Tourism’s changing profile

©Ammar Awad

Tourism has shown remarkable staying power in recent years. Despite political instability, wars, natural disasters and a global financial crisis, the industry keeps getting up for another round. Japan is good example. After the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident, the number of visitors to the country plunged. But in 2013 more than 9 million tourists visited the country, a record high. 

International tourist arrivals generally surpassed 1 billion in 2012 and are forecast to reach 1.8 billion by 2030. OECD countries account for nearly 60% of international tourist arrivals, but a shift in the global economy promises to change this picture somewhat as people in emerging economies travel more than before. Today, China spends eight times more on tourism than it did 12 years ago. Chinese tourists spent US$102 billion in 2012, a 37% increase over the previous year and more than any other country.

Russians are also more footloose, and rank fifth in terms of spending on outbound tourism. The number of tourists from India has also doubled since 2006. The UN World Tourism Organization estimates that by 2030, overall annual growth in outbound tourism will amount to 17 million in the Asia-Pacific region, 16 million in Europe, 5 million in the Americas, and a combined 5 million in Africa and the Middle East.

Emerging economies are drawing in more tourists, too. Over the next 15 years, the share of arrivals in emerging economies will increase by 4.4% annually, double the rate of arrivals in advanced economies, with South Asia topping the list. North America, on the other hand, will slip to the bottom.

Tourism directly accounts for 4.2% of GDP, 5.9% of employment and 21% of exports of services in OECD countries, enough for governments bruised by the financial crisis to see the industry as a catalyst for growth. They are becoming more dynamic, bringing in new business models and cutting red tape. They are shortening waiting times by offering online visa applications and automatic border checks, too: Turkey, for instance, introduced e-visa applications in 2013, reducing the need for tourists to queue on arrival.

The profile of today’s travellers differs sharply from that of their predecessors. Demographically, tourists are older–23% aged 55 or above–and more frugal, preferring shorter trips closer to home. Geographically, they tend to live in emerging economies rather than in developed ones. Most holidays are now booked online instead of through travel agencies. The holidays sought are often far off the beaten track and focus on a theme: adventure, culture and heritage, or food and wine. New niche markets have arisen, such as “diaspora”, gay and lesbian holidays, humanitarian tourism to work for good causes, and tourism for medical treatments.

Two other trends in tourism are also worth noting. First there is risky “dark tourism”, from hiking in Afghanistan to hunting pirates off the Somali coast, or even photographing conflict zones in Syria (our photo). This fashion should not be confused with the rather more solemn “memorial tourism”, which promotes trips to the scenes of great tragedies and wars, such as Ground Zero in New York, Auschwitz in Poland and war cemeteries across Europe.

With 2014 marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, expect a rise in “memorial tourism” in the year ahead, particularly in Flanders in Belgium and the Somme region of France. In Japan there is a proposal to build a tourists’ village near the Fukushima nuclear plant, with fortified hotels to shield guests against any elevated radiation, the aim being to remind future generations of the 2011 tragedy there.

Such emotionally challenging trips allow travellers to reflect on the follies of humankind and the vulnerability of life. They can also serve to bond people together and build co-operation against future conflicts. Rather than an escape, they echo what the writer Samuel Johnson saw as the true reason for travelling: “to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” Lyndon Thompson

OECD (forthcoming), OECD Tourism Trends and Policies 2014 
For more on OECD work on tourism, see

Also see:

© OECD Observer No 297, Q4 2013

Economic data


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