Kathleen Matthews is the Executive Vice-President and Chief Global Communications and Public Affairs Officer at Marriott International. She is also the Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Travel and Tourism.

After working for 25 years as a television news reporter and anchor in Washington DC, I made a career change to the global hotel company Marriott International six years ago because I wanted to see and change the world. I’m not alone in my wanderlust. In 2012, the UN World Tourism Organization estimates that more than a billion people will leave their homes to travel to another country. That’s the same number of people who connect virtually on Facebook. But, travel provides real connections and creates jobs, economic development and even a peace dividend.

At Marriott, we say that “travel opens doors to a world of opportunity”. This is certainly evident in the careers we provide to more than 300,000 employees at our managed and franchised hotels in 74 countries around the world. It’s also evident in the 250 million jobs – 9% of global employment – created by travel and tourism worldwide.

As the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils meet in Dubai this week, nearby in our Dubai hotels, Marriott will be hosting 16 young women from Rwanda who are recent graduates of a two-year hospitality degree programme called the Akilah Institute for Girls. They are working in our hotels to cross-train for careers at our Kigali Marriott when it opens in 2013. These young women are from rural families that faced personal devastation during the Rwandan genocide. The hospitality careers they are building will transform their lives and truly open doors to a world of opportunity. Similar stories are happening all over the world as travel and tourism provides the catalyst for economic development.

Our industry contributes US$ 6 trillion, or 9%, of global GDP and 5% of world exports. During the recent, and in some countries, current economic downturn, the contribution of travel and tourism to GDP and jobs creation has been stronger than any other sector. Why would governments want to put any speed bumps on this engine of growth? Yet, many countries still lack smart visa policies, smart security and infrastructure to take full advantage of the incredible desire and means that people have to see the world.

Through the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Models of Travel and Tourism, we are looking for ways to create even greater freedom to travel worldwide. We are also exploring the development of a calculator that will show the country-by-country contribution of travel and tourism to GDP, exports and jobs through greater travel facilitation.

Once government officials see the true ROI of travel facilitation and infrastructure investment, they will be motivated to put travel and tourism at the top of their economic agendas. As more people see the world, achieve greater prosperity through the benefits of travel and gain the wisdom that travel delivers, perhaps more political stability and peace will follow.

 Image: A tourist admires the light after sunset on a beach REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis