Why Is Tourism Important? Everything You Need To Know

man exploring river in asia

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Without seeing any facts or statistics, most everyone agrees that tourism is important for one reason or another. 

But if asked to explain why, you might be at a loss for words. 

So, why is tourism important anyway?

In this guide, we cover the importance of tourism — including all the pros and cons.

Is tourism a good thing? Is it harmful?

Let’s take a look.

Why is tourism important?

Tourism is important to local economies around the world and the people living in them. 

In 2019, the tourism industry was worth more than 1.1 trillion dollars in the U.S. alone. Over 15.8 million jobs rely on it. In many other countries, including the Maldives, Aruba, and Seychelles, tourism accounts for over 40% of GDP.

Tourism provides jobs and generates income. A lot of the money tourists spend — especially when spent with local businesses — benefits communities across the globe. 

In some developing countries, tourism is a financial lifeline.

But tourism isn’t just about money. It’s also important to people’s well-being.

Tourists benefit from traveling too (for more than just a bit of sun). Exploring the world provides a break from the repetition of everyday life — it can make you happier, healthier, and more productive. It also promotes biodiversity and allows people to fall in love with other cultures and ways of living.

Getting face painted before exploring Kanba caves near Semuc Champey by candlelight

What are the positive effects of tourism?

First and foremost — people love to travel. 

Humans are curious creatures by nature. We’re always looking for new places to explore. Tourism provides an escape and a way of experiencing the world.

It creates millions of jobs and boosts the global economy — especially in popular countries. Before COVID-19, there were 4.5 million tourism jobs in Thailand. Since the pandemic ground travel to a halt, a whopping 1.45 million of those jobs have been lost. 

So, in some senses, tourism is vital.

Travel also spreads cultural understanding, acceptance, and education. 

When people visit places like Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the 9/11 Memorial, or the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, they develop more empathy for those who suffered history’s atrocities than they would from simply reading about it online.

9/11 memorial

Plus, research concludes that people who travel are 7% happier than those who don’t. 

Travel allows you to get out of a routine. It allows you to try new things. And when you travel, you don’t have all the day-to-day stresses of work-life hanging over you. In fact, many love tourism so much, they ditch their day jobs and trade them for travel jobs that can earn from anywhere.

Why is tourism so important to the economy?

The economic benefits of tourism are vast. 

To give you a better understanding, here are a few statistics:

  • In China, travel and tourism more than doubled in the last decade, approaching a $1.6 trillion annual spend.
  • Many Caribbean islands including Aruba, St Lucia, Antigua, Barbuda, and the Bahamas rely on tourism for over 50% of their country’s employment
  • The Philippines’ thriving tourism industry employs over 41.2 million Filipinos. 8.3 million tourists visited the Philippines in 2019.

If we eliminated tourism, those countries would lose billions of dollars needed to support their population. There would be higher unemployment and less access to infrastructures like hospitals and schools that governments fund with tourism spending.

Person sitting on boat on El Nido Tour C - Palawan, Philippines
Tourism dollars fund small island towns like El Nido, Philippines

The economic impact of tourism in developing countries

The economic impact is even larger in developing countries. Places like Mexico and Thailand have seen a dramatic increase in unemployment since the pandemic began and the tourism industry fell. 

In Mexico, between February and April 2020 (just after the global lockdowns were introduced), around 70,000 tourism jobs in Quintana Roo disappeared. Behind each of those jobs lost is a family struggling to make ends meet.

From January to November 2020, 60% fewer tourists visited Mexico than in the same period in 2019. If this were to continue, it’d push a staggering 10 million people into extreme poverty.

Thailand is another country fueled by tourism. 

Of the predicted 40 million tourists that were expected to arrive in 2020, just over 6 million were actually welcomed in. Between March and August, Thai borders were shut completely. This halt on international travel left the streets deserted, the beaches empty, and tens of thousands of people out of work.

empty beach
A normally popular beach, now deserted.

What are the social benefits of tourism?

Of course, it’s not all about money. Tourism has many social benefits too, such as improving social inclusion and fostering intercultural understanding. 

The more we experience other ways of life, the less threatened we feel by difference. Travel helps create new relationships between communities which broadens horizons, encourages tolerance, and can even help prevent violence.

tourist playing with kids of Kuna tribe
Goofing off with some kids from the Kuna indian tribe of the San Blas Islands

It affects our mental health too.

Evidence suggests that experiencing different cultures can have mood-boosting effects. Tourism can improve self-esteem, increase awareness of nature, refresh the body, and renew the mind.

How does tourism improve the quality of life?

Tourism improves the qualify of life for workers of all ages and experience levels. Hospitality is key for tourism and opens doors for people from all walks of life. It can provide jobs to teenagers who just finished school or the older generation who are passionate about helping. 

Many create lifelong careers through tourism by becoming a pilot, a chef, or even running travel blogs that make money

Plus, countless local businesses started thanks to tourism — from the dainty store selling handmade soaps in Italy, to the family-owned Indonesian street-food cart, to the tour guide in Peru who loves telling stories about local legends. 

