Tourism and travel-related services

Tourism plays an important role for nearly all WTO members, especially in terms of its contribution to employment, GDP, and the generation of foreign exchange. Tourism-related services are typically labour-intensive, with numerous links to other major segments of the economy, such as transport, cultural and creative services, or financial and insurance services.

Tourism and travel-related services include services provided by hotels and restaurants (including catering), travel agencies and tour operator services, tourist guide services and other related services.

A crucial aspect of trade in tourism services is the cross-border movement of consumers (mode 2). This permits a variety of workers, including those in remote areas, to become services exporters — for instance, by guiding tourists, performing in local events, or working in tourist accommodation. While digitalisation offers great potential for many aspects of tourism services, the sector continues to depend highly on the cross-border movement of both customers and employees, and remains strongly linked to transport services.


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Current commitments and exemptions

Tourism commitments have been undertaken by over 133 WTO members, more than in any other service sector. This indicates the desire of most members to expand their tourism sectors and to increase inward foreign direct investment (FDI) as part of their efforts to promote economic growth.

The level of commitments by sub-sector varies widely for tourism and travel-related services. Commitments on services provided by hotels and restaurants are the most frequent, with a significantly smaller number of WTO members making commitments on travel agencies and tour operator services. Only about half of members with commitments on tourism have included tourist guide services, and only a few members have made commitments for the “other” tourism services category.


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Treatment of the sector in negotiations

Tourism services, like other services covered by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), were included in the services negotiations that began in 2000.

One of the earliest documents was a proposal for a GATS Annex on Tourism, originally sponsored by the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Honduras (S/C/W/127 and S/C/W/127/Corr.1). The proposal had two main aspects: more comprehensive treatment of the tourism sector (with respect to classification issues), and the prevention of anti-competitive practices. As part of the plurilateral process, a joint request was made by a group of developing countries, asking for improved tourism commitments for all modes of supply.

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Additional information

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  • Secretariat background notes on tourism services (Document code S/C/W/* and keyword “tourism and Background Note”)  > search   > help

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