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Sustainable tourism: A driving force of job creation, economic growth and development

On the eve of the T20 Ministers’ meeting in China, ILO Tourism Specialist Lucie Servoz explains how sustainable tourism can be a driving force for decent work, economic growth and sustainable development.

Comment | 17 May 2016
GENEVA (ILO News) – Tourism is a major engine for job creation and a driving force for economic growth and development, as highlighted by recent figures.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council data, in 2015 tourism directly created over 107 million jobs (3.6 per cent of total employment representing 3 per cent of total GDP) and supported (directly and indirectly) a total of 284 million jobs, equivalent to one in 11 jobs in the world. By 2026, these figures are expected to increase to 136 and 370 million jobs respectively representing one in nine of all jobs worldwide.

Within G20 countries, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa are expected to be among the fastest growing tourism and travel destinations. Among the non-G20 economies Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia are expected to show the strongest growth.

These statistics highlighting the significant contribution of tourism to employment and GDP speak for themselves.  Furthermore, it is essential to make sure that the growth and development of this sector is sustainable, socially responsible and creates decent work opportunities.

Contributing to poverty reduction

Tourism is a major contributor to employment creation particularly for women, youth, migrant workers, rural communities and indigenous peoples and has numerous linkages with other sectors. As a consequence, tourism can lead to the reduction of poverty and to the promotion of socio-economic development and decent work. However, if tourism does not respect local cultures and is uncontrolled, unsustainable or not socially accountable, it can also have a negative impact on local communities, their heritage and environment, exacerbating inequalities.

Four key steps

The ILO supports the promotion of more sustainable and socially responsible tourism and decent work in the sector by:
  • Strengthening the sector’s linkages with related sectors in its supply chain (e.g. agriculture, handicrafts, transports, infrastructure, construction,) while supporting and promoting an integrated approach and local sourcing.
  • Reinforcing initiatives to promote employment creation at local level, including in rural areas, contributing to social and economic development and poverty reduction though social inclusion, regional integration and expansion of local incomes.
  • Investing into skills development and vocational education and training, and improving working conditions to enhance the sector’s image and service quality, bearing in mind that the skills level, professionalism, commitment, loyalty and soft skills of workers are key for competitiveness.
  • Strengthening social dialogue mechanisms and collective bargaining. These can enhance working conditions, career prospects and job security to the benefit of the workers, and make it easier for companies to better respond to the needs and demands of the labour market.
The potential of the tourism industry to contribute to economic and social development has been recognized in a number of Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 8 (Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all) includes a target (8.9) on tourism: “By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.” Goal 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns) and Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources) also include targets relating to tourism.

Following the significant growth of the tourism sector in terms of employment creation and contribution to GDP during the last decades, the G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting emerged in 2010 with the aim to create an opportunity for G20 tourism ministers to place tourism on the global agenda and discuss opportunities and challenges of the sector.

The Chinese G20 Presidency will host the 7th T20 Ministers’ Meeting on 20 May under the theme “Sustainable Tourism – An Effective Tool for Inclusive Development”. China will also be hosting the First World Conference on Tourism for Development which will take place in Beijing, on 19 May under the theme “Tourism for Peace and Development”. Both meetings will provide an opportunity to facilitate the promotion of sustainable tourism as a driver for decent work, economic growth and sustainable development.

The role of the ILO in the Hotels, Catering and Tourism (HCT) Sector
The ILO is committed to the promotion of employment and decent work for all in the tourism sector. With its unique tripartite structure the ILO promotes the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda in the tourism sector, namely by promoting rights at work, encouraging opportunities for decent employment, enhancing social protection and strengthening social dialogue. Work carried out by the ILO in the HCT sector includes:
  • promoting ratification and effective implementation of the ILO Working Conditions (Hotels and Restaurants) Convention, 1991 (No. 172) together with its Recommendation (No. 179);
  • building consensus among HCT constituents to reach policy and action-oriented recommendations in relation to emerging topics;
  • developing tools and sharing knowledge on emerging trends and challenges at industry level such as through the ILO Toolkit on Poverty Reduction through Tourism, explaining how tourism can contribute to sustainable local and rural development and regional integration, how to promote a tourist destination and how to set up a tourism business.
  • strengthening the capacity of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, for advancing the Decent Work Agenda at the country level through the provision of technical assistance and training and the ILO Guide on Social Dialogue in Tourism; and
  • enhancing policy coherence at global level for the promotion of decent work at HCT level, through partnerships with other United Nations agencies and multilateral organizations.
In February 2017 the ILO will hold a tripartite Meeting of Experts to adopt Guidelines on Decent Work and Socially Responsible Tourism. The guidelines will respond to the needs and demands of the sector and serve as a coherent and global tool for all stakeholders in the tourism sector.