As I read 23 success stories in the UNWTO’s recent report on sustainable tourism, something hit me. These stories spanned six continents, delving into every aspect of tourism, yet they shared a unique, poignant quality: their success is based on partnerships.

The 17 SDGs

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

On the list of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, you’ll find “partnerships for the goals” tucked as #17.  It’s listed last, but it’s apparent to me it should be on the top of everyone’s list.

Tourism and travel has emerged as a potent economic driver, creating about 10 percent of the world’s economic activity and jobs.   It seems to hold particularly promising prospects for building women and youth employment, infrastructure improvements in developing countries, and wider understanding within the global community.

Yet challenges exist, in the form of overcrowding, poor working conditions, emissions and pollution, and biodiversity impact.   Sorting out linkages among the good, the bad and the ugly is time-consuming when it’s not otherwise impossible.  But as an industry, this is our responsibility.

The cover of the UNWTO report

The UNWTO’s Tourism for Development report

And that’s why I found inspiration in the UNWTO’s Tourism for Development report.  The second volume is filled with case studies that are instructive and have a message that’s simple: we must work together to effect positive change. The 23 examples shine a light on how governments, corporations and nonprofits can do just that.

walking tour of New York City

HI NYC hostel guests on a volunteer-led tour

That’s certainly been the case for the HI NYC hostel, which you’ll find on page 85.  With programs celebrated for enhancing interaction and understanding between travelers and community members alike, it’s the partnerships that help make it possible.  Like Harlem One Stop, a community-based organization with whom we partner to give our guests insights into Harlem’s heritage, culture, architecture.  Or the College of Staten Island, a four-year public college within the City College of New York that helps us reach amazing student prospects for our travel scholarship program.  And the New York Public Library which supports our intercultural exchange initiatives and community outreach.  It’s almost ironic that looking externally is the key to fulfilling our internal objectives, but it also shows that our vision is shared by many, and together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

Sustainable Development Goal #17

To my mind, SDG #17 is the answer to solving the other 16.  But don’t just take my word for it, I have a hunch you’ll come to the same conclusion when you read the report yourself.