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 supports 292 million jobs and $7.6 trillion to world GDP (10.2% of the global economy) in 2016. By 2027, the World Travel & Tourism Council expects tourism to provide 380 million jobs globally.

Aviation’s crucial tourism role

Aviation plays a central role in supporting tourism. Over 57% 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 4.9 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 $36 billion to GDP in African economies in 2016. 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: 15.6 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 14.1 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 seven 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 over 36.7 million jobs within tourism, contributing around $897 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

Travel and tourism competitiveness ranking is improving, especially in developing countries and most notably in Asia-Pacific. The trends show that tourism from, and between, developing economies is growing steadily; however, as incomes rise in emerging economies and airfares fall, one of the obstacles to international travel remains restrictive visa regimes, even for tourism purposes. The good news is that the trend shows countries are realising the unnecessary barrier that these entry procedures place on their own tourism sector, curtailing economic opportunities, job creation and tolerance.

According to UN World Tourism Organization data, in 2016 destinations worldwide required 58% of the world’s population to obtain a visa prior to departure64, a significant improvement from 2008, when 77% of the world’s population was made to apply for a traditional visa. In recent years, around 85% of countries have, at least partially, reduced the need for traditional visa processes.

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