Threats of terrorism, pandemic outbreaks, natural calamities and, finally, pesky security checks notwithstanding, the international tourism industry is booming. Tourism has become a key economic driver globally, and is one of the main sources of income for many developing countries today. International tourism receipts totaled $682 billion in 2005 while arrivals, at 842 million in 2006, registered a five-fold growth over the last three decades. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that international tourist arrivals will touch the one-billion mark by2010 and the centre of activity will be the Asia-Pacific region. The World Tourism Conference in Kuala Lumpur early this month acquired significance given the recent resurgence in the global tourism industry following several shocks starting from 9/11, continuing through the Bali bombings in 2002, the SARS epidemic, the avian flu and the Asian tsunami. The conference discussed several important issues that the global tourism industry is faced and the changes happening worldwide. The impact of technology and the changing demographics on tourism were among the interesting trends discussed. COMING OF AGE
The tourism industry has matured significantly in recent years and is displaying a new willingness to share information and co-operate. The result: A different type of growth, one that is more moderate, more solid and more responsible. More moderate
because it is not likely to produce the spectacular double-digit growth rates of 2000and 2004. The industry can, however, look forward to about 4 per cent growth in 2007. More solid
because enterprises, consumers and institutions are able to anticipate shocks and respondeffectively to crises. The market shows increased resilience and travellers are better informed; forinstance, they now include security concerns as just another consideration while selecting theirdestination. "Following each crisis, the ability to respond has improved and the return to normalcyhappens more rapidly," as Mr Geoffrey Lipman, Assistant Secretary-General of the UNWTO, pointedout, while delivering the keynote address at the conference. More responsible
because greater attention is now being paid to the congestion that tourismgenerates and its ill-effects as also its relationship to climate change. According to the World Economic Forum Competitiveness survey, small countries are often better at planning tourism development thanthe big ones. There cannot, of course, be a better example for this than the city-island state of Singapore which was a pioneer in developing its tourism industry in its part of the world.For the smaller countries tourism accounts for 20-30 per cent of GDP. "For those economies, tourism isnot the icing, it is the cake," said Mr Christopher Rodrigues, Chairman, Visit Britain.The `greying' population of several developed countries is proving to be a plus for global tourism. Therising average age means a growing market of people with more discretionary income and time totravel. Rapid economic growth has also created more affluent populations willing to splurge on travel."Tourists over 55 years of age travel farther away from home, include two or more destinations in atrip, engage in more activities, travel with one or another household member and spend more per tripthan tourists, on an average," observed Mr Lipman. This is unlike the average tourist in the workingage who may be weighed down by his back-pack as well as work pressure and other compulsions totake no more than a short holiday. Retired tourists have no such compulsions even as they spendliberally from their retirement savings to see the world in a `now or never' spirit.What may ultimately determine a travel decision is the desire to learn, discover new experiences andadd meaning to people's lives. Cross-border family travel is becoming frequent and these trends areapparent...