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Governments need to rethink their tourism policies to encourage more diversity, reduce concentration in high-density destinations and put in place long-term strategies that are ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive, according to the OECD. The recommendations were among those informing discussions by ministers and high-level government officials from 45 countries meeting at the OECD, alongside senior representatives from

industry and international organisations. Their aim was to explore ways to better manage the sector’s vigorous growth and formulate future policies.

For the OECD, rethinking the tourism model involves improving the tourist’s experience, better managing the impacts of tourism, and encouraging positive spillover effects on the wider economy. Tourism policy should ensure that it contributes to economic growth that is shared broadly across society and improves the well-being of citizens.

Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the world economy, and its potential remains very strong. In OECD countries, tourism contributes on average 4.1 percent of GDP, 5.9 percent of employment and 21.3 percent of service exports.  

Addressing the meeting, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said tourism was a bright spot in a still sluggish global economy but the sector faced considerable challenges. In certain heavily visited areas tourism has faced a backlash in public opinion due to its impact on the local population, culture and environment. He said whether the benefits of such a dynamic sector are shared widely depends crucially on how policy is led and designed.  

The digital economy is transforming tourism through mobile technology, online sharing platforms and changes in how tourism services are delivered and experienced. Adjustment to such rapid change presents both opportunities and challenges for policy-makers, says the OECD. In particular, they must address the impact on employment, consumer protection, privacy, security, taxation and regulation.

The OECD argues that tourism can also serve as a tool to help protect natural areas, and has the potential to make a major contribution to the 2030 UN sustainable development agenda by working to achieve more resource-efficient consumption and production patterns.

The high level meeting also discussed how quality, well targeted investment in the sector was needed to manage growth that was both sustainable and inclusive by contributing also to broader, economic, environmental and social goals.

In their statement, the ministers and other participants agreed that tourism policy required a whole-of-government approach but also recognised the value of dialogue with industry, social partners, academia and other civil society representatives in developing, implementing and monitoring policy.

The High Level meeting on Tourism Policies for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth was chaired by Greece’s Minister of Tourism, Elena Kountoura. In this interview, she sets the scene for the meeting.