Industries in Depth

What is travel and tourism’s role in future global prosperity?

The travel and tourism sector faces many challenges in a disrupted world, from geopolitical tensions to climate change.

The travel and tourism sector faces many challenges in a disrupted world, from geopolitical tensions to climate change. Image: Unsplash.

Marion Karl
Senior Lecturer in Tourism Marketing and Management, University of Surrey
Maksim Soshkin
Research and Analysis Specialist, World Economic Forum
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Travel and Tourism

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The travel and tourism sector faces many challenges in a disrupted world, from geopolitical tensions to climate change.
  • The sector can be a powerful driver of sustainable economic prosperity – supporting people and places.
  • The latest Travel and Tourism Development Index benchmarks the factors and policies that enable resilient and sustainable development.

With 2023 at an end, the Travel and Tourism (T&T) sector is finally positioned to move past the impact of the pandemic, with international tourist arrivals anticipated to reach levels reminiscent of the pre-pandemic era. However T&T sector stakeholders and destinations are navigating a complex terrain marked by external challenges such as geopolitical and economic uncertainty, inflation and dangers from the proliferation of extreme weather events like wildfires.

Many of these issues represent broader ongoing and longer-term economic, environmental, societal, geopolitical and technological trends. Within this context, consumers, policy-makers and advocates have expressed growing apprehension about the sector’s record on sustainability and its role in issues such as climate change, overcrowding, and overall impact on local communities.

Against this dynamic backdrop, it becomes imperative for the leaders and visionaries of the T&T industry to not only comprehend the impending trends but also acknowledge the sector's potential to tackle global challenges. When managed thoughtfully, travel and tourism emerge as potent drivers of resilient and sustainable development, contributing to the collective well-being of our planet.


What is the TTDI?

Why travel and tourism have a role to play in future global prosperity

The recently released World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2024 sheds light on the short- and long-term risks that the world faces. According to the report’s survey results, economic and societal risks, such as inequality, inflation, migration, and economic downturns, take center stage in the next two years, while environmental concerns, including extreme weather events and biodiversity loss, dominate the global risks for the next decade.

Travel and tourism sector's total economic contribution: Source: World Travel & Tourism Council, 2023, Annual Research

Given that T&T accounts for 7.6% of global GDP and close to 300 million jobs, the sector plays a critical role in addressing societal and economic challenges. The sector's significance magnifies as it empowers small- and medium-sized enterprises, with over 80% of T&T businesses falling under this category. It also plays a pivotal role in employing women, youth, migrants, and informal workers, thereby contributing significantly to economic opportunities.

T&T is also a major driver of global connectivity at a time when geopolitical tensions and conflict are on the rise, while globalization seems to be slowing. In the coming decade, T&T’s role in mitigating socioeconomic risks will only climb, with the World Travel and Tourism Council forecasting T&T sector GDP to grow at nearly double the rate of the broader global economy in the 10 years to 2033, thereby adding more than 100 million new jobs.

On an environmental level, T&T is a key stakeholder in addressing climate change and protecting the environment. The sector is not only affected by these challenges but also contributes to climate change with around 8% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions stemming from tourism activities. Therefore, actions in the sector, especially in hard-to-abate segments like aviation, are important to helping meet global climate change targets. Moreover, many destinations' dependence on nature-based attractions makes T&T a means to generate economic value for protecting nature.

Have you read?

Unlocking travel and tourism's potential

To unlock the full potential of T&T as a tool for addressing many of the world’s ongoing and future challenges, sector leaders must prioritize sustainability and resilience in their development strategies.

The Global Future Council on Sustainable Tourism emphasizes the importance of creating standards and metrics for sustainability, cultivating a well-trained and inclusive workforce, prioritizing and engaging with local communities, aligning visitors with destinations carrying capacity and making appropriate investments in relevant infrastructure.

Achieving these goals necessitates a high degree of collaboration among sector and non-sector businesses, employees, and government actors at national and local levels, including tourism and environmental agencies, civil society, and international organizations.

In the coming months, the Forum, in collaboration with the University of Surrey, will unveil the latest edition of the Travel and Tourism Development Index (TTDI). This index promises to provide a comprehensive understanding of the factors and policies that enable the sustainable and resilient development of the T&T sector.

Drawing on the latest data encompassing environmental and social impacts of T&T, labour markets, infrastructure, natural and cultural resources, and demand sustainability, the TTDI offers insights into the challenges ahead, the sector's readiness for risks and opportunities, and how it can be leveraged to address global issues. The importance of T&T for global prosperity will only grow in the years, creating new opportunities for shared commitment to a sustainable and inclusive future.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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