With tourism identified by the G20 Leaders Summit in June as one of the sectors that can spur global economic recovery, and a new event, the Global Tourism Economy Forum, launched in September to focus on the “interdependency” of tourism growth and economic growth, the importance of this sector has never been in a brighter spotlight.

Meanwhile, in its latest World Tourism Barometer report, the United Nations World Tourism Organization notes that 2012 represents a landmark: the year in which international tourism arrivals reach the milestone of 1 billion. The UNWTO predicts overall growth in international arrivals to come in at 4 percent for the year.

“Amid the current economic uncertainty, tourism is one of the few economic sectors in the world growing strongly, driving economic progress in developing and developed countries alike and, most importantly, creating much needed jobs,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, to open the Global Tourism Economy Forum September 12. The Forum drew more than 1,000 attendees from 20 countries to Macao. “As we lead up to the milestone of one billion,” Rifai added, “we need to ensure that the tourism sector is supported by adequate national policies and that we work to reduce existing barriers to the expansion of the sector, such as complicated visa procedures, increased direct taxation, or limited connectivity.”

One outcome of the Forum was a Memorandum of Cooperation  between the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Global Tourism Economic Research Centre, organizer of the Forum. The memorandum serves as a commitment to  further collaboration and research to find solutions for the sustainable development and economic diversification of the tourism industry, subsequently leading to more employment opportunities.

Also released at the event were statistics about the size of the international travel market from China. According to Pansy Ho, secretary general, Global Tourism Economic Forum, over the next decade Chinese travelers will become the single largest group of tourists in the world. The UNWTO said some 70 million Chinese will travel internationally this year.

Earlier in the summer, a similar message about tourism’s impact was delivered at the annual G20 Leaders Summit, held June 18–19 at the new Los Cabos Convention Center. The Leaders’ Declaration from the meeting recognizes “the role of travel and tourism as a vehicle for job creation, economic growth and development, and, while recognizing the sovereign right of States to control the entry of foreign nationals” commits to “work towards developing travel facilitation initiatives in support of job creation, quality work, poverty reduction, and global growth.”