• How can tourism contribute to rural development?

Thursday, 14 January, 2021
IQS School of Management

This question has been answered by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in the document UNWTO Recommendations on Tourism and Rural Development. A Guide to Making Tourism an Effective Tool for Rural Development.

As stated in the guide:

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of tourism in rural development is more relevant than ever. Tourism in rural areas offers important opportunities for recovery as tourists look for less populated destinations and open-air experiences and activities. At the same time, communities in rural areas are, in general, much less prepared to deal with the direct and indirect impacts of crisis.

Urbanization is a prevalent trend throughout the world. According to the United Nations, by 2050 68% of the world population will live in urban areas and cities will produce 85% of global economic output, leaving behind a staggeringly high human and environmental impact and imposing a high cost on surrounding rural areas. This trend contrasts with the fact that 80% of all people living in extreme poverty live in rural communities.

Rural youth are one of the most vulnerable groups due to the lack of gainful employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in agriculture and related rural economic activities. At the same time, they are also the most crucial when addressing rural development. Nearly 1 billion of the world’s 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 reside in developing countries and 88% of youth in developing countries live in rural areas; 75 million of them are unemployed.

Tourism has proven to be a tool for economic diversification and a major employment engine with a multiplier effect on other sectors that contribute to rural development. Tourism in rural areas can particularly benefit traditionally disadvantaged groups such as women – who make up 54% of the workforce in the tourism sector compared to 39% for the whole economy – youth and Indigenous people.

The recommendations proposed by the UNWTO are grouped into the following areas:

  • Placing tourism as a strategic pillar in policies for rural development
  • Tourism for the benefit and wellbeing of rural communities: building a fair, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable sector
  • New opportunities for tourism and rural development: innovation, technology, and digitalization
  • Product development and value chain integration for a sustainable and enhanced travel experience
  • Fostering sustainable policies and practices in rural destinations