Tourism and Sustainable Development Goals

Waterfall Shirahige

Waterfall Shirahige

Sectors of SDG that tourism should play

The UNWTO Tourism for Development report, a key output and contribution to the observance of the IY2017, illustrates the importance and potential of sustainable tourism as an effective means for achieving sustainable development.
In the wake of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017), we mark a watershed moment for making tourism a catalyst for positive change. As the United Nations General Assembly affirmed when announcing the adoption of the International Year, tourism can contribute to all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not only does the sector spearhead growth, it also improves the quality of people’s lives, support environmental protection, champion diverse cultural heritage and strengthens peace in the world.

Tourism and Sustainable Development Goals

Tourism and SDGs

As a sector that has inter-linkages with virtually all other economic sectors, tourism produces profound and wide-ranging impacts across all dimensions of sustainable development. Tourism offers significant opportunities as a tool for development, including the prospects it offers for women and youth; its relative importance for developing states, rural areas and indigenous communities; its potential to incentivize the conservation of environmental resources and cultural assets; and its capacity to spur interaction and understanding.

As the SDGs offer the world a new direction, sustainable tourism can and must play a significant role in delivering sustainable solutions for people, the planet, prosperity and peace. In order to maximize tourism’s positive impact and mitigate its potential stresses, policy-makers, businesses, tourists and a range of other tourism stakeholders must work together in a concerted way. Governments need to establish and enforce inclusive and integrated policy frameworks for sustainable tourism development; businesses need to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability in core business models and value chains with enhanced action; and individuals and civil society need to advocate for, and adopt, consciously sustainable practices and behaviours.


Five pillars for sustainable tourism

The five themes are the main elements for sustainable development and tourism is in a position to make an important and sustainable contribution based on these.

Pillar 1: Sustainable economic growth

Tourism contributes significantly to economic growth worldwide – as a sector, it is the third largest contributor to global GDP. Tourism arrivals are growing at a consistent rate, indicating opportunities for continued economic growth. Providing nearly 10% of global employment, tourism offers jobs for a range of individuals – from low skilled to highly skilled workers. Investing in the tourism sector can boost numerous industries within the value chain including, but not limited to: accommodation, hospitality, agriculture, aviation, entertainment and public transport.

Pillar 2: Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction

Tourism is more than just a major part of the global economy – it is specifically seen as a means of furthering inclusive growth that is about increasing opportunities for all, based on the principles of equity and leaving no one behind. As a ‘people-centred’ activity, tourism plays a role in spearheading inclusiveness particularly for under-represented groups and those most in need– including women, youth and those with special access needs. It also stands to deliver great swathes of decent employment for workers with varied skill sets. However, more needs to be done to overcome inequitable practices in tourism labour. Tourism’s value chain offers opportunities for multi-faceted growth that can contribute to poverty reduction if managed properly, with the full engagement of communities, workers and individuals.

Pillar 3: Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change

Environmental responsibility is a fundamental requirement for sustainable development. Tourism has multi-faceted impacts on the natural environment, just as environmental considerations have a significant bearing on sustainable tourism development in the short- and long-term. As a sector that heavily depends on the world’s natural resources and diverse ecosystems, tourism has a special responsibility towards the planet, with an impetus to harness this dependency as a means of promoting conservation. However, the tourism sector currently uses vast quantities of resources, highlighting the need for an integrated, innovative approach to tourism and the environment.

Pillar 4: Cultural values, diversity and heritage

The myriad links between tourism and culture can contribute to inclusive, sustainable development. Tourism presents notable opportunities for safeguarding the world’s rich cultural heritage – including revitalization initiatives to restore culturally significant buildings and traditions, while fostering meaningful encounters and dialogue between people of diverse cultures. In tandem, culture offers innovative means of gaining socio-economic benefits through tourism. However, cultural tourism must be managed appropriately to avoid risks of physical damage to heritage site or the misrepresentation of cultural practices.

Pillar 5: Mutual understanding, peace and security

The transformative power of tourism, grounded in billions of daily encounters between travellers and hosts, paves the way towards dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance – the cornerstones of a culture of peace.
A sustainable, well-managed tourism sector also contributes to the underlying building blocks of peace – i.e. the attitudes, institutions and structures upon which peaceful societies are built, alongside economic development, democratization, social justice, education and reconciliation.

World Tourism Organization (2018), Tourism for Development – Volume I: Key Areas for Action, UNWTO, Madrid,

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