A few weeks ago, I went to Iceland with friends from college. We had chosen the location months before because flights were cheap, and after we booked our tickets, I started hearing about Iceland everywhere: from Instagrammers, from travel bloggers, from friends of friends.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones flocking there. Why? Well, in 2008, the global economic crisis hit Iceland. The housing market collapsed. Unemployment rose. And the Icelandic krona plummeted in value. The cheap currency started attracting visitors, and around the same time, Icelandic airlines began focusing on international travel rather than domestic flights.

Photo by Jeff Sheldon
Photo by Jeff Sheldon
Photo by Serey Morm
Photo by Serey Morm

Flash forward to 2016, and Iceland has become a hot tourist destination, one that brings in about 1.6 million visitors per year. This accounts for nearly a third of the country’s GDP. Tourism dollars may have helped the country recover financially, but as a recent report from Skift explains, the industry has its drawbacks, both environmental and cultural. Government and travel industry representatives are now working together to find a sustainable model for Icelandic tourism.

Like many things in life, tourism is a double-edged sword. It can benefit local economies or wreak havoc. That’s why responsible destination marketing matters so much. Smart strategies and open communication with community stakeholders can make tourism a boon for everyone involved.

This is especially important because the industry is huge—and growing. In 2015, tourism generated $7.2 trillion, a whopping 9.8 percent of world GDP. For the past five years, its growth has outpaced that of the global economy, and the World Travel and Tourism Council projects the industry will continue growing by 4 percent every year for the next decade.

Tourism supports one out of every 11 jobs on the planet and drives development in destination economies, but its ripple effects go beyond financial benefits. A 2014 report from Oxford Economics puts it this way: “In addition to attracting visitors, destination marketing drives broader economic growth by sustaining air service, creating familiarity, attracting decision makers, and improving the quality of life in a place.”

Perhaps it’s no wonder the United Nations views tourism as key to eliminating poverty in the developing world. In 2002, the UN founded Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty (STEP), an initiative designed to promote tourism with a special focus on creating economic development and providing jobs for those in poverty.

Sustainable and equitable models of tourism are important whether you’re in a developing country, a bustling metropolis, or a small Midwestern town. Travel industry professionals need to engage stakeholders and consider ways to serve local communities.

For example, Kenya has a thriving safari industry, but its citizens enjoy heavily discounted admission to national parks. Citizens also benefit by directly managing their conservation areas. And villagers in Mayange, Rwanda, worked together to create a tourism model that allows 70 percent of proceeds to go directly back into the community. Closer to home, Indiana tourism helps create jobs, reduce tax burdens, and pay for public schools.

After all, destination marketing isn’t just about the visitors. It’s also about the local employees and entrepreneurs, the chefs and concierges, the meeting planners and tour guides, the bartenders and baristas—the folks who receive tourism dollars and put them back into the local economy, supporting their communities as they go. The right stakeholder engagement and marketing strategies can help make sure everyone benefits together.