In celebration of World Tourism Day, former Cape Town Tourism CEO and head of Destinate - a specialised destination and tourism marketing agency - Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold shares why tourism, if developed responsibly, is a global vehicle for positive change.This year’s theme for World Tourism Day highlights tourism’s role in water access and shines a spotlight on the actions currently being taken by the sector in order to contribute to a more sustainable future for tourism and the environment, as well as the challenges ahead.In support of United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, World Tourism Day (WTD) 2013 is being held under the theme Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future.Tourism, if developed responsibly, is a vehicle for positive change.I was on my way to Moscow last week to attend and speak at the 2nd UNWTO Global Summit on City Tourism. In the plane I read a newspaper article where Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism said: “South Africa’s mining industry employs thousands of people, but the booming tourism sector creates more jobs and is more sustainable. It is larger than many other important economic sectors, including the automotive manufacturing industry.”Tourism is a sector that really matters.It matters because its direct contribution to gross domestic product has increased to R84billion in 2011. It matters because it is a viable employment sector for many people with varied skill levels. It matters because it is a vehicle for positive change and upliftment of communities.It matters because it unites and connects people.Yet, I am still often told that it is time to focus our energy on our “business or economic brand”, that tourism receives too much attention. I say tourism is business and we should focus even more of our collective energy on growing this sector responsibly, because it really matters.World Tourism Day is a good time to reflect on the industry, new developments and trends.Greater responsibilityResponsible tourism is about making “better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit” – in that order. It is about using tourism rather than being used by it. It is about identifying the locally significant issues and acting to deal with them.Responsible tourism is a way of life and doing business. It is more than a form of tourism or a special project, as it represents an approach to engaging with tourism, be that as a tourist, a business, and locals at a destination or any other tourism stakeholder. It emphasises that all stakeholders are responsible for the kind of tourism they develop or engage in. While different groups will see responsibility in different ways, the shared understanding is that responsible tourism should entail an improvement in tourism. Tourism should become "better" or more sustainable as a result of the responsible tourism approach.South Africa and Cape Town in particular, is recognised globally as the birthplace of Responsible Tourism.A solid foundation of best practice for the future sustainable development of tourism has been laid, but in an ever changing world, it is important to understand what is shifting within the responsible tourism landscape so that we can adapt quickly. Consumer pressure is vital and vacation decisions are increasingly being based on environmental, social and economic considerations.The theme for this year’s World Tourism Day, is very relevant to South Africa as water is one of our scarcest resources.It is also an asset that can be used better for the responsible development and promotion of tourism. I believe we can use our water assets better, highlighting the biodiversity and richness of our offering to the world. Let us use this opportunity to shine the spotlight on water conservation, water-based tourism and the fragile environment we have the pleasure to enjoy and protect.As tourism growth continues its upward trends, so does our responsibility to ensure that its growth has a positive rather than detrimental impact on our world.Strong tourism growthSouth Africa has achieved strong growth in tourism in the first quarter of this year, continuing the trend of the past year when the country experienced an exceptional 10.2% growth in the number of international tourists, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in a recent report.In 2012, South Africa recorded 13-million international arrivals, of which 9.2-million were tourists.Particularly encouraging, the minister said, was the strong growth in tourists from Europe during the first quarter after a long period of stagnation. The number of German tourists grew 17%, France 14% and Italy 17%, while the UK grew 3% off a high base.The growth in tourist numbers from emerging markets in the first quarter of the year, according to figures provided by Statistics South Africa, was equally strong with Chinese tourism registering a 37.4% increase, India 22%, Nigeria 22% and Ghana 46%.Mr van Schalkwyk stressed that the stiff competition in the international tourism market and the need for South Africa to innovate and diversify its product offering to "stay ahead of the game". While wildlife tourism would remain the backbone of the industry; South Africa needs to further diversify its offering to include its water resources, cultural heritage, lifestyle products and vibrant cities.The greater emphasis on domestic tourism aims to stimulate further positive growth from its current contribution of R10bn to the economy annually. The Minister has also stressed the importance of the rest of Africa as a source market and trade partner for South Africa. "Africa is key to what we want to achieve," the minister said. He commended the expansion of more air routes into Africa by SAA to stimulate intra-regional travel in Africa.Ever-changing worldTimes remain tough and changing trends place strain on the industry and destinations to adapt.The way that people travel has changed significantly. People hunger for community and want to get involved with causes larger than themselves. They want to get off the bus, linger and get lost in the hearts and homes of the places they visit – enriching their lives, not with material wealth, but with meaningful experiences.We’ve seen how global growth has lost momentum across the developing world. Most analysts believe that the global economy (and therefore the tourism industry) will never reach the same growth levels it experienced during 2007/8.The monumental shift in the global economy is having a dramatic impact on the travel industry.There is an increase need for personalisation and consumer-mindedness with travellers demanding centre place in the planning and buying of their next trip. Destinations and companies who provide flexibility, personalised information at the touch of a button and people-centred authentic experiences are the ones that will stand out from the crowd in the next two years.There has been a surge in last minute impulse driven bookings, shorter stays and more frequent trips closer to home.These trends are forcing the industry to become more flexible, reviewing booking and cancellation policies and investing in digital marketing and communication solutions.Social media will gain even more relevance for tourism with 14% of outbound European travellers using it as a source of travel information and more people now reading news on their mobile phones than in newspapers.Mobile saw a dramatic increase during 2012, especially in the travel and tourism industries with 75% of the world's population now having access to a mobile phone. 16 million Americas booked trips via mobile in 2012, a 33% increase from the previous year. Transactions generated via mobile online bookings — or booking a vacation via a phone or tablet — was expected to reach $26 billion worldwide [in 2014], said Neha Parikh, US and Canada president and general manager with Expedia’s Hotels.com. The rise of citiesThe world is increasingly leaning toward city trips. For most people to escape means to explore different and new cultures and for them cities are the epicentres of modern, living culture.With the rise of new mega cities in developing countries and urban tourism accounting for 80% of the world’s travellers, city trips increased with 13% in 2012 as opposed to sun and beach holidays that grew with only 1%.We have dedicated a series of blogposts to urban tourism. Read more here and look out for my insights on city tourism from the 2nd UNWTO Global Summit on City Tourism coming soon.