The crowds of travellers filling airports in many parts of the world this summer are a telltale sign of what’s ahead for tourism. By 2033, travel is set to become a $15.5trn (€14.2trn) industry — accounting for more than 11.6% of the global economy. This represents a 50% increase over its $10trn value in 2019 when travel represented 10.4% of the world’s gross domestic product.
The 10-year forecast comes from the World Travel and Tourism Council, or WTTC, the leading business group dedicated to quantifying the industry’s economic impact. Although it was released in May as part of a 2023 World Economic Impact report on travel, the data hasn’t circulated beyond a small set of industry executives until now.
The report breaks down the economic contributions of the world’s major tourism markets and reveals the top five most powerful travel and tourism economies as of 2022 in terms of GDP contribution. These remained the same as pre-2019: The US, China, Germany, Britain, and Japan, with Japan overtaking Britain in the most recent list. France, Mexico, Italy, India and Spain rounded out the top 10.
The report also includes figures on travel and tourism’s contribution to the labour market: As a whole, the industry will employ up to 430 million people by 2033, compared with 334 million in 2019. That accounts for roughly 1 of every 9 jobs globally.
It’s not just that travel represents an enormous slice of the global economy, it’s also growing far faster than the economy at large.
“Economists are saying that the global GDP is going to grow on an annualised basis about 2.6% a year,” says Julia Simpson, president and chief executive officer the WTTC.
Another projection from the WTTC points to big changes afoot, Ms Simpson adds: Over the next 10 years, the US travel economy, which is the largest in the world in terms of its annual $2trn in total economic output, will lose its crown to China.
In 2033, China’s travel sector is forecast to contribute $4trn and will make up 14.1% of the Chinese economy. By contrast, the US industry is projected to reach $3trn and will represent 10.1% of the US economy. These figures represent both the amount spent in-country by international visitors and how much citizens of each country spend on their own travel abroad.
Once Chinese travellers return in full force, which is expected by 2024, it will kick off another significant wave of growth for global tourism—with the Chinese share of global outbound travel spending predicted to reach 22.3% by 2033.