The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports strong growth in international travel to countries in the Americas in recent years.
In 2017, South America was the subregion with the highest annual percentage gain in international tourist arrivals—6.7 percent, based on preliminary figures—followed by the Caribbean (4.1 percent) and Central America (3.7 percent). Mexico saw double-digit growth (12 percent), though a decrease in tourism to the United States meant that the gain for North America was under 2 percent. UNWTO expects sustained global tourism growth through 2030, including in the Americas, though at a slightly reduced pace relative to prior years.
The travel and tourism industry makes a major impact on the world economy. It accounts for an estimated 10.2 percent of GDP—when both direct and indirect jobs are considered—and 9.6 percent of employment, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), an industry group.
The sector is an even larger contributor to the economies of the small and island countries that are members of IDB Invest (Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago). In those nations, tourism accounts for an average 18.2 percent of GDP and nearly 15 percent of employment, based on WTTC data.
Tourism is an especially important source of employment for less-favored groups, including youth and women.
A 2018 UNWTO report cited several reasons for this: strong growth, local recruitment, the availability of low-skilled jobs and the potential for entrepreneurship.
Women account for 58.5 percent of hotel and restaurant employees in Latin America and 55.4 percent in the Caribbean, according to a study by UNWTO and UN Women.
Tourism has the potential to further sustainability initiatives on several fronts. When it designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the UN singled out the industry’s role in five areas:
- inclusive and sustainable economic growth
- social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
- resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
- cultural values, diversity and heritage
- mutual understanding, peace and security