Trade and Investment

It’s been a record-setting year for global travel – here’s how we make tourism inclusive and sustainable

A colourful market in Columbia selling bags, clothes and crafts: Inclusive and sustainable travel and tourism includes supporting micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses.

Inclusive and sustainable travel and tourism includes supporting micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses. Image: Unsplash/Michael Barón

Nicola Villa
Executive Vice President; Global Lead, Public Sector, Mastercard
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  • The global travel sector is experiencing a robust recovery, with tourists increasingly spending more on travel.
  • Despite the overall positive outlook, some destinations struggle with operational challenges, including workforce issues and resource management amid rising tourist numbers and environmental concerns.
  • The travel and tourism sector’s potential for advancing socio-economic prosperity is particularly impactful through the support of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises.

The global travel sector forecast is in and it's sunny skies ahead. Through March 2024, consumer spending on travel remains strong, and passenger traffic has soared. Empowered by a strong labour market worldwide, tourists will be on the roads, air and seas once again, with more of people’s budgets on travel.

The latest report from the Mastercard Economics Institute, Travel Trends 2024: Breaking Boundaries, reveals that 2024 has already witnessed multiple record-setting days as consumer spending on leisure travel remains strong. The data shows that post-pandemic travellers continue to seek unique experiences rooted in local cultures while increasingly prioritizing spending on memorable events across sports, music and festivals.

The Mastercard Economics Institute’s analysis reveals that travellers also seek opportunities to extend their stays, prioritizing leisure for longer. For the first 12 months between March 2019 and February 2020, a trip’s average length of stay was about four days. As of March 2024, the average length of a leisure trip has edged closer to five days, which translates into an economic boost for the destinations and communities hosting them.

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Tackling tourism’s challenges

Yet, while the overall outlook for travellers looks bright, that’s not the case for all destinations. Some tourism hotspots and lesser-known locales are facing growing challenges around operating conditions. The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index (TTDI) 2024 highlights the ongoing constraints facing the global travel and tourism sector – including the lack of investment in skilled and resilient workforces and issues around resource management – cultural and natural – as destinations grapple with higher tourist visitor numbers and rising environmental concerns.

The report offers travel and tourism decision-makers recommendations around how the sector can take a more active role in tackling social challenges across socio-economic prosperity, peace and cultural exchange. As the industry accounts for approximately one-tenth of global gross domestic product and employment, the public and private sectors must work together to ensure future tourism development is, first and foremost, inclusive and sustainable.

Supporting the backbone of travel and tourism

As the TTDI 2024 notes, one area where the sector’s potential in advancing socio-economic prosperity can be particularly impactful is in the economic empowerment of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, more than 80% of travel and tourism businesses fall under this category.

Policies and investments promoting the adoption of digital solutions and enhancing digital skills development while improving access to credit can provide a major boost to tourism-focused MSMEs.

In Costa Rica, the Instituto Costariccense de Turismo, a member of Mastercard’s Tourism Innovation Hub, is championing such an approach to ensure increased tourist traffic results in better opportunities for MSMEs. Last year, the institute launched Tico Treasures, a platform facilitating tourist connections with Costa Rica’s Crafts with Identity programme, a group of 17 artisan collectives across the country. The platform allows visitors to discover local Costa Rican products, learn about artisan communities and then purchase and ship the goods back to their home country – all through one experience.

The programme is an example of public-private collaboration, including backing from Correos de Costa Rica, Banco de Costa Rica and the Instituto Costariccense de Turismo. Its objectives are multifold: delivering more authentic experiences for tourists, expanding citizens’ access to the digital economy and contributing to MSME resilience.

Protecting future environments

There are also novel approaches to solving destinations’ sustainability challenges underway. A key role of the Travel Foundation, a global non-government organization, is to facilitate innovative public-private collaborations in tourism that accelerate and scale sustainable solutions. One notable example is in Scotland, where the national tourism organization VisitScotland is partnering with the Travel Corporation, a global tour operator, to help decarbonize the destination supply chain. Both organizations are pooling their insights, data and expertise to support local businesses, develop new ideas for reducing carbon footprints and identify barriers to a green transition.

The learnings from this and other projects led by the Travel Foundation will be shared to influence future policy, investment and product development decisions at national and global levels. By combining public sector resources and capabilities with private sector technological expertise, travel and tourism decision-makers can enact policies and programmes that balance tourism growth with environmental protection, providing a nuanced approach that works for unique destinations.

It’s an important time for the sector – to leverage travel and tourism’s robust recovery and advance socio-economic prosperity, fuelling a more inclusive future for our treasured destinations. By accelerating collaboration between governments, destination management organizations and technology companies, we can ensure destinations, the communities that power them and the environments they inhabit are at the heart of all future tourism development.

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