Holidays are a serious business


The economy may still be flagging, but tourism is on the rise. That’s good news for the tourist industry, a key element of more economies than you might think.

Holidays are a serious business

The summer holiday season is with us again, but as you search for that illusory calm spot on a crowded beach, or curse the length of the queue to visit the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House, spare a thought for the people whose job it is to make your holiday fun. For many of them, if you stay home they are out of work. 

And a holiday may be just what the doctor ordered to shake off the economic gloom. Tourism has certainly proved resilient in the face of the global financial and economic crisis, returning rapidly to steady growth, a new OECD report shows – 940 million people went on holiday worldwide in 2010, a 6.7% increase on the previous year. Most of that growth came in Asia and the Pacific, while international arrivals to OECD countries increased by 4% and to the EU by 2.7%. Overall, OECD countries were the destination of choice, accounting for 66% of global tourist arrivals in 2010, while EU countries accounted for 50%.

This all adds up to a lot of activity for the tourism industry. Tourism is a major employer – it accounts for some 5% of employment in OECD countries, a sterling contribution, especially at a time of high unemployment. And it makes a sizeable contribution to national wealth, producing close to 6% of GDP on average in OECD countries.

In a nutshell, tourism is serious business and governments have a role to play in ensuring that it continues to make a healthy contribution to the economy. Governments increasingly appreciate that tourism, properly and rationally developed, is an activity that can help them achieve their national economic objectives.

Where’s the cocktail waiter?

But there are many challenges, such as sustainability. This is not just about ensuring that the beach or the museum is still there for tourists to enjoy in the years to come, but also ensuring that there will be someone to mix you a cocktail or sell you a guidebook or a hotel room when you get there.

In many countries the demand is there, but tourism jobs remain unfilled because there are not enough people with the skills to fill them, whether they are chefs or waiters. Governments can help by developing a national tourism strategy, and by ensuring that there is a good match between the education system and the skills required.

When it comes to a strategy for attracting tourists, for many destinations, the art is to give visitors the chance to feel that they have left their everyday world behind, while keeping them happy and comfortable – not everyone will learn the language of the destination country, or be willing to eat nothing but the local cuisine. And of course, not all tourists are foreign – holidays are also a chance to visit the must-see places in your own country, too. Indeed, in the OECD area, domestic tourism averages 61% of the total, and in Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States people holidaying in their own country make up 80% of tourist consumption. People outside the OECD are rather more keen to get more definitively away from it all, with domestic tourism accounting for less than half of the total (47.5%).

As a result, many countries are placing greater emphasis on encouraging and supporting domestic tourism, since it can be just as capable of creating jobs as international tourism (and of course the visitors will speak your language).

Food, glorious food

Food has a particularly important role in the development of tourism services, since it often makes up a third or more of tourist expenditure. So one way to make your country, region or town attractive to visitors, both domestic and foreign, is to offer something unique to tickle their palate. Thus France, building on the fact that French gastronomy has been classified by UNESCO as part of the global cultural heritage, has created an annual National Food Festival, in addition to the existing High Council for Wine Tourism which has boosted vineyard tours.

Mexico, whose gastronomy is also listed by UNESCO, has made food an integral part of its “Routes of Mexico” tourism initiative, while Italy is promoting Mediterranean food and wine in the regions of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia, and Korea has a special programme to promote Korean cuisine.

Regional specialities, local produce from seafood to wine, all help to give a special flavour to a holiday. But as you settle down for a well-earned rest, spare a thought for the people whose job it is to make your holiday one to remember.

“Tourism is directly responsible for over 5% of employment in OECD member countries. But in many countries, tourism jobs remain vacant due to a lack of appropriately skilled workers. There is a need for governments to assume a greater leadership role in shaping the training and education agenda.”

Yves Leterme, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, July 19 2012


“If Europe wants to remain the world's number one tourist destination we need to modernise and invest more in quality, new technology and skills. The tourism industry needs to cater to an aging clientele, changing lifestyles and consumer demands,”

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, responsible for industry and entrepreneurship, July 19, 2012.

Find out more:


Food and the Tourism Experience

OECD Better Life blog

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