Is tourism a force for good? Economist Impact tackles this age old question.


Tourism sector generates US$2.5trn in direct revenues globally, helping to provide economic opportunities to people and destinations, build intercultural understanding, and foster appreciation of the natural world. For most people who love to travel or work in the industry, these assertions match the intuition. And the time has now come to seek empirical evidence.

At, we partnered up with the researchers at The Economist Impact to understand in which ways travel can be a force for good, and to explore the influence of tourism on social, economic and environmental outcomes at the local level.

A first of its kind study has now been published, and this article zooms in on just a few macro-learnings. The report’s true value, indeed, lies in detailed case studies of specific destinations and the practices they introduced to boost positive impacts of tourism and minimize negative externalities.

Tourism generates jobs and growth

Overnight visitors positively contribute to economic growth and reduce unemployment. Crucially, visitors help to create jobs across the whole economy, including for groups that often struggle to find employment, such as women and young people.

By stimulating demand for goods and services in host geographies, overnight visitors help to create jobs and enterprises, incentivise the development of local infrastructure, generate additional export revenue, and propel growth in other sectors of the economy.

Travel and tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors— Photo by Statista
Travel and tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors— Photo by Statista

Services that visitors use — from the accommodations to food services and transport — require relatively more employees compared to other sectors of the economy. They also require further employment across the value chain (e.g. in farming, handcrafting, arts, marketing and digital technology), mostly in small and medium-sized enterprises. This means that the contribution to people’s livelihood and prosperity can be substantial, particularly in developing countries.

In North America, the Middle East and Africa, an increase in the number of overnight stays by 1% is associated with a roughly 0.5% increase in real GDP growth. This compares with 0.3% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 0.24% in Asia Pacific, and 0.22% in Europe.

Higher gender equity in the travel sector

Travel and tourism is a driver for gender equity. Women constitute 54% of the global travel and tourism workforce — compared with 39% of the workforce across the broader economy — and the gender wage gap is smaller in this sector than in other industries.

Nearly two- thirds (63%) of respondents in the global population survey felt that travel and tourism had helped to improve gender equity in their local area. These perceptions are supported by the national-level econometric model, which found that a 1% increase in international tourist arrivals was linked to a 0.02% improvement in a geography’s score in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report.

Overnight visitors improve social tolerance and intercultural understanding.

Even in an era of unprecedented connectivity, intolerance and prejudice remain pervasive and entrenched in our society. Intriguingly, the research indicates that travel and tourism have the potential to address this issue, through facilitating opportunities for interaction and engagement between groups of different backgrounds.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” -Mark Twain— Source:

Four-in-five (79%) respondents in the population survey felt that their recent travel had expanded their worldview, and 70% agreed that travel had made them feel more empathy towards others.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents agreed that travel and tourism had improved tolerance towards foreigners in their local area, and three-quarters (75%) that engagement with visitors had allowed them to better understand different cultures and communities, and expanded their worldview.

The generally positive perception that interactions with people from other places have improved tolerance contrasts starkly with a growing narrative that travel and (over)tourism accelerate the loss of local cultural traditions, as large global brands start selling identical goods and services in popular main streets around the world, accelerating the impacts of cultural globalization.

Future-proofing destinations to capture the benefits of visitors without trade-offs— Source: Economist Impact
Future-proofing destinations to capture the benefits of visitors without trade-offs— Source: Economist Impact

At, we know that travel is a force for good, but we also understand that our stakeholders at tourism destinations around the world are looking for best practices in managing trade-offs. This new study offers exactly that. To further explore the economic, environmental and social impacts of travel and tourism in 50 cities and non-urban regions globally, download the report on the Economist Impact website. 

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