What’s the world’s number one export? No, it’s not oil, food, or electronics.
Tourism is of tremendous economic importance worldwide. As mentioned above, tourism is a huge sector of both goods and service exports- 6% of goods ($1.4 trillion USD) and 29% of services. Tourism jobs also represent one in eleven jobs globally, and the industry comprises 9% of global GDP, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) finds that tourism generates 4.4% of total investment globally.
In numerous economic sectors; including accommodations, food and beverage, retail, recreation, entertainment, and transportation; tourism has both direct and indirect effects on production, jobs, wages, and taxes (according to Tourism Economics). By increasing the tourism in a region, economic development and growth can be spurred. More tourists mean more demand, more jobs, and more revenue, including tax revenue for local and national governments.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, tourism in the U.S. alone generated $2.1 trillion USD in economic impact with $887.9 billion in direct spending and an additional $1.2 in industries indirectly affected. This accounts to $28,154 spent per second in the U.S. by domestic and international travelers. The tourism industry is one of the top employers in the U.S. supporting 14.9 million jobs and generating $209.5 billion in wages for employees directly in the travel industry.
While tourism and travel are clearly important globally, they are critical industries for much of the developing world. Tourism is the leading export in over half of least developed countries (LDCs). Some of the most unique tourist attractions, such as indigenous culture and nature reserves, are located in rural areas- where poverty is often greatest. In this, tourism offers the potential to create jobs where they are most needed and to reduce migration to urban areas.
In 1950, there were 25 million international tourists. This number has skyrocketed since, climbing to 1087 million last year. The UNWTO predicts that this number will only continue to climb with an anticipated 3.3% annual increase from 2010 to 2030, to reach 1.8 billion in 2030. Of these, the UNWTO expects that tourist arrivals in emerging destinations will increase at twice the rate of destinations in advanced countries, 4.4% growth per year as compared to 2.2% per year. The greatest demand comes from China with 2013 travel spending equaling USD $129 billion- and this market is expected to continue growing.
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