Total government spending on just tourism marketing, promotion and visitor-related infrastructure is expected to top $413 billion this year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. That's up 10 percent from five years ago, and it's expected to increase another 29 percent over the next decade.
The Seychelles, an archipelago northeast of Madagascar, spends more than 22 percent of its budget — excluding defense and welfare costs — on total travel and tourism expenditures, according to WTTC figures reported by the World Economic Forum. The Dominican Republic and Jamaica also spend a hefty portion of their national budget on tourism, 22 and 17 percent, respectively. Jordan, Iceland and Singapore spend more than 10 percent.
Spending millions on marketing campaigns makes sense for many countries, which rely on tourists for a significant share of their GDPs. A modest investment can also yield a solid return: The Visit Denmark campaign reported a return of $16 in revenue for each dollar spent, while Tourism Ireland found a return of 10 percent for its television and online advertising, according to a WTTC report.
Smaller nations may have little choice if they want to keep their economies working. Countries like Seychelles (21 percent of GDP comes from tourism), Malta (14 percent), Mauritius (11 percent) and Barbados (11 percent) are especially reliant on foreign visitors. Cape Verde, Croatia and Cambodia are also dependent for more than 10 percent.
"For many of these countries, if they didn't have travel and tourism, they wouldn't have the GDP or economies that they have," said Rochelle Turner, director of research at WTTC. "It's key to many small island states around the world. It's so important and so integral."