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
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
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
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
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.
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©Kensington Publications 1996