Street food tour in Bangkok

All these businesses rely on humans globetrotting around our little planet.

And the smile that spreads across your face when you get home and unpack that little bar of soap that smells like Limoncello — that will remind you just how much tourism improves the quality of life.

Why is domestic tourism important?

It’s not just about traveling abroad. Domestic tourism is also important. 

As we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be just as exciting to explore your own country as it is to venture to another. 

So, why is tourism important domestically? 

For one thing, it’s another major driver of the economy. It can also create seasonal work like at Christmas Markets in the winter months or fêtes, carnivals, or festivals in summer.

Christmas market

The money spent is recycled back into the country to fund things like schools, hospitals, or other public services.

Plus, domestic tourism is more accessible to many people. When you travel domestically, you don’t have to worry about visas, the stress of flying, or the potential travel restrictions that come with leaving the country.

What are the positive effects of tourism on culture?

So, why is tourism important when it comes to culture? 

Well, culture is an evolving thing. Each year is riddled with new historical events. 

By inviting tourists into the country, you’re opening up your heritage to people from all over the world. They then go back home with a better understanding of your country’s history, and your culture grows, spreads, and evolves. 

Think back to the Peruvian tour guide. If he tells one of his legends to a European tourist, then that person tells someone else, and so on. Before you know it, the story is everywhere.

And it’s not just fabled legends that can start through tourism. The first beer was actually brewed in Iran before it slowly spread throughout the world. The birthplace of pizza is Italy, but now there are states in the U.S. with their own version of the cheese-topped classic. 

pizza and beer

Numerous arts, crafts, traditions, and food are developed simply by people exploring one another’s cultures. Cultural interaction and understanding are some of the reasons tourism is important.

How does tourism benefit the environment?

Many will tell you that tourism doesn’t benefit the environment at all. However, in some ways, it can be good for our planet. 

People often visit less developed places and bring new ideas and information with them. This can lead to countries adopting more sustainable practices. Sometimes, tourism is not just about traveling, but also helping others where we can.

Tourism is also credited for protecting natural resources and preserving endangered species. By supporting eco-tourism businesses like forest protection schemes, tourists help locals and landowners protect their trees and crops. 

Another example would be the ethical elephant sanctuaries popping up around Thailand. Thanks to tourists who don’t want to support companies who abuse animals, more “ethical” sanctuaries are popping up. 

Without this demand and awareness, positive wouldn’t change as quickly (if at all).

tourist caring for elephant

What are the negative effects of tourism?

While tourism has many benefits, it also has negative impacts. We must be mindful not to cause too much environmental pollution or take more than a fair share of a country’s natural resources. 

This also includes economic pollution, like taking jobs or creating income inequality where profits go primarily to foreign investors rather than benefiting the country.

trash on beach

When traveling, respect for the local culture and customs is crucial. A lack of it is often why tourists get a bad reputation. Some travelers think they’re free to do whatever they want when visiting another country, but this can be disrespectful.

Foreigners shouldn’t visit a place to gawk at its inhabitants, steal resources, or carry home a superficial understanding of the country they visited. Instead, they should visit to appreciate differences and learn.

These negative effects of tourism are the reason traveling sustainably is so important.

Why is sustainable tourism important?

Tourism has many benefits when done sustainably. It can help an area’s environment, people, and economy. 

But what is “sustainable tourism” anyway?

Well, sustainable tourism includes a few key elements:

  • Minimizing negative environmental impacts (such as pollution) 
  • Respecting cultural heritage sites
  • Protecting natural habitats

Sustainable tourism helps communities protect their resources and land. It reduces the environmental impact and prevents illegal activities like poaching or smuggling wildlife or endangered species.

To travel sustainably, it’s also important to respect the cultural preservation sites and local traditions. That means not climbing the Egyptian pyramids, taking off your shoes before entering a Thai temple, and not stealing a coin from Rome’s Trevi fountain as your souvenir. 

pyramids

Sure, one climber or one coin probably won’t make a difference. But millions of tourists visit these places. If people don’t travel sustainably, the attractions will crumble.

Lastly, sustainable tourism means being aware of your energy consumption and carbon footprint. Try to use eco-friendly transport, don’t be wasteful, and bring a reusable water bottle.

A few do’s and dont’s for sustainable travel:


✅ Do try to minimize your carbon footprint as much as possible. 

✅ Do respect local customs that might seem strange or unusual to you

✅ Do consider how tourism impacts sensitive areas, such as scuba diving on fragile coral reefs where carelessness can cause damage.


❌ Don’t litter or damage natural environments.

❌ Don’t buy souvenirs made from endangered wildlife and plants.

❌ Don’t leave a trace — Leave a destination in the same condition as you found it (or better).


The importance of tourism: Is tourism good or bad?

As you can see, tourism has its flaws. It’s not perfect. 

But the benefits of tourism far outweigh the negative effects, especially as sustainable travel grows in popularity.

Tourism is good — both for travelers exploring new cultures and for locals who can support their families — and if we’re lucky, it’ll rebound soon. 

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