What is tourism and how can it be a good thing?

Tourism is a source of controversy in many places, it is a source of hope in even more places and it is highly underrated in most of the business world. I was thinking that it was a good idea to explain tourism and it's impact and potential impact to kick of this blog.

What is a tourist?

What is a tourist?

Defining tourism sounds easy,  and I guess you already have made up your mind about what tourism is. Let me guess. "You are thinking about relaxing and having fun in an exciting destination? Maybe you are thinking about herds of people walking around in a city, or lined up on their way to an "unspoiled nature attraction". 

The thing is that people tend to define tourism by their own perspective. I have one way of defining it, and you have your way. Luckily we also have international organizations like the UN that like to define all kinds of stuff, and they say:

The activities of people traveling to and staying in places outside their natural environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business or other purposes
— United Nations

It sounds to me they mean that tourism is a bit more than holidays in exotic destinations. Still we can believe that all kinds of tourism involve travel, but not all forms of travel involves tourism.

I guess to really understand the tourism we also need to know who the tourists are? And to do that we can start with dividing travelers into two halves. Lets do this as simple as this: 

  1. Visitors

  2. Other travelers like workers, commuters, diplomats, refugees, medical patients and so on

Let's focus on the visitors. It is kind of clear that tourists are visitors to a place. But are all visitors tourists? The World tourism organization say that a tourist is:

A visitor who spends at least one night away from home.
— World tourism organization

Visitors that spend less that one night in often called excursionists or day trippers by people that need to put a label to everyone. I am one of those btw.

I think we have sorted out the main concept of tourism with this, but there are also usual to divide tourists into segments. I will not do that in this post, but we can do some basics. 

You have International tourists that travel outside their own country and you have domestic tourists that do the traveling within their own country. In many destinations are domestic tourists actually more important than international, and more than 4 out of 5 travel within their own region which includes neigbouring countries.

 

Why is tourism important. What benefits has it?

In this section I am actually not thinking about the fact that everybody needs a time of from the stressful daily life to recharge the batteries and so on. I am more focused on social benefits.

Traveling as a tourist, visiting new places influence how we see the world, how we think, how we work and how we amuse ourselves. It also influence how we meet other people, and learn us about new cultures. 

Drake Bay, Costa Rica

Drake Bay, Costa Rica

Tourism is most likely the worlds largest industry creating one out of eleven jobs in the world. Thats right. Every 11th employee in the world is working in the tourism sector one way or another. Since 1950 tourism have grown every consecutive year and economically it stands for 10% of the global gross domestic product (GDP). That means that about 10% of the money flowing in the world is within tourism. That is kind of huge. Agree? And in many developing countries this impact is even higher. The tourism sector represent 7% of the global export of goods and services. Tourism have grown faster than world trade for the last five years.

It is predicted that in 2030 we´ll have 1,8 billion international trips (!) and on top of that between 5-6 billion domestic trips (!!!). That is to much to really think about. Incredibly many people will visit a place and spend their money in that place.

Below I have listed some positive impacts from tourism. Obviously there are also negative impacts and challenges as climate and host communities drowning in tourists. I will go deeply into these later, and focus on the positive for now

  • Tourism helps people across cultures understand each other, this nurtures peace and tolerance

  • Because tourism exposes the travelers to new places, new cultures and other peoples issues and benefits.

  • The jobs within tourism can promote equality and equity. It can also be a great tool for integration

  • When a destination is providing for tourism it is also improving the facilities for the good of the host communities, as example transport, restaurants. local shops and services.

  • The income provided from tourism help raising the living standards in the host community and help fighting poverty

  • An increasing number of destinations that have opened up and invested in tourism, experience that tourism is a key driver of its socio-economic progress with creation of jobs, enterprises and other revenue infrastructure development influence. Inbound tourism to a country is an important source of foreign currency earnings that can be used employment and create possibility for further development.

  • With funds from tourism you can protect, maintain and restore sites of both historic and of cultural significance.

  • Tourism can be a reason to protect fragile natural environments from other and more extractive industries that leave an nonreversable footprint on the natural resources.

  • This also mean tourism can save endangered species and their habitats.

 

The value chain of tourism.

Let us take a little turn from the text, and use a story to explain the value chain. 

Tourism has benefits.

Tourism has benefits.

Peter and Amy are a couple.  Like boyfriend and girlfriend. They have been seeing each other for a while and have lately been talking about traveling together. They have not been 100% sure where to go, but they both find pleasure in doing some research. Amy buys a couple of magazines to get inspired. She just loves looking into these and she calls her friends that have been traveling and ask for ideas. Sometimes they even meet over a meal in a cafe to discuss this. And eventually she visit a travel agent.

Peter like to do his research on the internet, and together they find  a perfect place. Aka "The Dream destination". To get there they book flights, they book hotels and they book a couple of activities to join when their vacation starts. 

The day they leave, the take a cab to the airport and have a meal and buy some things to bring on the plane. 

So Peter and Amy arrives in The Dream Destination. What do they do?

They spend money! They rent a car, they leave money in the hotel, they go to a museum, they take cooking class and go river rafting, one night they see a movie, and they dine out every day, followed by a couple of drinks out. And the go shopping, for themselves and for gifts to bring home. 

Who is happy because Peter and Amy come visiting? 

Obviously the hotel owner, the people working at the hotel, the people supplying the hotel with uniforms, papers and computers. The cleaning company cleaning the towels are also happy. So are the farmers that sells food to the restaurants and the local wine yard, the local stores are happy, the banks are happy, the drivers that bring all the goods around, the local activity guiding companies and and the local community that receive taxes meaning they have to pay less tax.

 

So, what do we learn from this?

There are a lot of positive impact of tourism, and the art of this is really to learn how to find the right balance between managing the negative impacts and make sure that all these positive benefits are created.

There are many ways to attack these challenges and it raises new questions. 

  • How can technology be used to improve tourism benefits?

  • How can people in a destination, the ones that have stake in tourism work together for creating a healthy while competitive destination?

  • How can we encourage a responsible tourism with local benefits?

There are far to many questions to write here, or in fact to write at all. We love working with these issues every day, and we love even more to see the positive vibes created by positive people in the tourism sector. We really believe that travel and tourism instead of being a problem, can be a part of the solution.

Bon Voyage

Håvard Utheim