During a prolonged and grinding recession, the travel industry was one of the few sectors to bounce back early and help buoy the global economy. Last year, the industry accounted for 9.5 percent of the global economy (nearly $7 trillion) and employed 266 million people — about 9 percent of the global work force.
Below are excerpts from a conversation with David Scowsill of Britain, president and chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, on how countries can maximize the economic impact of travel and tourism.
Q. How has the global tourism market changed over the last five years?
A. Whether in a recession or a growth period, the travel and tourism industry is extremely robust. It grows between 1 and 1 1/2 percentage points faster than the world economy.
Going into the recession, post Lehman Brothers, pieces of the industry suffered quite badly, particularly the hotel industry, because the demand for investment dried up, and during that time supply and demand were also out of kilter with the airlines. But we’ve cruised through successfully with four straight years of growth, and at this point we’re predicting global growth for the industry to be around 4.3 percent for 2014.
Which countries were behind the growth these last four years?
Much of it is coming out of Asia. Over time, the balance has gently started to move away from the U.S. and Europe. We’re forecasting that China will overtake the U.S. in 2027 as the world’s largest travel and tourism economy.
Why is that?
Ernst & Young estimates that by 2030, nearly one billion people in China could enter into the middle class and have a disposable income that allows them to travel domestically and abroad. Ten years ago their government singled out tourism as a key pillar of economic growth, and as a result, they have invested well ahead of the curve in high-speed trains, hotel complexes and airports to absorb growth within the middle class. In fact, right now they are busy building 69 airports around the country, so that in the future no person in the country will be more than a 90-minute drive from an airport.
And this won’t be limited to domestic travel. Over the last three years, the amount of people traveling outbound from China has nearly doubled to 100 million. That figure is forecast to rise to 200 million by 2020.
Which countries are currently being visited most?
Statistically, around the world it’s still France, United States, China and Spain, in that order. France is still way out in the lead with 83 million visitors in 2012; in the same year, the United States had 67 million and China and Spain both had 57 million.
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Source: Kenan Christiansen (2014). A Look at Global Travel Trends, New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/travel/a-look-at-global-travel-trends.html?_r=0 published Mar 26, 2014. Viewed Mar 27, 2014.