Conservation Journeying Philosophy Talking Point

How many tourists?

Written by Stuart Wickes
Footprints in the sand

Footprints. One looks beautiful. Now imagine a billion.

Talking Point 11: How many tourists?

Have you ever wondered how many tourists are there in the world? No? Well, imagine a million people suspended in the air all around the planet right now. That’s roughly how many people are flying at any given time according to the BBC programme Super Sized Earth, a series all about how man has transformed the planet. That’s a bit more than the entire population of Edinburgh, Honolulu or Quebec flying through the air at any given time. Just imagine that.

Not millions but a billion

OK now try and imagine a billion people on the move. If you’ve been to Disney or Legoland you probably think you know what that’s like. According to the UNWTO (the UN body responsible for promoting sustainable tourism) December 13th 2012 was the day of the billionth international tourist. Yes, there’s now more than a billion of us crossing international borders each year in search of a good time. Can you even begin to imagine the impact of that?

Tourism is an incredible trillion dollar business and an incredible force of nature in its own right. Just consider the resources involved in providing food, shelter, transport, water and entertainment for a billion tourists. And, on the other side, the benefits reported to come from jobs, trade and economic development.

UNWTO Why Tourism Matters

UNWTO view of Why Tourism Matters

Of course individually it can feel like our own actions don’t make much difference. And it’s true enough that one locust can’t do much damage. But a million or a billion? That should give us pause for thought. Not that I’m saying tourists are locusts of course. Although when you look at where we tend to come from, why we travel and where we tend to go, it does look a bit like we move in swarms.

UNWTO Where do tourists come from and go?

UNWTO Graphic: Where do international tourists come from and go to?

There may be a billion of us travelling but it’s still the domain of the privileged few and we shouldn’t forget that, or the responsibility that goes with it.

In an effort to stay upbeat and encourage more sustainable tourism, the UNWTO says we should turn one billion tourists into one billion opportunities. In the same way a billion travellers can leave a big footprint, they say a billion small positive actions can have a big positive impact too.

Of course sustainable travel is about much more than putting your towels on the rack, not requiring clean sheets every day or eating local produce. But those little things can help, especially if multiplied by a billion. As can a wider mindfulness about why, where and how we travel and the environmental as well as the financial cost of doing so.

Oh and just in case you’re wondering who the one billionth tourist was, it turns out to be Mrs Dale Sheppard-Floyd from the United Kingdom. She’s visiting Spain for three days. How ordinary.

Talking Point

How mindful are you of the impact of your travels? What kinds of things do you do to eliminate the negative or accentuate the positive impacts when you travel?

Join the Conversation

Talking Point is our series of short Photo Friday posts. Each week we pick a photo and post a talking point and invite you to join the conversation. Do leave a comment with your thoughts.


For more photo inspired fun why not check out Travel Photo Thursday from Budget Travelers Sandbox, Photo Friday at Delicious Baby or Friday Dreaming at RWeThereYetMom.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

1 Comment

  • A billion (out of 7) travel. Remembering many of us travel more than once (we made a luxurious three trips this year) that’s also a lot of people staying put.

    Obviously, wherever we go, we eat about as much, sleep in the same number of sheets, and require a rather constant amount of heating/air conditioning. So apart from hotel blocks being built next to natural coastlines and ski pistes being hewn into forest and rock, for the most part what matters is the trip to and fro. Whether we fly, take the car, or in the best of cases use the train – even you and I don’t actually go there by bike – we emit CO2. Bad.

    Then again, imagine Lucy our primate ancestor had never left her valley in Africa, imagine we had not evaded the Ice Ages, imagine ingenious men like Columbus, Cook, or Marco Polo had not extended our horizon. We’d be nowhere near who and what we are now. Travelling defines us, it shapes us, it helps us grow. So, apart from saying the entire planet would probably be better off without us humans in the first place, we will not stop travelling just as we won’t stop farming, trading, or building houses – or breathing. We can only, just as in those other sectors, make an effort to be better at it.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow Us

We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


Trips100 - Travel Blogs   Trips100

© Copyright: Stuart Wickes & Kirstie Pelling 2000-2018