Tourism and community development
Tourism is one of the world’s biggest industries, generating revenues
over of US$ 1.3 trillion (2012 figures). Tourism today is a
trillion-dollar industry involving the movement of more than one billion
tourists across borders and another five to six billion travellers
domestically in their own countries every year. We have all been
tourists at one time or the other, since we all aspire to travel to new
destinations and make new discoveries.
This is indeed why the UN has recognised the importance of tourism
and dedicated a separate day for reminding ourselves about the
importance of tourism and the contribution it makes to the world
community. The word “community” is important in more ways than one,
because tourism can and does benefit local communities in many ways.
This year’s World Tourism Day (WTD) which fell yesterday, focuses on
this vital aspect of tourism.
The WTD’s purpose is to foster awareness among the international
community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural,
political and economic value. The event seeks to address global
challenges outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals
and to highlight the contribution the tourism industry can make in
reaching these goals.
This year’s World Tourism Day (WTD) draws special attention to the
role of tourism in contributing to one of the building blocks of a more
sustainable future for all: Community development. This focus is in line
with the global transition to the Sustainable Development Goals as the
guiding principle promoted by the UN from 2015 and beyond.
This year's official celebrations took place in Guadalajara, Mexico
and included a high-level Think Tank on the 2014 theme with the
participation of tourism Ministers, international experts and policy
makers in the field of tourism and development.
The timing of World Tourism Day is particularly appropriate in that
it comes at the end of the high season in the northern hemisphere and
the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere, when tourism is
of topical interest to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
As a sector representing 9 percent of global GDP, one in 11 jobs
worldwide, and a key revenue sector for developing and emerging
economies, tourism is widely acknowledged for its capacity to respond to
Today, the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that
of oil exports, food products or automobiles. The consolidation of
tourism’s economic influence has built up its social responsibility and
political relevance, with a growing number of countries allocating a
stronger mandate to tourism in economic and development policy planning.
With the special focus on the community, WTD 2014 highlights how
tourism can be conducive to advancing sustainable development from the
grassroots level. Community based tourism involves the local population
in the decision making process according to local priorities.
The opportunity to become part of the tourism value chain actively
involves host communities in the development process. Tourism thus
becomes a catalyst of social cohesion, going beyond the immediate impact
of job creation and its positive economic consequences and enhances, for
instance, local governance capabilities which multiply the tourism
impact even further. A very simple example can show the power of
tourism. When a new hotel comes up in a given area, hundreds of
employment opportunities are created for the local youth first in
construction and later, in the hotel itself.
The hotel also sources many foods locally, which helps the local agri
and livestock farmers. The hotel staff and the hotel itself need
transport services, which can be provided by local drivers. Even the
tuk-tuk operators can earn good money by ferrying tourists. Many other
retail boutiques and service providers spring up in the area to cater to
the hotel clientele and the staff. It is usually a win-win situation for
the community, though there can be negative effects of over-commercialisation
Moreover, tourism is all about people to people contact. Our
community gets richer by interacting with those from another country or
region. Similarly, when we go to another country, we experience its
culture, its food, its ways of life. It is a discovery worth sharing. If
you know the language(s) spoken in the country you are visiting, the
experience will be still better. Even if you do not, you will come back
richer for the travel experience.
There is every possibility that you might not visit that country
again in your lifetime due to monetary, time, work and other
constraints, so it is better to think of every such trip as “once in a
lifetime” experience. It is better to interact with the locals and
contribute in some way towards their well-being, especially if you are
visiting a developing country – even buying a handicraft at a local
stall or taking a local taxi would do. Asia, where we live, is already a
tourism hot spot with an immense variety of cultures, languages, customs
and diverse countries. Asians are increasingly discovering the joys and
wonders of their own continent – you could be visiting a totally new
country in just three hours.
With affordable airfares given by low cost carriers, it is no longer
a dream to fly to nearby countries and explore at your own pace.
However, Asian countries must have more relaxed visa regulations to
increase intra-Asian and international tourism on the lines of the
Schengen visa system in the European Union which allows visitors to
travel to almost all European countries on a single visa.
Tourism now has another dimension which is also linked to community
development: environmental responsibility. When we travel from one
country to another by plane (or any other means of transport), we add a
significant quantity of CO2 to the air. We also tend to pollute the
environments of the places and countries we visit wittingly or
unwittingly – even throwing a toffee wrapper away carelessly has a price
in terms of environmental protection. If we leave the environment as it
is, that helps the local community immensely. As more people boldly go
to places they have never been to, it becomes essential to save the
world’s environment for future generations.