Make the most of your holiday. You may not get many more like it

Tourism is a huge industry – and it is changing at astonishing speed


If you are abroad on holiday right now, or about to head off, ponder this: you are one of a billion. Just over one billion people took a foreign holiday last year and the numbers this year are running ahead of that. For something like 300 million people holidays mean work: one in 12 jobs in the world is in some way dependent on tourism.

If you add in everything associated with tourism – the airlines, the hotels, the entertainment and so on – it is the world’s biggest industry, accounting for 9 per cent of global GDP. For some countries it is massive. France is the world’s largest destination, receiving 83 million visitors last year – the French themselves don’t go abroad very much but having such a gorgeous country you can’t blame them. The US, No 2 in arrivals at 67 million, does however rank top in receipts, earning $126bn last year. Even for the UK it is a big business, for though we were only No 8 last year with 30 million visitors, thanks to the business element associated with tourism, London has the largest number of people flying through its airports and is the city second highest number of hotel rooms, after Las Vegas.

But while it is a huge industry it is one that is changing with astonishing speed. Some of the changes are unsurprising. Now that China has become the world’s second largest economy, the Chinese have become the world’s largest spenders on foreign tourism, at more than $100bn last year, having leapt ahead of both the Americans and the Germans. The great thing about the Chinese is that they are not stingy. The average spend per shopping visit by the Chinese at Harrods last year was £3,500. We clearly need to do something about our visa access programme.

Other changes in the industry are more subtle. Within Europe there has been a gradual shift to having more breaks but shorter ones, which is a function partly of budget air travel and partly of changes in work patterns. Thus people working in other service industries will tend to get time off in short bunches rather than a three-week wodge, and for the growing numbers of self-employed a short break is less disruptive to their business. The semi-retired also have much more freedom to choose the time of vacation. So what was a one- or two-shot annual vacation has become three- or four-shot one.

There is a further trend. This is the blurring of the distinction between holiday and work. For business-owners and the self-employed it can be quite hard to distinguish where work ends and holiday begins. Broadband has a lot to do with it; on-screen workers can in theory be anywhere in the world. But more than that, you learn by observing, and in service industries different countries provide different lessons. An obvious example: Scandinavian hotels are brilliant at delivering high-quality service without using many people to provide it. Anyone involved in the hospitality industry will learn from Scandinavia.

But there remain large differences in the industry worldwide and it will be intriguing to see whether these narrow. Perhaps the most important is the difference in leisure patterns in the US and Europe. US holiday allowances remain at two or three weeks, whereas in Europe they have become five or six weeks.

So a question: will US holidays become longer and European holidays shorter? The reason for the difference is partly social but also a function of higher marginal tax rates in Europe. The higher the tax rate the more efficient it is to pay people  in time (which is not taxed) rather than money (which is).

A generation ago the two sides of the Atlantic were much closer – indeed if you go back to the 1950s the positions were reversed, for Europeans worked longer hours than Americans. I suspect convergence will happen, which will encourage Europeans to use their holiday time more intensively – a trend already in place. A billion people can’t be wrong, can they?

So is it boom time? Not quite yet...

Those of us who have argued that UK economy has been growing faster than the figures suggest will be not at all surprised by the sudden shift of mood. We have gone from fears of a triple dip to booming Britain in three months flat. Except that we haven’t.

All that triple dip stuff was a politicised reaction to misleading statistics. Indeed expect even the second dip to be revised away when the GDP figures finally catch up with the real world. What actually happened was that there was  indeed a flat period in the first  half of last year, and there has  been a gradual recovery from then on. That recovery was always there but it just was not obvious. Expect all this to be confirmed in the  new Bank of England Inflation Report out today.

Now a word of caution. The present recovery, while real enough, is not necessarily going to continue at an above-trend pace. It has been boosted by strength in the housing market, which is artificially supported by very low interest rates. We still have a huge fiscal deficit to crack, and the squeeze on public spending  has barely begun. And we are vulnerable to further ructions  in Europe. The rise in optimism  is welcome but the long climb up the debt mountain.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Skilled Engineer - Electrical / Mechanical / Maintenance

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A multi-skilled engineer with a...

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Service Engineer - Television & HI-FI

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Engineers for field & bench ser...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer - Award Winning Agency

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global provider of call ce...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Punks show off the Doctor Marten boots as they gather in Blackpool for the annual Rebellion Punk Rock Festival  

Recalling my act of punk rebellion at school shows how different attitudes are today

Rosie Millard
A hormone released when someone is under stress or pressure has been found in breast milk  

Shaming women for being unable to breastfeed is wrong, and it needs to stop

Siobhan Freegard
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada