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.
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.
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.
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…