Text and photos: Carlos Eduardo Gómez
The diversity in our world offers the opportunity to explore and get firsthand knowledge of realities and cultures and experience different ways of seeing and interacting with people and panoramas all over the planet. There is no limit to the adventures we can have if we’re willing to seek them out and experience them with all our senses. When we walk across the Iguazu Falls, travel through the Panama Canal, tour the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico, share with the indigenous communities of Guatemala, reflect on the mysteries of the universe at the Space Museum in Washington D.C., savor a Peruvian ceviche, or stroll down the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, we are reminded that we are inhabitants of the world. Each geographical latitude has its own wonderful secrets to discover.
As one of the fastest growing global sectors, tourism affects the lives of millions of people around the world. This year, it was India’s turn to host the official World Tourism Day events held in September. The event’s slogan, “Tourism and Employment: A Better Future for All,” is in keeping with the UN’s goal of sustainable development: “To create and guarantee equitable employment as an essential way of guaranteeing social inclusion, peace, and security,” as well as the agenda of the World Labor Organization (ILO), which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Tourism: A Key Sector
According to the latest report from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), for the eighth consecutive year, growth in this smokestack-free industry topped the world average. In the past year, international travel arrivals grew by 6% compared to the previous year, which represents more than 1.4 billion total international tourists around the world. This growth is much greater than that of the world economy, which grew only 3.7% in 2018. UNWTO projections aimed to exceed the figure for international travel arrivals by 2020, but reached their goal two years ahead of time.
Likewise, in 2018 the global travel industry brought in 8.8 trillion dollars and generated 319 million jobs –10% of all global activities– which, according to worldwide projections, should increase to 421 million jobs over the next ten years.
Thanks to its growth dynamics, tourism has gradually become a key sector for social and economic development, improving the quality of life in communities and helping protect the environment. Its constant growth since the 1960s and its extraordinary capacity for adaptation and resistance to global changes position it as one of the world’s main sources of development, thanks to its ability to generate foreign exchange and employment. According to the ILO, tourism generates one in ten jobs in the world, which explains why more and more countries are interested in developing attractive tourist offerings to position themselves among the most popular regional and global destinations.
By the end of 2019, UNWTO expects that the industry will show an increase of more than 3.5% and, according to the World Bank, this growth has become a great source of job creation. It is also a key factor in poverty reduction, helping communities take advantage of their cultural and natural assets by providing tourist activities and services such as transportation, local guides, food, and crafts to tourism businesses and travelers. This improves the quality of life for host communities, reducing the need to emigrate.
Trends and Destinations
More and people who want to travel now have the resources to do so. According to studies by media sources such as The Washington Post, Expedia, Lonely Planet, Booking.com, and others, the trends shaping the tourism sector include traveling in search of little known and unexplored territories, exploring destinations closer to home for more intimate experiences, the search for unusual experiences and roads less travelled, solo voyages, and family vacations.
Mexico welcomes more tourists than any other Latin American country, with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Peru following closely behind. Due to its geographical location and favorable business environment, Panama has become an example in tourism development. Last year, it exceeded 2.1 million visitors, who spent approximately 4.153 billion dollars, the equivalent of 8.1% of the nation’s GDP and about 9% of its jobs.