These days, we seem to have a “day” for everything. From World Ocean’s Day to World Toilet Day to – most recently – World Tourism Day, we have it all. Superficially, these issues don’t seem to have much in common – but all three are truly important and their value and implications are often not well understood by society at large.

So why is travel and tourism so important that it deserves a day all for itself? Some people might think that it’s just about getting on a plane and getting to your hotel for a vacation – but the industry is much more than that and its potential is huge. Indeed, the travel and tourism industry drives economic growth; it creates jobs, can help to protect the environment and promote cross-cultural awareness. Having a World Tourism Day provides the opportunity to hone in and bring attention to this issue.

In 2012, one billion tourists travelled the world, and this number is still growing. In 2014, 1.13 billion tourists crossed international borders, a figure that is expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.  But what does this number of tourists represent:

  • Nearly 10% of Global GDP and 6% of the world’s exports – making tourism a leading economic sector
  • $ 5 trillion in total exports from international tourists. This is approximately $ 4 billion a day on average in 2014
  • Jobs for 277 million people globally – that’s 1 in 11 jobs on the planet. In the next decade it is estimated to support an addition 80 million new jobs
  • Forecast estimate international tourism to continue growing 8% annually

The data above is much more than it seems: it represents 1 billion opportunities to tackle some of the most important global issues, including inclusive development, environmental sustainability and socio-economic growth. We need to think further than just the destination. Indeed, tourism has an impact on practically all sectors of the economy, including trade, transport, construction, agriculture and the creative economy, among others.

Travel and tourism is a potent and transformative force that is and can continue to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, put it well when he said: “Every time we travel we become part of a global movement that has the power to drive positive change for our planet and all people.” Tourism can reduce poverty, foster development and help us achieve peace.

So what can you do today to help achieve these goals? Making responsible decisions about your holidays can really make a difference. Here are just a few ways to be responsible. Remember to:

  • Read a little, live a lot: It is worth learning about the place you are going to before you arrive – what is accepted, what is legal, etc. Still, once you understand what you can and cannot do, don’t just stick to your guidebook and go off the beaten path.
  • Open your mind to the culture, customs and traditions of the place you are visiting. It will change you and transform your experience. Be as respectful and tolerant of diversity including your attire. If you can learn a few words in the local language, you will also feel much more welcome and better able to connect with people.
  • Go local and buy locally-made products – but not counterfeit items or those made from endangered species. You can bargain, but try to have an understanding of fair wages first – the money you save could pay for a whole family’s meal. You can also go to local restaurants and locally owned hotels. Taking a local guide is also a great opportunity to meet people from the community.
  • Be eco-friendly and help the local communities preserve their heritage. Try not to litter, for example. Although you might be used to taking long showers and getting your sheets changed every day – in many places water is scarce and precious. Don’t forget to turn off the lights and A/C when you aren’t there.
  • Really help: A lot of tourists want to give back by volunteering for a short time, giving to beggars or visiting orphanages – and while the intentions are wonderful – find out first if what you are doing will actually help or do more harm than good.

Take a look at this video the World Tourism Organization has put together for World Tourism Day and let’s work together to make these 1 billion opportunities a reality.

Have you read?
5 innovations transforming the travel industry
The future of Chinese travel
How to attract the tourists of tomorrow

Author: Tiffany Misrahi, Community Lead, Aviation and Travel Industries, World Economic Forum

Image: An aerial view shows a resort island at the Male Atoll December 7, 2009. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause