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African tourism leaders debate the role of the sector as a tool for inclusive growth and community engagement

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The potential of Tourism in poverty alleviation and to induce transformative change has been addressed in Lusaka, capital city of Zambia, in the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Conference on Promoting Sustainable Tourism, a Tool for Inclusive Growth and Community Engagement in Africa.

The Conference, a flagship event of the Africa region for the celebration of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, took place last 16-18 November and was coordinated by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in cooperation with the Government of Zambia. 

According to UNWTO statistical data, the African continent had an increase of international arrivals of 8% in 2016, compared to the previous year. This, together with the increasing commitment of African governments to position tourism in their agenda, reveals the gaining prominence of the sector as well as its strong potential to foster positive change and transformation.

The Conference that was preceded by a technical workshop to revise strategies and approaches to develop sustainable tourism initiatives in the African continent, tackled these issues as well as the potential of sustainable tourism to lead policies to foster communities inclusion.  The summit was attended by more than 200 international and local participants from Angola, Egypt, Jordan, Cabo Verde, Guinea Equatorial Kenya, Mali, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Switzerland, Spain, Union of the Comoros, Malawi, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The event commenced with a Ministerial Dialogue on Tourism, Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development in the African continent, attended by Charles Banda, Minister of Tourism and Arts of Zambia, Ronald Chitotela, Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development of Zambia, Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General, Fatuma Hirsi Mohamed, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism of Kenya, Abdelgadir Dmein Hassan Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Antiquities and Wildlife of Sudan and Dorothy Tembo, Deputy Executive Director at the International Trade Center. The session was moderated by Brownyn Nielsen, Editor-in-Chief at CNBC Africa who invited the attendees to showcase sustainable tourism practices in the region and how the sector could help achieve the SDGs and generate benefits for African societies.

The framework of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals were defined together with the African Union Agenda 2063 as the best scenario to foster sustainable tourism in the continent.

Precisely to this green, responsible and eco-friendly tourism was dedicated the intervention of Charles Banda, Minister of Tourism and Arts of Zambia who emphasized that “sustainability is believed to be the link between the present and the future. As patrons of the tourism sector our role is to ensure that even our children’s children experience the same nature in the form that it currently is and not in a worse off state.”

As commented by Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of the tourism sector and to promote activities to enhance the contribution of the sector for national economies. The President emphasized the capacity of tourism to contribute to local development and stated that “the Lusaka Declaration is an important milestone in the Agenda 2030 and towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and in the recognition of tourism as an essential development pillar.”

UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, who congratulated Zambia for hosting the Conference as member of the UNWTO Executive Council and Chair for 2019, highlighted that the current world is facing major transformations namely the digital revolution, connecting our minds virtually and globally, the urban revolution, connecting our life style and our livelihoods and the travel revolution connecting us physically and culturally “Today, the world is at a major transformation juncture, rapid and fast change is the essence of our time. The three global forces are leading this transformation”, he added. During his visit, Rifai also declared the South Luangwa National Park of Zambia as a sustainable park.

Partnerships, technology and wildlife conservation at the core

The sessions were organized into four panels tackling Public-Private Partnership, the Role of Technology in the development of tourism, Wildlife conservation and Community Engagement and Air Connectivity in Africa.

The final outcome of the conference was the Lusaka Declaration on Promoting Sustainable Tourism Development, a Tool for Inclusive Growth and Community Engagement in Africa. The document, which places sustainability at the core of tourism development and on national and international development agendas, was adopted unanimously by all participants.

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International Tourism Numbers and Confidence on the Rise

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The latest issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer from the World Tourism Organization shows that international tourism continued to grow over the first quarter of 2019. Though at a slower rate when compared with the last two years, the 4% increase registered in early 2019 is a very positive sign. The Middle East (+8%) and Asia and the Pacific (+6%) experienced the highest increase in international arrivals. Numbers in both Europe and Africa were up by 4%, and in the Americas growth was recorded at 3%.

“International tourism continues to perform strongly worldwide fuelled by a positive economy, increased air capacity and visa facilitation”, says UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili. “Growth in arrivals is easing slightly after two years of exceptional results, but the sector continues to outpace the global rate of economic growth.”

Europe, the world’s largest tourism region, reported solid growth (+4%), led by destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe and Central and Eastern Europe (both +5%). Growth in Africa was driven by the ongoing recovery in North Africa (+11%). In the Americas, the Caribbean (+17%) rebounded strongly after weak results in 2018, following the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria in late 2017. In Asia and the Pacific, results for the first three months showed a 6% increase led by North-East Asia (+9%) and a very solid performance from the Chinese market.

“With this growth comes greater responsibility for translating it into better jobs and better lives”, Mr. Pololikashvili stresses. “We need to continue investing in innovation, digital transformation and education so that we can harness the many benefits tourism can bring while at the same time mitigating its impact on the environment and society with a better management of tourism flows.”

UNWTO Confidence Index Panel optimistic over future growth

Confidence in global tourism has started to pick up again after slowing down at the end of 2018, according to the latest UNWTO Confidence Index survey. The outlook for the May-August 2019 period, the peak season for many destinations in the Northern hemisphere, is more optimistic than in the recent periods and more than half of respondents are expecting a better performance in the coming four months.

Experts’ evaluation of tourism performance in the first four months of 2019 was also rather positive and in line with the expectations expressed at the beginning of that period.

UNWTO forecasts growth of 3% to 4% in international tourist arrivals in 2019.

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Guatemala partners with UNWTO to launch Sustainable Tourism Observatory

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has welcomed Guatemala into its International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO). The Central American country becomes the 26th member of the global network which is committed to the systematic collection of data on the impacts of tourism at the destination level.

The new Observatory is located in the city of La Antigua Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a leading tourism destination. Led by the Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGUAT) and supported by the Guatemalan government, the Observatory will periodically collect data and scientific evidence as it monitors the effect tourism has on the historic city. This data will then be used to assess how tourism can best be used to help drive sustainable growth and development.

“We warmly welcome Antigua´s entry into our global network of observatories. This demonstrates Guatemala’s strong commitment to tourism as a force for good,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “The Observatory will generate more and better evidence of the economic, environmental and social impacts that tourism has on Antigua and the surrounding area. This will facilitate decision-making so that tourism can continue to drive sustainable development.”

The establishment of the new Observatory was announced during the 64th meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for the Americas, also held in Antigua (15-16 May). Moving ahead, the Observatory will work with an interdisciplinary group of local experts. This commitment to the input of local stakeholders is a key feature of the INSTO Observatories around the world.

Jorge Mario Chajón, Director General of INGUAT, adds: “This project will have a real multiplier effect, maximizing the economic as well as the social benefits that tourism brings. We welcome the opportunity to partner with UNWTO and work together to make tourism a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

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Leaders Discuss Role of Tourism in Asia and Pacific’s Development Future

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Tourism has significant potential to contribute to Asia and the Pacific’s long-term growth prospects through infrastructure development and job creation. But governments should work to ensure the industry grows in a socially and environmentally sustainable way, according to participants at a high-level Asian Development Bank (ADB) seminar.

The Governors’ Seminar, titled “The Role of Tourism for Sustainable Development,” at the 52nd Annual Meeting of ADB’s Board of Governors in Nadi, Fiji, featured as panelists Japan Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mr. Taro Aso; Indonesia Finance Minister Ms. Sri Mulyani Indrawati; Fiji Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Civil Service, and Communications Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum; Italy’s Director-General for International Financial Relations, Ministry of Economy and Finance Ms. Gelsomina Vigliotti; and ADB President Mr. Takehiko Nakao.

In 2018, 343 million international tourist arrivals and $390 billion in international tourist spending went to Asia and the Pacific. International visitors to Asia have risen by 65% between 2010 and 2018 with key Asian destinations being the People’s Republic of China; Thailand; Japan; Hong Kong, China; and Malaysia. Asian tourists are also an increasing driver of global tourism with higher incomes and a rapidly growing middle class seeking experiences abroad. Globally, international tourist arrivals are expected to reach 2.44 billion by 2030, a 75% increase over 2018, with Asia and the Pacific projected to account for a third of this number.

