The substantial growth of the international tourism activity is one of the most remarkable economic and social phenomena of the past century. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the number of international tourist arrivals increased from 25.3 million in 1950 to 846 million in 2006, corresponding to an average annual growth rate of 6.6 percent. The revenues generated by those tourists, i.e. international tourism receipts, grew by 11.3 percent per annum over the same period. This rate of growth was significantly higher than that of the world economy as a whole making international tourism one of the largest categories of international trade.
International tourism activity is also characterised by a continuing geographical spread and diversification of tourist destinations. Although tourism activity is still concentrated in the developed regions of Europe and the Americas, a substantial proliferation of new tourist-receiving markets is also observed in the developing regions. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the two traditional tourist-receiving regions of Europe and the Americas attracted, together, 96 percent of the world’s total tourist arrivals in 1950. Yet, by 2006, this figure fell to 70.5 percent in favour of the developing regions of Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.
International tourism has become one of the main economic activities and an important source of foreign exchange earnings and employment in many countries of these regions. It has therefore been given much attention in the national development strategies of many developing countries and placed on the agenda of many recent international conferences on sustainable development. Failing to include tourism in these strategies is to overlook the fact that it presents one of the biggest and, undoubtedly, the most diversified and creative economic activity of all.
Considering their rich and diverse natural, geographic, historical and cultural heritage assets, the OIC countries, as a group, have in fact a high potential for the development of a sustainable international tourism sector. However, considering the modest share of the OIC region in the world tourism market and the concentration of the tourism activity in only a few OIC countries, it seems that a large part of the tourism potential of the OIC region remains unutilised. The problems facing tourism and the development of a sustainable international tourism sector in the OIC countries are diverse as each country has its own tourism features, level of development and national development priorities and policies.
Given this state of affairs, this Report attempts to assess the performance and economic role of the international tourism sector in the OIC member countries. It analyses the two traditionally used indicators in measuring international tourism, i.e. international tourist arrivals and international tourism receipts. The analysis is made at both the individual country and the OIC regional levels. The Report also sheds light on some issues and challenges of tourism development and cooperation in the OIC countries and proposes a set of recommendations to serve as policy guidelines to which the attention of the member countries needs to be drawn.