UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai has warned the hospitality sector it must carefully manage growth if the world is to avoid the pitfalls of over-tourism.
Some 1.2 billion travellers will cross an international boundary in 2017, with the figure expected to rise to 1.8 billion by 2030, according to UNWTO forecasts.
The increase has prompted some to question whether the impact of tourism has led to a detrimental impact on popular destinations, especially for local residents – a trend known as over-tourism.
Examples including Venice, which many travellers believe to be overburdened by tourists, and Barcelona, where authorities have moved to limit hotel construction.
New Zealand, too, has seen a spike in visitor arrivals in recent years, with some citizens questioning the impact of the sector.
However, speaking in Jamaica, Rifai said the challenge was managing growth, rather than preventing it.
He said: “I do not believe tourism has become a victim of its own success, it has become a way of life now.
“It is now something that cannot go back.
“We have seen wake-up calls, what we have called over-tourism.
“These are wake up calls on how to manage the growth – but progress is never the enemy, growth is never the enemy, and numbers are never the enemy.”
Rifai emphasised his position that anybody should be allowed to travel anywhere, calling for a reduction in barriers to travel.
He added: “We have to keep growing – growth is the spirit of mankind.
“We need to master the art of managing this growth; growth is about energy and potential.
“Our job is to use this energy, to direct it correctly.”
Rifai was speaking at the Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, currently taking place in Jamaica.
Find out more about the event on the official website.