Tourism is an important part of the global economy. In fact, it is one of the world’s largest industries. According to the 2017 Economic Impact Report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, tourism accounts for one out of 10 jobs worldwide; for new jobs, it represents one in five. Many cities and countries throughout the world would not be able to survive without tourism. In Florida, for example, tourism is one of the most important factors in the state’s economy.
In 2016, out-of-state visitors spent nearly $112 billion.
Travel can be even more important to small countries. Tourism in Jamaica, for instance, generates approximately $4 billion each year, or 20% of the country’s total economy. Because of the profits made from tourism, the government does not make much of an effort to focus on other ways of making money for the country. Agriculture, for example, is around $1 billion, and manufacturing and other industries are around $3 billion. The country is also at the mercy of the weather each year.
For a country’s economy to remain healthy, it must grow every year, but in 2017, that growth was cut in half because the rainfall was so heavy. The problem is that tourism, while good for the overall economy of Jamaica, does not pay well for the average citizen.
But tourism is not just about economic impact; traveling to new places teaches people about different cultures and ways of life. As Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Educational tourism is meant to bring historical events or environmental phenomena to life.
For example, every year families and school groups follow the path of the Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists who rode integrated buses to call attention to segregation in the South. This can then add an additional layer of understanding because the tourists are creating memories of their own around the information.
There is a perception that many tourists are uninterested in nature or cultural awareness when selecting a vacation. Nearly half of the people who visit Florida in a given year, for instance, go to the theme parks and other attractions near Orlando. It’s true that commercial aspects of many destinations can overshadow the rich history and culture of the surrounding area. However, many people see vacations as a time for relaxation and fun, not one for learning. For those travelers who are interested in ways to immerse themselves in authentic experiences, it is just as easy to directly support and learn from locals by going to events such as farmers’ markets, arts and crafts fairs, or community performances. These local events also create pride in one’s town, community, and culture. In foreign tourism especially, these personal exchanges between locals and visitors go a long way toward fostering improved cultural awareness and understanding. Current industries support local businesses, such as boutique hotels or independent tour operators, in ways that have never been possible before. Travel and tourism make money, but they also foster priceless experiences that can bring people from opposite ends of the world closer together.