The connectivity provided by international air transport facilitates the fast-growing global tourism industry. It is estimated that over half of international tourists travel to their destination by air.

The tourism sector

Tourism makes a major contribution to the global economy. It directly contributed $2.2 trillion to world GDP (alomst 10% of the global economy) in 2015 and provided over 108 million jobs globally. By 2024, the World Travel & Tourism Council expects direct employment in the tourism industry to be more than 126 million people globally.

When looking at the jobs and GDP supported through the indirect and induced impacts of tourism, the figures are significantly higher at 285 million jobs (8.7% of employment) and $7.2 trillion, or 9.8% of the global economy. By 2026, tourism could support some 370 million jobs and $11 trillion in GDP.

Aviation’s crucial tourism role

Aviation plays a central role in supporting tourism. Over 54% of international tourists now travel by air. Tourism is particularly important in many developing countries, where it is a key part of economic development strategies. In Africa, an estimated 5.8 million people are employed in areas supported by the steady influx of overseas visitors, most of whom arrive in the region by air, and contributed $46 billion to GDP in African economies in 2014 In some Caribbean countries, tourism provides one of the few means of economic growth.

The contribution of air transport to tourism employment and GDP:

  • Direct: 15.9 million direct jobs in tourism globally are estimated to be supported by the spending of foreign visitors arriving by air. This includes jobs in industries such as hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, local transport and car rental, but it excludes air transport industry jobs.
  • Indirect: A further 13.4 million indirect jobs in industries supplying the tourism industry are supported by visitors arriving by air.
  • Induced: These direct and indirect tourism jobs supported by air transport generate a further 7 million jobs in other parts of the economy, through employees spending their earnings on other goods and services.

Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, air transport supports 36 million jobs within tourism, contributing around $892 billion a year to world GDP.

Sustainable tourism

Tourism as a service industry can play a role in supporting sustainable economic growth. When developed in a responsible and strategic way, tourism can provide important service sector jobs whilst preserving (and, indeed, celebrating) natural resources, rather than depleting them. However, there needs to be a focus by both tourism operators and government to ensure that planned growth is done with sufficient regard to the environmental and social conditions, as well as the economic benefits it can bring.

There are great examples of economies taking a proactive strategic view of the development of tourism as a key national sector, doing so in an holistic and sustainable manner. New Zealand, Costa Rica, Iceland, and Bhutan are examples of countries that have taken this opportunity in an enthusiastic way. The World Travel & Tourism Council sets out some of the key aspects of responsible ‘tourism for tomorrow’ which, while growing:

  • Impacts natural and cultural environments in a positive way
  • Provides benefits to all sectors of society, including young people, women and indigenous peoples
  • Attracts and develops a skilled workforce to support growing demand
  • Stimulates consumer demand for sustainable products
  • Uses latest technology to find innovative solutions to future challenges

How to harness the benefits of a growing tourism sector

There are some things governments can do relatively easily to boost their national tourism sectors. Whilst many governments spend lots of money promoting their countries as destinations, a number complicate visits by instituting lengthy visa processes, placing high taxes on arriving or departing tourists or not engaging in ‘joined-up thinking’ at a regional level. There are signs of improvement in these areas, with some regional groups like APEC and ASEAN discussing ways they can make travel to and within their regions simpler. Europe, with a single Schengen visa, is a good example of regional thinking, but the UK government is missing out on tourists, as those applying for a Schengen visa have to apply for a UK visa separately.

Opening up air markets (allowing airlines to start services without having to go through lengthy government-to-government negotiations for every new route or airline) has proven to be a real driver of travel, tourism and the economic benefits that can bring.

Finally, States should ensure that they regularly review the capacity of their airport and air traffic infrastructure versus projected demand. This will ensure that aviation can continue to support tourism development and deliver wider economic benefits.

For more details about the benefits of tourism to the global economy, visit the World Travel & Tourism Council.