 3.5% growth in 2019, exceeding the global economic growth of 2.5% for the ninth year in a row. 

Those are some impressive stats, painting a stark picture of the importance of tourism to the economy. So what happens when there is no tourism? 

2020 was the year that travel really did stop, with COVID-19 bringing the tourism industry to a devastating halt. By April 2020, at least 7.1 billion people, or 91% of the global population, were living with COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

traditional Balinese dancers Indonesia

Six months later, many countries are beginning to emerge from local lockdowns and re-open borders. But the tourism industry has been dealt a heavy blow.

Countless businesses have been forced to close, from local family stores to multinational companies. Millions of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. However, a loss of jobs and income is just the beginning of the losses the world would face without tourism.

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What are the impacts of tourism?

farmer and her child in lush green rice fields Vietnam

The advantages of tourism go beyond creating billions of dollars and hundreds of millions of jobs and business opportunities. A booming tourism industry helps to build infrastructure such as roads, parks, hospitals, schools and community areas.

It also helps to preserve heritage sites, natural wonders, and precious cultures, by creating space for people to showcase their cultural traditions and protect sacred areas. Your travels can have a direct positive impact when you stay in locally-owned accommodation, shop in artisan markets, take part in traditional festivals, and tour with local guides. 

The tourism industry also helps to protect the environment and its wildlife, with many tourism businesses offering eco-friendly services and encouraging tourists to respect the lands and communities they visit.

koala and baby on a tree Australia

Dozens of natural areas are gaining protection because of their importance to the tourism industry. There are also many inspiring cases of change, such as former poachers turning into safari guides or gamekeepers, as the income from tourists wanting to see wildlife means that protecting the animals is a far more valuable venture.

Your trip can have a direct positive impact when you pay entry fees for national parks to ensure ongoing preservation. You should also always make sure you leave only footprints and take only photos from the natural areas you visit.

These positive impacts of the tourism industry are all part of a move towards responsible tourism. It’s all about having a beneficial effect on the communities we visit, protecting our wildlife, and caring for our planet. 

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Why is responsible tourism important?

Indigenous man playing the didgeridoo Australia

Without responsible tourism, many communities, cultures, animals and lands will suffer. Since tourism income provides a huge incentive to preserve areas of natural and cultural importance, removing this incentive puts these precious places at a higher risk of extinction. They’re more likely to be destroyed to make way for more profitable, and often harmful, developments such as mass agriculture.

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Responsible tourism also means more tourism businesses are using sustainable practices and promoting eco-friendly and culturally sensitive trips. This leaves less space for unethical businesses using tourism to damage the environment and exploit people and wildlife.

group of people learning to surf on the beach

Responsible tourism is the way to go

The good news is, responsible tourism – and its big impact on the economy – is on the rise. As the tourism industry gradually makes a comeback in the wake of COVID-19, we’re likely to see changes in the way we travel. Travel trends like domestic travel, getting out into nature, and small group travel will all become more popular in 2021. 

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After experiencing this global crisis together, we’re also feeling more interconnected than ever, and we’re more conscious of our impact on the environment. As a result, we’re more likely to take responsible holidays that celebrate our beautiful planet and connect with real people.

You can travel responsibly with Trafalgar with our JoinTrafalgar initiative, powered by the not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation. It was launched over a decade ago with a mission to use the positive power of travel to make a difference on our trips.

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How can my next trip help the economy?

local bakery Australia importance of tourism

So we’ve talked about the advantages of tourism to the economy and millions of people around the world… But how can we help the tourism industry make a comeback?

Since domestic travel will drive the recovery of tourism, the best place to travel first is your own backyard. Take it as a golden opportunity to explore some hidden gems in your own country!

You’ll get to reconnect with your local culture, history and nature, all while helping local businesses closer to home. When you spend money in small businesses like restaurants, hotels, shops and farms, you’re doing your part to support local families, revive the economy and bring travel back.

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The wonders of local travel

Discovery Rottnest Island eco tent on beach

You can embrace domestic travel with Trafalgar’s new ‘Near Not Far’ trips. They’re offering amazing local adventures in countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

You can choose from local experiences like visiting a real working sheep farm in southern New Zealand, or staying in a seaside eco-tent on the stunning Rottnest Island. Take part in a special Navajo cookout in Monument Valley, or sleep like royalty in the gorgeous châteaux of Quebec and Ontario.

While we don’t know how long it will take for the economy to recover, we do know that tourism is a crucial part of its revival. So once travel restrictions ease and borders reopen, why not think about taking a trip? It will do wonders for the world. 

What is the importance of tourism to you? Let us know in the comments below…

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