As emerging markets develop new attractions and tap into new visitor source markets, they are leveraging technology and sustainable development in line with emissions targets. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), travel demand is expected to generate 126m employment opportunities worldwide by 2032, with more than 60% of these jobs in the Asia-Pacific region. The lifting of travel restrictions in China and Japan announced at the end of 2022 will likely fuel an increase in activity in the region. South-east Asia in particular is set to benefit from an uptick in demand from China, which was the world’s largest outbound tourism market in 2019.
As international tourism rebounds following the easing of travel restrictions, some governments are pushing reforms to create more equitable tourism sectors post-pandemic. In St Lucia, for example, where tourism accounts for some 65% of GDP, lawmakers plan to launch the Community Tourism Agency, with a mandate to increase local participation in the sector.
Such policies often aim to support micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – which make up an estimated 80% of the sector globally, according to the WTTC – while also providing more authentic experiences for new visitors.
In Thailand, the Ministry of Labour has rolled out measures to support students working part-time in the hospitality industry and provide tourism-related training for the unemployed, hoping to address a labour shortage as the country prepares to welcome 25m visitors in 2023. Prior to the pandemic, tourism activities, both domestic and foreign, accounted for 18% of the country’s GDP.
Africa’s tourism sector, meanwhile, is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6.8% between 2022 and 2032, more than twice the 3.3% growth rate for the continent, according to WTTC data, creating a projected 14m new jobs in that period. Private sector actors are heavily involved in efforts to develop the tourism industry. Purple Elephant Ventures, a Kenya-based venture studio, was founded in 2020 with the goal of building four start-ups per year. It aims to focus on firms working at the intersection of technology, climate and tourism. During the pandemic the studio launched a software-as-a-service product that allowed hospitality providers to take direct online bookings, and it raised $1m in a pre-seed funding round in late 2022.
Tourism is an important plank in economic diversification efforts in the Middle East, and a number of high-profile projects are seeking to boost arrivals in the region.
Saudi Arabia has centred its goals for the sector around its Saudi Vision 2030, with an ambitious target to attract 100m domestic and foreign tourists by 2030. In January 2023 the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund designated Diriyah as its fifth giga-project. Encompassing the Turaif district, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the project is intended to educate visitors on the history of the country.
In Egypt, tourism revenue is set to rise by 20% to a record $13.6bn in 2023, according to projections from data and research firm Fitch Solutions. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities aims to attract 30m tourists by 2028, and the government launched a new strategy for the sector in March 2023. Beyond conventional tourism initiatives, Egypt is pushing the use of metaverse technology to promote the medical tourism segment. According to Ahmed El Sobky, chairman of the General Authority for Health Care, the use of 3D virtual-reality software will allow prospective patients to remotely tour health care centres in governorates such as Luxor and Port Said.
The global rise in medical tourism can be attributed to Western patients seeking more affordable health care options in emerging markets like India, Turkey, Thailand, and Malaysia. This demand in turn has been propelling investment in medical equipment that utilises the potential of artificial intelligence and robotics. Additionally, wellness tourism is emerging as a prominent trend. Despite a decline during the pandemic, projections from the Global Wellness Initiative indicate an annual growth rate of 20.9% for wellness tourism for the period from 2020 to 2025.
Regenerative Tourism Projects
Achieving net-zero emissions has become a tourism sector priority, as the industry accounted for 8% of global emissions in 2019. In January 2023 the UN World Tourism Organisation and the Development Bank of Latin America announced a partnership to fund tourism projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The initiative is focused on attracting foreign direct investment to support projects focused on climate change and reducing the sector’s emissions.
In addition to mitigating climate change, conservation efforts often align with tourism outcomes, as more emerging markets highlight their diverse natural heritage as part of their offering. In mid-2022 a team of UK scientists made significant progress by using machine learning to develop an algorithm capable of using sound to assess the health of coral reefs. The technology has been deployed on a small scale in Indonesia. The country is also home to the Mars Coral Reef Restoration project, which is using hexagonal “reef stars” to kick-start coral growth across more than 40,000 sq metres of seabed.
Such endeavours represent a significant step forward as countries look for ways to diversify their economies and tap into the potential of the tourism industry. By focusing on the regeneration of local ecosystems and creating competitive tourist destinations, major projects around the world are driving economic growth and generating employment.