1. On the annual occasion of World Tourism Day, celebrated every 27 September 2017, the Church joins civil society in addressing this phenomenon, in the conviction that every genuinely human activity must find its place in the hearts of Christ’s disciples.
For the first time, this message is issued by the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, as part of its mission. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Opportunely, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has followed in the same vein by choosing Sustainable Tourism: a tool for development as the theme for this year’s Day.
2. When we say tourism, we are talking about a phenomenon of major importance, both in light of the number of people involved (travellers and workers) and for the many benefits that it can bring to society (economic, cultural and social), but also given the risks and dangers that it can create in many areas.
According to the World Tourism Organization’s latest Barometer, for the year 2016, the number of international tourist arrivals is around 1.2 billion. Worldwide, the sector accounts for 10% of GDP and 7% of total exports, also considering that 1 out of 11 jobs are in tourism. It therefore occupies an important place in the economies of individual states and in policies that focus on inclusive development and environmental sustainability globally.
3. Tourism can be an important tool for growth and the fight against poverty. Nevertheless, according to the Church’s social doctrine, true development “cannot be restricted to economic growth alone”. In fact, “to be authentic, it must be well rounded”; that is, “it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man”, as the Encyclical Populorum progressio notes. In this regard, Paul VI stressed the need to promote a “full-bodied humanism”, including the material and spiritual needs for the full development of each person in dignity.
Twenty years later, in 1987, the UN introduced the concept of sustainable development as a development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
For the Church, the concept of integrality, when connected to the expression human development, also includes the United Nations’ idea of sustainability, and embraces all aspects of life: social, economic, political, cultural, and spiritual, making them elements in a single synthesis, the human person.
The UNWTO has applied these ideas to promoting sustainable tourism. This means that it must be responsible, and not destructive or detrimental to the environment nor to the socio-cultural context of the locality. Moreover, it must be particularly respectful of the population and their heritage, with a view to safeguarding personal dignity and labour rights, especially those of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Holiday time cannot be a pretext either for irresponsibility or for exploitation: in fact, it is a noble time in which everyone can add value to one’s own life and that of others. Sustainable tourism is also a development tool for economies in difficulty if it becomes a vehicle of new opportunities and not a source of problems.