Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- International travel is now within reach for an increasing proportion of the world’s population
- There were nearly 1.25 billion international arrivals in 2016, compared to only 25 million per year in the 1950s
- Even with this dramatic increase, visa requirements, security controls, and lagging infrastructure investments are placing a curb on travel growth
- Emerging economies will continue to play a greater role in global travel through the next decade with Africa, Asia, and the Middle East home to the fastest-growing markets
For 11 years now, the World Economic Forum has carried out an in-depth analysis of the travel and tourism competitiveness of 136 economies around the world. Its current findings are gathered in The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017, a detailed report that places each of the survey countries on the WEF’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index in order to measure “the set of factors and policies that enable the sustainable development of the travel and tourism sector, which in turn, contributes to the development and competitiveness of a country.”
As such, the report makes for fascinating reading and provides a real window into the relative strengths and challenges of tourism markets around the world. Along the way, it also sets out several major trends that are shaping global tourism today. Particularly given the close linkages between student mobility and broader tourism patterns, the WEF’s observations in this respect are highly relevant to international student recruiters in all education sectors.
1. Travel is for everyone
In 2016, there were 1.24 billion international arrivals, whereas only 25 million travellers went abroad in the 1950s. Indeed, lowering of travel barriers and falling costs have put international travel within reach for millions. This pattern has only been accelerated by income growth, expanding middle class populations, and greater openness to international travel in markets around the world.
This in turn is already shifting the broader patterns of global travel on their axis. “In previous decades, North America and Europe have dominated the travel markets, but this may not be the case for much longer,” says the report. “By 2030, most of the growth in international travel will come from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East…Emerging markets will not only become larger source markets but also they will become more attractive destinations. Between 2016 and 2026, the top 10 fastest growing destinations for leisure travel spending are expected to be India, followed by Angola, Uganda, Brunei, Thailand, China, Myanmar, Oman, Mozambique, and Vietnam.”
2. Barriers persist
Even so, the WEF notes that travel barriers still exist, especially in the form of visa requirements and security provisions at airports. The report argues that these factors continue to be a curb on travel growth and calls for increased use of technology to smooth visa and security processing. “Travel barriers operate just like any other trade barriers, impeding growth and depressing job creation. Removing travel visas at the bilateral level would more than triple travel flows between countries,” concludes the report.
3. Dealing with insecurity
Expanding on the case for technology-led security and processing improvements, the report notes as well that, “We are faced with a complex geopolitical landscape marked by a rise in physical and e-terrorism and a surge in populism and xenophobia. Together, they have the potential to reverse the growing freedoms acquired in previous decades by citizens to travel the world.”
Needless to say, that stark observation is echoed in the growing body of student survey evidence that points to a growing emphasis on personal safety and security on the part of prospective international students.
4. Travel is social, and also mobile
The widespread adoption of powerful mobile devices, and the corresponding explosion of social media activity, continues to have profound effects on the global travel industry.
This bears on aspects of service delivery for international travellers, but also on the ways in which prospective travellers (and students) seek out and share information about travel and study experiences.
5. Keeping up with demand
The WEF finds as well that public and private infrastructure investments – in airports, accommodations, and other travel supports – are lagging behind demand in many markets and creating bottlenecks for the travelling public.
“Tourists want to move quickly and seamlessly, and will choose alternative destinations when access is difficult,” says the report.
As many recruiters will attest, the word “students” could be readily swapped in for “tourists” in the preceding statement.