Leisure tourism is the backbone of our industry. We should celebrate it, says WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara
As the summer season opens for most of the northern hemisphere – a time dedicated to resting, exploring and bringing the family together – I want to take this opportunity to recognise the contribution leisure travel makes to our lives and to the destinations we visit.
When we think of tourism, the trip that first springs to mind is likely one centred on international sightseeing or relaxation.
When I asked my team what image travel conjures up for them, I was met with tales of family holidays in the French countryside, solo trips to Toronto and month-long adventures in the Moroccan mountains.
It’s these leisurely experiences that we most often recount with nostalgia. For me, it’s holidays to Miami with my children that stand out and have become almost synonymous with travel in my mind.
Imagine a world without the trips, the benefits to communities and the jobs. It is grim and unthinkable.
Leisure travel presents us with opportunities for recuperation and alleviation of mental pressures, personal development, learning and cohesion. We are all familiar with the personal benefits of travelling.
There is no shame in exploring, no shame in roaming the streets of a city you love, of laughing until your cheeks hurt and taking a thousand photos of your adventures.
Yet unfortunately, this happy side of leisure travel is not the side you will see making news headlines.
We are aware of and grappling with tourism overcrowding in some well-loved destinations, but we do ourselves a great disservice when we seek to ‘other’ tourists on our doorstep or treat travellers as a unitary group riddled with irritation.
At a time when we should celebrate difference, promote acceptance of others and embrace globalism, the narrative that tourists are more disruptive than productive is not only unhelpful but poorly considered.
When it comes to disruption to a destination, the industry is working incredibly hard to ensure tourism remains high value and low impact.
In Amsterdam, for example, money raised from tourism funds one-third of the cost of public transportation that benefits locals.
In Rwanda, 10% of the money raised from permits sold to tourists who want to see gorillas in the wild is invested in schools and health centres close to the National Park.
There are countless examples worldwide of tourism dollars directly or indirectly being used to benefit local people, services, infrastructure and environmental projects.
When destinations are smart and strategic in their planning, tourism can undoubtedly be a force for good.
Our most recent World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) report, ‘Destination 2030: Global Cities’ Readiness for Tourism Growth’, makes this point and showcases some of the destinations which are managing well – New York, Osaka and Berlin to name a few.
Leisure tourism is the backbone of our industry and we must take no shame in it.
So, this summer go out and explore the back streets, the early morning cityscapes, the golden beaches and the best that mother nature has to offer. Take selfies without shame, stroll without shame.
Of course, we must always respect the residents and environment we share. That is not negotiable. It is a huge privilege to be able to see far-reaching parts of our planet and with that privilege comes a duty to preserve it.
But responsibility does not mean you have to follow a rigid touristic path. Make your own journey, learn some lingo and do as the locals do.
Travel for leisure is a privilege that we all deserve and should partake in.
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