Tourism plays a large role in the Asian economy. Spending on hotels and airline tickets was $92 billion in 2018 with an estimated 78 million new jobs created. The indirect impact such as through tourism-related investment on new hotels or airplane purchases was larger at $2.94 trillion, creating an estimated 180 million jobs. In Fiji, tourism contributed 14% of the local economy with the indirect impacts accounting for 40% of gross domestic product.

Seminar discussions highlighted several points. Tourism should be encouraged as a key contributor to investment, employment, and tax revenues through investment in both infrastructure and people. For example, world-class airports and airport staff in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur contribute to the vitality of tourism in Thailand and Malaysia. With land being a key component of sustainable tourism, clear and effective sustainable land use regulations are needed.

Tourism creates millions of jobs, notably for women, young people, and those in remote rural areas. However, workers in tourism need the right skills and good working conditions. The Indian state of Kerala, for example, has a program that has trained some 650 residents of poor communities for jobs in local hotels.

Tourism can damage the environment which, over time, reduces visitors and revenues. Governments and the tourism industry can work together to avoid this. In Fiji, the government imposes a 10% tax on tourism-related businesses which funds climate change mitigation projects.

Similarly, cultural heritage needs protection, which could include controlling numbers of visitors to monuments or creating fiscal incentives for businesses to restore historical buildings. To protect the Angkor Wat temple, the Cambodian government created a dedicated authority to better manage the site and maximize the benefit to the local community.

Last, tourism should foster mutual understanding, peace, and safety among people of different backgrounds. Smart travel practices including data sharing is one way to do this. Currently, 16 Asian countries participate in an electronic visa scheme that has increased efficiency at border controls and boosted security. 

At the seminar, Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum stressed the importance of ensuring resilience to both natural hazards and the longer-term issue of climate change. “The infrastructure that goes to the hotels—the electricity cables, the water, the sewers, etc.—the government needs to build resilience on that. The other aspect of the environment and climate change is to do with the oceans … all countries need to make a consolidated effort in respect of climate change.” He also pointed to the need to ensure that as much of the value of the tourist spending as possible is retained within the host country by using local products and services.

Ms. Indrawati addressed the issue of ensuring that local culture and heritage are protected as tourist destinations attract visitors from other countries with different attitudes and mores. “This is exactly always the tradeoff between, on the one hand, to be a global player, in global supply chains, and how you are going to maintain the authenticity as well as the participation of your locals,” she said. Work to develop local skills to ensure tourism-inspired jobs are high quality is also key.

Panelists raised the importance of good infrastructure to support tourists and, through improved water and wastewater systems, for example, to protect the environment. “There should be development of tourist infrastructure both in quantity and quality,” said Mr. Aso. Such infrastructure needs to be disaster-resilient so that when disasters strike, countries do not lose out twice—from missing out on tourism income and having to rebuild their infrastructure and economies.

Ms. Vigliotti noted the common challenges faced by tourist destinations, whether in Europe or Asia and the Pacific. “The challenges for all the tourist destinations … are the same. You need connectivity, you need good infrastructure, and you need good maintenance.” She also stressed the importance of governance and a policy center that defines and implements a strategy.

“Asia and the Pacific has some of the world’s most beautiful natural landscapes and unique cultural monuments,” Mr. Nakao said. “As tourism continues to expand rapidly, it will be important to pursue sustainable tourism that protects the environment such as forests and coral reefs, preserves local cultures, and benefits local communities.”

ADB has supported the development of sustainable tourism in the region through financing for infrastructure, regional connectivity, and environmental protection. In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, ADB has provided assistance for transport, waste management, and skills training and planning, which have improved access and environments in secondary tourism destinations. Elsewhere, ADB has, for example, helped protect natural lakes and local livelihoods in the Kyrgyz Republic and Mongolia, supported tourism planning in the Federated States of Micronesia and Myanmar, and worked to improve transport, infrastructure, and utilities to ensure sustainable tourism in Bhutan and India.

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