In 2019, tourism accounted for 1 in 10 jobs and 10 percent of GDP globally. However, despite the boom in tourism over the last decade, wealth is not equally distributed. The result is that many of these workers cannot afford to live near where they work. 

According to the UNWTO, women make up 54 percent of those employed in the tourism industry yet earn 14.7 percent less than their tourism counterparts. Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) individuals make up the majority of those employed in the accommodation sector, yet studies show that racial and ethnic minorities remain inequitably dispersed throughout the workforce. This inequality is increasing: between 2008 to 2018, there was a near-stagnation or decline of wages for non-executives in the accommodation sector, while salaries for executives increased 37 percent in real terms. 

When the pandemic hit, 100 to 200 million tourism jobs were at risk. Simultaneously, communities across the globe collectively called for unity and social justice for systemically marginalized groups. As tourism rebuilds to become the world’s largest service industry once again, the sector needs to build back more equitably. Tourism cannot be sustainable without fair income distribution, support for local businesses, and strong worker rights. 

We advocate for a holistic approach to tourism that prioritizes the economic and social well-being of local communities. Tourism, when done right, can act as a driver of sustainable development in many communities.

Why It Matters

Photo courtesy of American Jewish World Service

The first step to ensuring the long-term well-being of our most beloved places is by ensuring the welfare of their residents. By promoting community-based tourism and sustainable economic livelihoods, local communities will have the resources and incentives to preserve their own biodiversity and cultural heritage.

As our world struggles for economic stability and a more equitable, just society for all, we must examine how the tourism industry can further these goals. Through critical scrutiny of our current systems, we can reframe tourism in a way that better ensures equitable economic opportunity and prosperity for all. 

What CREST is Doing About It

In 2015, CREST began supporting Experiencias Rarámuri, a community-based tourism project in the Copper Canyon of Chihuahua, Mexico. Though the Copper Canyon is already a popular tourism destination, the Rarámuri have historically been excluded from these economic activities, while simultaneously having their image exploited and commodified by outside enterprises.

We worked with the Huetosachi and Bacajipare Indigenous communities to develop community-based tourism experiences that create jobs and generate income while showcasing traditional handicrafts, cuisine, hiking trails, and storytelling. To increase the quality and sustainability of these tours, CREST assisted these communities in building capacity, branding their experiences, and building their website.

Since January 2019, CREST has partnered with Lundin Mining’s Eagle Mine and the community of Big Bay, Michigan to develop placemaking and responsible tourism initiatives.

This program, located in a hearty and beautiful rural community in the Upper Peninsula, began in 2019 as part of Eagle’s commitment to support economic resilience for local communities. We were invited to play a crucial role in working closely with the Big Bay community to define a community-led and owned vision for an experience-based economic future.

We seek to take lessons learned from this project to assist other rural communities in achieving their responsible economic development goals through the formation of destination stewardship councils. This initiative is a unique collaboration between CREST, Big Bay, and Eagle Mine, and it highlights our collective commitment to supporting local community development and economic resilience.

CREST is a recognized leader in impact tourism, which has generated tens of millions of dollars each year from tourists and tourism businesses for development projects in host communities. Originally referred to by CREST as “travelers’ philanthropy,” impact tourism today represents a broad array of travel giving programs that are recognized as a core component of responsible travel.

Recognizing that “doing good” does not always mean “doing right,” we hosted the third annual World Tourism Day Forum in 2019, in partnership with the Organization of American States and hosted at the United States Institute for Peace, centered around the topic of impact tourism.

We later released a free, digital publication that shares innovative insights and practical advice from businesses, NGOs, and destinations that are making strategic contributions of time, talent, and treasure to local environmental and social projects. As an update to our 2011 Traveler’s Philanthropy Handbook, our 2020 Impact Tourism Handbook takes a deeper look at the thoughtful and innovative ways that impact tourism is materializing around the world.