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Tourism – An Opportunity for Sustainable Development

A Review by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation & Development

August 16th, 2018
Berlin Global, News from Berlin

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


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

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 countriesfrom 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).

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 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.


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