For most people, travel is a financial luxury. But without the desire or ability to travel, the tourism industry grinds to a halt, as demonstrated during the Coronavirus pandemic. Industries are inter-dependent and when one is negatively affected, the ramifications are seen elsewhere in the economy. Here I’ll discuss the importance of tourism, outlining both its economic and social benefits.
WHY IS TOURISM IMPORTANT?
Tourism creates jobs, directly and indirectly. Waiting staff, bar staff, chambermaids, tour guides, taxi drivers all earn money directly from the tourism business. Indirectly, tourists contribute to ancillary industries that support the tourism industry, especially the agri-food sector. After all, every traveller needs to eat, no matter what their reason for visiting.
Tourists add to the consumer population of a country. The more products and services sold, the more sales tax available for governments to collect. This tax revenue is vital for maintaining public services.
Tourism can facilitate the transfer of money from wealthier parts of the world to the less economically developed regions. So does tax evasion, you might say, but tourism ensures a more equitable and moral spread of the revenue, particularly if the tourism facilities are locally owned.
Political extremism feeds off economic despair. As tourism is a generator of revenue, think of travel as your duty to democracy. Some developing and post-conflict regions are heavily dependent on tourism revenue.
Locals benefit from the greater provision of services required to meet the needs of tourists. Kerry, where I live, is more dependent on tourism than any other region in Ireland. It’s no coincidence that we have some of the best restaurants in Ireland as well. What’s good for tourists is equally good for residents.
Tourism facilitates labour mobility in the local population by creating or enhancing existing transport infrastructure.
A leisure holiday can potentially unveil business leads, opportunities or ideas. Whether it’s the direct trading of goods or getting ideas from abroad to apply to your business at home, travel and trade go hand in hand.
Tourists are potential brand ambassadors that can extol the virtues of their holiday destination by social media or word of mouth. This marketing is both free and powerful.
Equally, you can act as an ambassador for your own country using your soft power skills. I’ve made this argument in my Tourism Ambassador post.
Holidays are beneficial for physical and mental health. A population in peak condition is a productive workforce. With this in mind, I cannot understand people who don’t use up their holiday allocation.
Mark Twain said that Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. I believe this is the core social benefit of travel and tourism.
The tourism industry connects people of different nationalities, race, religions etc whether by accident or design. Connection engenders cultural understanding, acceptance and tolerance. Both travellers and tourism industry professionals become colour-blind, seeing each other as simply service provider and customer.
Travel allows for an appreciation of others and their situation. Travellers can see first-hand why people do things differently in other countries and their reasoning why. On that note, travel can either reduce or remove ethnocentric tendencies, the idea that your culture and ethnicity is superior to others. Travel is a panacea for ignorance.
On the other hand, inbound travellers can highlight inadequacies in your own country. I can appreciate that there’s a fine line between constructive criticism and ethnocentricity. But tourism requires a whole country to develop global standards (e.g. security), the spin-off of which has universal benefits for residents.
Hatred thrives on fear of others. Tourism and travel dispels that hatred and fear by seeing others as having the same aspirations and hopes for their lives as we do. If you don’t believe me, check out my posts on Iran and Russia.
Get a greater perspective of your own life/country as you compare and contrast home with away. While travel presents learning opportunities, it equally enables us to appreciate what we already have at home.
Travel educates. So does armchair travel but travel allows you to put that knowledge into social context by letting the people you connect with tell their story. Experiencing culture and history first-hand is a sure way of remembering it.
Tourism is a great way of promoting indigenous arts and culture that would otherwise find it difficult to gain an international audience.
Of course the tourism industry has its disadvantages, the most obvious being unsustainable growth (overtourism/environment concerns) and the seasonality of the industry.
Travel is my hobby and, like any hobby, is my outlet for distraction, relaxation, fun and general life enrichment. For those working in the tourism industry, my idea of fun helps pay their bills.
I travel guilt-free in the knowledge that my spending is benefiting others, and the experience I encounter is making me and others more tolerant and understanding. The world needs more of this and that’s why tourism is important. So go forth and travel.