Tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification over the past six decades, transforming into one of the largest, fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Tourism accounts for 7% of global exports, contributes 10% of global GDP and represents one in each 11 jobs worldwide. In 2016, the number of international tourist arrivals reached 1.2 billion. With an increase of 4.7% over the previous year, this was the sixth consecutive year of above average growth since the 2009 economic crisis. By 2030, UNWTO forecasts the international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion.
Tourism’s exponential growth presents challenges in terms of increased resource use, degradation of natural and cultural heritage, as well as negative social impacts, stressing the need for a shift in paradigm. Efforts at the international level to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable practices, both on the consumption and the production side, are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the post 2015 development agenda, and the adoption by the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) to accelerate sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns. The Sustainable Tourism Programme of the 10YFP (10YFP STP), launched on the occasion of the World Travel Market in 2014, serves as a collaborative platform to bring together and scale up initiatives and partnerships to accelerate the shift to sustainable consumption and production. The outcome document of Rio+20, The Future We Want, highlighted for the first time the importance of obtaining more reliable, relevant and timely data in areas related to the three dimensions of sustainable development and acknowledged the potential of tourism to make a significant contribution in this regard. Furthermore, the importance of tourism as a driver of sustainable development has also been emphasized by Resolution A/RES/69/233 of the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, which underlines the contribution of sustainable tourism to poverty eradication, community development and the protection of biodiversity.
Yet, despite the progress made so far, the lack of reliable data at the destination level continues to be one of the major challenges the sector needs to address. In order to support destination stakeholders to take focused and coherent action to accelerate the shift towards SCP patterns, thus turning the goals proposed by the international community into reality, the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO) was launched in 2004.