This year, one billion tourists have traveled internationally, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations specialized agency for sustainable tourism. This is equivalent to 1 in every 7 people on the planet traveling the world in 2012, breaking all records for international tourism. And today, december 13th 2012 is supposed to be the day when the one-billionth tourist arrives somewhere in the world. (Mrs Dale Sheppard-Floyd)

Some of you probably think this is a bad thing, relating tourism to climate change, waste, exploitation, loss of wildlife, disrespect of cultures and so on. However, it doesn’t need to have a negative impact, quite the opposite can happen depending on travel behavior. In order to raise awareness of the power of one billion tourists to affect positive change by making small changes to their behaviour, UNWTO has been running a global campaign.

The campaign, One Billion Tourists: One Billion Opportunities, calls on the one billion tourists to make their actions count by saving water and energy, using public transport, protecting heritage and more. Respecting the local culture, preserving heritage and buying local goods when travelling are all actions that make a big difference. The winning tip people voted for on the campaign’s web site was Buy Local, encouraging tourists to buy food and souvenirs locally, or hire local guides, to ensure their spending translates into jobs and income for host communities. Buying local also reduces transportation and packaging.

As it is impossible to know exactly where the one-billionth tourist arrives today, many countries are celebrating the occasion by welcoming tourists arriving today. UNWTO is celebrating in Madrid, Spain, home to its headquarters, by welcoming the symbolic one-billionth tourist in the Museo del Prado.

Photo: UNWTO, 1 billion tourists 1 billion opportunities

Where had the 1 billion tourists been to?  Click to see some of their photo.