Your culture can save your economy

We tend to undermine the role of cultures in building stronger economies. But the fact is culture leads to tourism, tourism brings in jobs, and jobs build economies. Destinations that have a rich heritage and preserve their culture tend to bring in more tourism dollars, which sustains local businesses and provides employment to a large number of the population.

Take for example, tourism accounts for 6% of France’s income and contributes significantly to the balance of payments. The capital, Paris has been considered a city of grandeur, romance, fine art, elegant fashion and world renowned cuisine for centuries. No wonder Paris is the most visited city in the world.  France has preserved its history in its 37 or so sites inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, and is a place of high cultural interest that attracts visitors from around the world. 

With more than 46.1 million tourists a year, Italy is the fifth highest tourist earner, and fifth most visited country in the world. Tourism is one of Italy’s fastest growing and most profitable industrial sectors. It is no coincidence that Italy also has one of the richest cultures in the world. People mainly come to Italy for its opulent art, cuisine, history, fashion, nature and architecture that stem from Greek and Roman civilizations.  From ancient ruins, immaculate piazzas, traditional Gondolas, to Tuscan villages and a very popular cuisine, people flock to Italy just to experience a taste of the life they wish they could have.

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In the United State, tourism is either the first, second or third largest employer in 29 of the 50 states. In 2011, international tourism generated US 1.030 billion in export earnings. While you may argue, US does not boast a very long history that would influence its culture, but many travelers love to experience the “melting pot” societies of New York City, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC and San Francisco. These are great places to learn about many ethnic diversities that retain their backgrounds while coexisting within blocks of each other. 

According to the WTO, China will become the largest tourist country by 2020. China has remained a mysterious destination to the western traveler, and until 1974, closed to visitors. However, the political leader, Deng Xiaoping realized tourism was a great way to earn foreign exchange and stimulate the economy. Now, foreign exchange income in China is over US 46 billion a year.  When people visit tourist attractions, such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City or the Terracotta Army, they learn about the ancient Asian civilization and leave behind a lot of revenue

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How does this all relate to economics? The staggering numbers above tell us that a good deal of the planet’s workers earn their living by working for airlines, travel agencies, hotels, resorts, golf courses, taxis, restaurants and shops. Even the manufacturer of goods, growers of food and providers of infrastructure are largely affected by the tourism industry. The people who provide constant flow of goods and services have these opportunities due to the presence of strong national cultures. People go to Egypt to see 6,000 year old architecture; to India to get a glimpse of the colorful history and traditions; to Peru to witness Inca ruins; and to Kenya to get up close with wilderness. Without the presence of these impactful cultures, we wouldn’t have the economies we have today.

In fact, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is expecting the tourism sector’s global economy to provide 296 million jobs by 2019. According to US Travel Association,  the travel industry is creating jobs 26% faster than rest of the economy. Even the Obama Administration announced the first-ever National Travel and Tourism Strategy stating its goal of increasing U.S. jobs by attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021.

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Fondazione Florens (Foundation Florence) realizes this and has created a cultural and environmental heritage week transforming Florence, Italy into an international workshop spotlighting the economy of cultural and environmental heritage. The foundation’s mission is to promote awareness and development of the economy for sectors linked to cultural heritage, industrial creativity and cultural production, in addition to playing a propellant role in integrating cultural policy according to new logic aimed at re-launching the country’s economy. The idea is, by increasingly feeding culture into the economy, we can ultimately augment its growth potential.

Do you believe that cultures stimulate economies? Whether you do or not, I would love to hear your perspective. Please leave your comment below…

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 90 countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and editor of 'Go Eat Give' and author of 'Beato Goes To' series of children's books on travel.

10 thoughts on “Your culture can save your economy

  1. Very well put. Culture not only enriches life, but yes, it also leads to building of infrastructure and developing jobs in order to fulfill the need of customers to experience these cultures. And for people like me who love experiencing many cultures, this multiplies the effect.

  2. I really think it does, when people are traveling the main interest is culture, can be architecture, museums, traditional festivals, people travels with the interest of emerging in that, they buy a ticket, they buy a souvenir, they eat, and obviously that stimulate the economy of the place.

  3. Moreover, multiculturalism is an important aspect of bringing the world together in harmony. Take the Olympics for instance. All over the world people watch the Olympics and marvel at the amazing athletes of various countries. Also, if you look at things historically, the things we use today didn’t just come from one nation, but all over the world. Mathematics originated from Egypt and the printing press came from China. Culture is vital more more than just the economy, but also our way of life.

  4. Great post, and I loved all the statistics included. One thing that we emphasize on GGT though is that tourism (more specifically ecotourism or responsible tourism, which tend to focus more on indigenous nature and culture) can be even more crucial to the economy in developing nations seeking to rise out of poverty. Tourism is obviously important to the US financial sector, as evidenced by the Obama Administration’s recent focus on strengthening our domestic tourism sector. But in certain parts of Central and South America, Asia and Africa, it’s arguably CRUCIAL to increase tourism revenue if their people are to have any hopes of rising out of abject poverty. That’s why we encourage responsible tourism and ecotourism as key elements in helping to save the planet’s natural resources and indigenous cultures.

  5. Thought provoking and well said. In the US, so much pressure is put on cultures to assimilate. Perhaps there would not be so much negativity towards culturalism if it was looked at as an economic boost.

  6. In order for culture to save a country’s economy, it must be perceived as welcoming to strangers above all else. Tourism will suffer even with a rich culture if outsiders perceive that it doesn’t really like them. Post 9/11, US tourism suffered more because of this perception, than the actual feelings of danger.

  7. Not only tourism is beneficial to economy, but also by meeting tourists from all over the world, one can interact, make friends, and ultimately learn of different cultures from those friendships.

  8. I enjoyed this article and its’ insightful information. One of my favorite parts of the article was the statement, “The people who provide constant flow of goods and services have these opportunities due to the presence of strong national cultures.” I am fortunate they have these opportunities because these are the people responsible for many of my fondest travel memories. The encounters that I cherish the most are typically with the hardworking, genuine, open, everyday service people …the airline steward who comforts me during a long delay, the patient server who guides me through a foreign menu, the shop person who sweetly explains the true meaning of a local object (while also bartering hard for a certain price), the hotel staff member whose language I do not share but still cooks me something to eat at 2 am (thankfully, since my flight was delayed AND the restaurant had been closed for hours), or the taxi driver who shares a laugh, or two, with me during a long drive. We’re fortunate that culture develops jobs for great people like these, because they often enhance our travel experiences the most.

  9. The preservation and promotion of American culture and history starts at the local level. Communities need to recognize the value of their historic city centers and make the investments necessary to attract economic development, a healthy arts scene, and the infrastructure to support tourism. I see a lot of towns and cities adopting this effort because it pays economic dividends in the form of tourism.

  10. It is eye-opening to look at the numbers and see how much income tourism generates for countries around the world. I wrote about something similar recently and discussed how Brazil might benefit from increasing tourism. The same is true for all developing countries since tourism to the developing world is increasing so fast. I didn’t know that China is expected to receive the most tourists. Imagine how that will impact China’s economy!

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