Antonio Enrique Savignac, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, believes that tourism growth is almost limitless - but must be controlled

Tourism is one of the world's fastest growing economic activities, both in terms of increasing numbers of tourists and expenditure. In 1994, 537 million people travelled abroad, spending more than US$341 billion.

Even using conservative estimates, we predict that those figures will nearly double by the year 2010 to 1 billion international tourists. If domestic tourism is added in, the figures become ten times higher - in other words, 10 billion people moving within their own country and internationally, and spreading their spending throughout the world.

The natural curiosity of men and women is the basic force that drives tourism. It is a natural curiosity of knowing your neighbours, your city, your country and other countries of the world.

This curiosity, which led throughout the centuries to explorations and new discoveries, can nowadays be satisfied by almost all of us due to modern transport, that makes even the most remote parts of the earth accessible and affordable.

At the same time, vacations have been growing longer and the working week has been reduced. The amount of time a person can take off to enjoy a holiday has been constantly increasing.

The third force driving tourism growth is increasing disposable income. Throughout the world, with some exceptions, personal income is on the rise. After basic needs are covered, there is more money left over to indulge in other desires and one of these great desires is to travel.

One of the biggest economic benefits of travel is that it spreads income throughout the world. Travellers make their money in one place and spend it in another. This provides a redistribution of wealth and spreads the money of high-income countries to countries that are developing or, within a country, from large cities to tourist resorts.

We see tourism growing much faster in the developing world than in industrialised nations. There are three reasons for this. These countries are now welcoming tourists and have better infrastructure to receive them. Secondly, they provide the attraction of being off the beaten path for people who have already made multiple international trips and are searching for something new. The third reason is that many developing countries have now reached a point where their basic needs are covered and they are beginning to have surplus income they can devote to several things - one of them is travel.

This accounts for the tremendous growth in East Asia and the Pacific. Just 30 years ago you would never have thought of people from Hong Kong, Taiwan Singapore, Korea or Malaysia travelling abroad, but today all these people have the income, the time and the desire to travel.

The same phenomenon is under way on a smaller scale in South Asia. In India, with its economic recovery, about 10 per cent of the population, or 80 million people, can afford to travel within their own country and abroad.

Latin America, with its ups and downs, also has basically an upward curve in per capita income. There are currently great movements of travellers within Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, and international travel from these countries is on the rise.

The greatest challenge for tourism is how to handle it. Many destinations are must-sees as a first or second trip, for example, the beauties of Paris, of Italy and Rome, of London, New York, or San Francisco. The challenge for these destinations is congestion. How are they going to be able to handle a doubling of their visitors?

Many airports are already very congested. Most of these cities' museums are too full of people at certain times of the year. They cannot handle more tourists at this point without deterioration of monuments, buildings, museums and palaces. So in this case, the problem of how to deal with growth is very complex.

These places have to accept the concept that there is a limit to how many people you can put in the same place at the same time. When you have reached that limit, or when you are about to reach it, capacity limits must be set. The question then becomes how do you allocate this capacity between the residents of the country who pay the taxes and own the patrimony, and people from abroad who want to see these things. Is it on the basis of price, or first come, first served? Like a football match? These are problems that we must face in the very short term in destinations that are already reaching capacity.

In other places that are just emerging on the world tourist map, the issue is how they want to develop. Is it simply a question of going after the numbers, more and more tourists and more and more expenditure? Obviously, bigger numbers mean more jobs and more income. But we cannot commit the same mistakes we've made in the past.

Like most human activities, tourism has not been planned in the past and has grown without regard to being compatible with the environment. Tourism in the past simply responded to demand. You found a pretty place, it was successful, it was liked, and the developers would develop it. As land prices went up, in response to this demand, developers had to build larger buildings and more densely. This is where very large cities by the sea began springing up, destinations which in many cases overwhelmed the original beauty of the beach and its primitive huts or small installations. Suddenly, lovely beaches were turned into concrete barriers.

Today, we realise that we overdid it in some places, just by responding to demand. That demand overwhelmed the beauty of the place or filled in lands that once were lakes or mangrove swamps. With the increasing consciousness about the environment, that is no longer acceptable. In new destinations, the challenge is how to manage resources so that they can reach an equilibrium between the benefits they want from tourism and yet at the same time maintain the environment and attraction for future generations.

This calls for planning and planning is a relatively new concept in tourism. Who plans? How much do you plan? How much detail do you go into? Once you've planned a destination, how do you execute it? How do you ensure that a master plan for a tourist resort is followed and is not distorted?

Planning means that you must put restrictions on the number of people that you want, how high building should be, how many rooms per hectare there should be, which parts should not be touched and which parts should be national parks. We want future generations to be able to enjoy a destination, not to find a concrete wall.

Capacity limitations, planning and restrictions are all very revolutionary concepts in tourism, but they are being used more and more every day. The World Tourism Organisation is at the forefront of interpreting these concepts to meet the challenge of tourism growth.

To TopTo Archive IndexTo Contents
©Kensington Publications 1996