Industries in Depth

What is the impact of tourism on development?

Image: Passengers walk across an air bridge as they disembark a flight at Changi Airport in Singapore. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash.

John Perrottet
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Tourism is growing, and growing fast. After surpassing 1 billion international visitors in 2012, we are expecting 1.8 billion by 2030. Tourism is growing faster than the global economy and, for the first time, the statistics for 2015 are expected to show that there were more trips taken to the developing world than to the developed world. But what does this actually mean?

Growth, on its own, is not enough. Destinations and their stakeholders are responsible for ensuring that growth is well-managed; that benefits are maximized; and that any negative externalities are minimized. This requires a continuous process of planning and management that evolves and that can be measured over time.

For the World Bank Group, our clients and our development partners, this process of planning and management is a central interest. How can we help these processes to deliver more and better development impact? What kinds of interventions or types of assistance will deliver the best results? How do you define the best results – for whom? – and how do we measure them?

Being able to demonstrate how the tourism sector contributes to the Bank Group’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity is an imperative for all stakeholders. It’s relevant for national governments, sub-national state agencies, businesses (both multinationals and SMEs), multilateral development banks, NGOs, academics and think tanks. Moreover, it’s vital in helping guide future planning and development, gaining access to and applying for funding, and demonstrating progress to constituents at all levels.

Despite the great breadth and depth of existing impact information, however, serious concerns remain about the accuracy, complexity, gaps, comparability and sustainability of the types of the impact analyses that have been carried out.
The Bank Group’s Sustainable Tourism Global Solutions Group recently convened a thought-leadership event in Washington to begin a preliminary discussion about how all stakeholders can come together to try and address some of the current shortcomings. During the “Measuring for Impact in Tourism” event, we heard about a wide range of challenges for those working in this area and we began to map out the greatest gaps and issues.

As Anabel Gonzalez, the Senior Director of the Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, said at that conference: “We want to be better at monitoring and evaluating our impact, we want to learn from others, and we want to contribute more effectively to tourism development. I believe these are goals most of you will share. We invite you to join this discussion – and be frank, open and provocative.”The findings can be found in our report, “Towards More Effective Impact Measurement in the Tourism Sector: Observations and Key Issues,” which highlights a number of priorities. Some of those challenges concern the availability, quality and consistency of data; the high cost of impact measurement for SMEs; the proliferation of different systems; issues of attribution; quantifying notions of “value”; and the ability to communicate effectively to a wide range of audiences.

Some key areas for immediate follow-up and further analysis were also identified. They include:

-Exploring the theory of change by examining more closely the proposition that, when tourism growth occurs, those living in extreme poverty benefit and by digging deeper into what tourism growth really means for the poor, especially in terms of employment.

-Assessing the impact value of different types of tourism.

-Assessing and developing the role of technology for data collection, impact measurement and communication.

-Evaluating the use of training for better communication – including assessing what has been tried and what has worked and considering how it could be scaled up.

-Analyzing the necessity and practicality of improving collaboration among various actors, and assessing the alignment of frameworks along with proposals for greater alignment.

-Developing ideas and proposals for the enhanced sharing and pooling of impact data.

-Developing ideas and proposals for greater inclusion of SMEs.

The Bank Group is committed to advancing this agenda. As an international organization heavily invested in the sector, with a deep motivation to deliver change for the world’s poorest people, we aim to take a leading role in a number of key areas.

Other major stakeholders have also shown their support. Harvard University and the University of Sussex have asked to host follow-up events. Wyndham Hotels, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Wildlife Fund and Sustainable Travel International have sought specific collaboration and partnership opportunities. The Bank Group will continue to convene meetings, promote dialogue, conduct research and publish relevant information – focusing our interventions on those areas where we’re well-placed to fulfill the twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

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Industries in DepthEconomic Growth
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