GIZ's playbook for tourism development

Tourists at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Germany’s agency for international cooperation oversees about 60 projects that involve tourism. Photo by: Rebecca MacKinnon / CC BY

More development actors are looking to tourism to help achieve the sustainable development goals. Germany’s agency for international cooperation GIZ is one of the leading players driving resources to the sector. Today, GIZ oversees about 60 projects that involve tourism, up from about 35 just four years ago.

In an exclusive interview with Devex, GIZ’s adviser for sustainable development through tourism and private sector cooperation, José Manuel Froehling, shared a couple of pages from GIZ’s tourism playbook.

“Tourism development cooperation is becoming a bigger topic, not only in Germany but also worldwide,” he told Devex. “We’re convinced that tourism can play a key role in developing countries to promote economic empowerment and inclusive growth.”

Tourism wins plaudits for its ability to create jobs and, if done with care, foster sustainable local communities. Partly for that reason, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Sustainable Development Goal 8, to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all,” implores development actors to “promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.” Tourism also gets nods from SDG 12, aiming to create sustainable consumption and production cycles, and SDG 14, which focuses on conserving ocean and marine resources.

Froehling takes it a step further: “The tourism industry touches on all of the SDGs,” he said. “We fought to get tourism [into the SDGs],” said the GIZ official. “Now we have to deliver.”

Job growth

Across the globe, tourism generates 1 of every 11 jobs, according to a recent report by a coalition of European nonprofits: the Working Group on Tourism and Development, TourCert, Bread for the World and Tourism Watch.

In countries such as Morocco, it looms even larger. The north African country of 30 million receives 10 million visitors a year, a number the country hopes to double by 2020. Tourism accounts for 7 percent of gross domestic product, said Nada Roudies, secretary-general of the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, during a panel at ITB Berlin, the world’s biggest tourism trade confab.

Yet even where the tourism sector is strong, development challenges remain. According to the coalition report, “many of the 280 million jobs directly or indirectly attributed to global tourism are characterized by precarious working conditions and seasonality.”

“Tourism is a tricky issue,” Froehling said. “The destination is the product, and people see negative impacts [when they travel]. That’s the image people have.” As a result, he added, it can be an uphill battle to promote tourism initiatives. “There is always a strong headwind,” he noted.

Building a market

GIZ’s main strategy, Froehling said, is to ensure the private sector is on board. If businesses aren’t interested, the market won’t be, either. “That’s a key issue,” he said. “How can we cooperate with the private sector? How can bring them into development cooperation?”

He emphasized the need to look at the whole spectrum of tourism. “For several years, there was a trend [in tourism development] toward small, small and smaller: ecotourism,” he said. “But we also have to look at the bigger hotels, at mass tourism, to see how we can we can generate benefits for the local population and make it sustainable.”

GIZ also hopes to expand from conventional tourism investments into the broader supply chain, Froehling said. “Look at the potential.If it is in agriculture, work to improve quality so that farmers can start selling their produce to the hotels. Or train the local population so people can offer additional activities near a beach resort.”

Tourism outlays often have spin-off effects for local communities, Froehling stressed.

“Tourism is one of the key drivers of infrastructure development, especially for rural areas,” he said. “Tourism infrastructure has to be built, but it doesn’t serve only tourists. It also serves the local population. It helps to develop the economy in general.”

Working examples

Froehling offered a few case studies from GIZ’s portfolio. The German agency is working with Fair Trade, a South African-based group, to expand efforts to promote its tourism certification labeling scheme to other countries of southern Africa. GIZ has also linked a German tour operator, DAV Summit Club, with rural communities in Albania to develop a trekking route called Peaks of the Balkans.

In Egypt, the agency’s Green Star Hotel Initiative aimed to improve the environmental performance of hotels. From an initial core group of under a dozen, the program expanded to over 60. Eventually the Egyptian government took things over.

A similar program in Morocco was on display at ITB Berlin. Two years ago, three big name European tour operators, Club Méditerranée, Kuoni Travel, and the TUI Group, joined GIZ and local Moroccan firm Lacon Institute to improve the environmental performance of hotels there.

About 15 establishments signed up. “It was difficult at the beginning to get hotels to take part in the pilot project because it involved a lot of investment,” said Bernd Singendonk, GIZ technical adviser for sustainable tourism, during an ITB panel. “In the end, everyone was satisfied. With better sustainability they got more business and saved money.”

Mirroring the experience in Egypt, Moroccan officials are taking note. “We are happy to see that GIZ is working on sustainable tourism in rural areas,” added Roudies. “We would like to work with [them] to enlarge the number of hotels [in the program].”

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About the author

  • Bill Hinchberger

    Bill Hinchberger is a global communications professional and educator. He studied at Berkeley and has taught at the Sorbonne. Based mostly in Paris, he spends quality time in Brazil and the United States, and works extensively in Africa and Latin America. He has served as an international correspondent for The Financial Times, Business Week, ARTnews, Variety, and others. One current focus of his work is content creation for foundations, NGOs and other organizations, especially those working on issues related to international affairs, the environment and development. He also runs training programs for professional journalists, notably in Africa, and is an associate of Rain Barrel Communications, a leading consultancy for social justice projects.