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Silk Road: The Most Important Transnational Tourism Route of the 21st Century

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The 8th UNWTO Silk Road Ministers’ Meeting held during the ITB Berlin Travel Trade Show, focused on the long-term tourism vision for the historic Silk Road routes and how to establish the Silk Road as the most important transnational tourism route of the 21st century.

With the theme “2025 Silk Road Tourism Agenda”; the Ministers and Heads of the National Tourism Administrations shared their main ideas and strategies, which bring together 34 countries, Malaysia having become the latest member to join this initiative spearheaded by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

“Our joint work on placing the Silk Road as an internationally renowned and seamless cultural tourism route is proving to be very positive. In countries all along the Silk Road, there is growing awareness of tourism’s contribution to cultural preservation, regional cohesion, and intercultural understanding”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pollikashvili, during the meeting. “Cross-country tourism projects are growing, and the interest of trade and consumers in the Silk Road continues to rise”, he added.

Primarily associated with inland routes, the historic Silk Road also comprised an extensive network of maritime itineraries linking various cultures. Against this backdrop, UNWTO has assessed the tourism potential of Maritime Silk Road thematic routes across Asia and took the occasion of this year’s meeting to present the research study “Tourism Impact of the 21st century Maritime Silk Road”, jointly developed with Sunny International.

UNWTO’s work around the Silk Road aims to maximize the benefits of tourism development for local Silk Road communities, while stimulating investment and promoting the conservation of the route’s natural and cultural heritage.

While Silk Road destinations stand to benefit from the persistent strong growth of international tourism, putting sustainability and trans-border cooperation first will be key to fully develop its benefits. The conclusions of the Silk Road Ministers Meeting will be further specified during the 8th UNWTO Silk Road Task Force Meeting in Turkey in April, and during the 8th UNWTO International Meeting on Silk Road Tourism in Greece in October 2018.

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UN meets to help reverse ‘precipitous drop’ in tourism

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As part of the “long journey” to recover from the ravages of COVID-19, UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid highlighted on Wednesday the need to build a more sustainable, resilient, and responsible global tourism sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic ground the entire tourism sector to a halt, dealing a “devastating blow to the global economy,” he told the first-ever High-Level Thematic Debate on Sustainable Tourism.

“In 2019, prior to the pandemic, tourism contributed $3.5 trillion to global GDP. The precipitous drop during the pandemic is estimated to have cost up to 120 million jobs”.

Communal role

Though easy to sum up the devastation in numbers, capturing the overall toll on people, communities and services, is much harder, particularly for many small island States and least developed countries, which remain heavily reliant on tourism to fuel public spending.

Looking beyond the numbers, tourism plays a deeply human role: “Travel and tourism connect and unite us…builds bridges and facilitates inter-cultural exchanges…[and] fosters peace and solidarity across continents and borders,” said Mr. Shahid.

Creative tourism

From “travel bubbles” to digital tours, vaccine passports and “resilient corridors”, imaginative efforts were made to help tourism weather two years of COVID.

“As the pandemic wanes, the tourism sector is rebounding”, he said, speaking to “the human need to connect, to explore, to experience”.

“However, as it rebounds, it is important that we reflect on its future direction”.

Challenges ahead

While acknowledging the economic importance of tourism, the Assembly president warned that we must also contend with the harm it inflicts on the planet, such as carbon emissions; oceans brimming with plastics; and the human toll on ecosystems and wildlife.

“We know that many of the communities and historic sites around the world that are beloved by tourists are climate and disaster prone and need support to build resilience,” he added.

According to the UN Environment Programme’s Green Economy Report, a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario predicts that by 2050, tourism will generate an increase of 154 per cent in energy consumption, for the sector, 131 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions, 152 per cent in water consumption, and 251 per cent in solid waste disposal.

“We cannot allow this to continue. We must not reboot global tourism in a business-as-usual manner, we must be more ambitious than that, more responsible than that,” underscored Mr. Shahid.

‘Time for bold action’

Throughout the discussions, the UN official encouraged participants to address their commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and enhance the inclusion and empowerment of women, youth, indigenous and other marginalized communities

“Today, I call on all stakeholders to seize every opportunity to transform the tourism sector, and to target a more sustainable, inclusive and responsible approach,” he said.

“Now is the time for bold action and all ideas are welcome”.

Invest in tourism

World Tourism Organization (WTO) chief Zurab Pololikashvili noted that the current energy crisis contributes to the vulnerability of the tourism sector, while maintaining that investments in tourism are also investments in peace.

He said tourism was particularly important to the livelihoods of women, youth and rural communities, and championed the need for a fresh, sustainable balance between the short-term demands of tourists and the longer-term needs of communities.

The WTO official stressed that tourism can drive positive change, and lauded the diverse sectors that have participated in the “landmark” conversation about sustainability.

Supporting the sector

The Director of the World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice, Sameh Wahba, spoke of inclusive, resilient sustainable cities and communities.

He said that as tourism employs 10 per cent of the global workforce, it offers important opportunities for women, rural communities and small businesses.

Mr. Wahba advocated support for nations to promote sustainable tourism to benefit poor communities and preserve culture, heritage and the environment.

Assisting the SDGs

Deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed observed that “tourism is in turmoil,” largely from the COVID pandemic, but also from conflict settings, including Ukraine.

Insisting that sustainability remain at the core of tourism, she advocated for the sector to be transformed into a positive force in implementing the SDGs.

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Air Transport Among the Top Obstacles for Mongolia’s Tourism Sector

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airplane travel

With a unique value proposition to tourists, Mongolia’s tourism sector has substantial growth potential, but faces key constraints in air transport and sector coordination, according to the World Bank’s new study on Mongolia’s tourism sector.

The study, entitled Fostering Inclusive Tourism Development in the Aftermath of COVID-19, analyzes the performance of the Mongolian tourism sector, its regulatory environment, and policy options based on a data-driven economic modeling approach.

Mongolia’s tourism sector has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its full potential is yet to unfold. The country has an abundance of strong niche products for leisure tourism linked to its diverse nature, nomadic lifestyle, culture, and historical legacy,” – said Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia. “This new study aims to help the government identify policy priorities for a more inclusive and sustainable tourism sector.”

Tourism is an important contributor to Mongolia’s economy and accounted for 7.2% of GDP, 6.8% of total exports, and 7.6% of total employment in 2019, which was the best year ever, before collapsing in 2020 due to COVID-19. Relative to comparators in Eurasia as well as to countries outside of Eurasia with similar geographic features and/or tourism offerings, Mongolia has been losing market share over the last decade. However, leisure tourism has continued to expand while business travel has declined. Leisure tourists spent less time in Mongolia comparing with similar tourist markets.

The government aims to develop sustainable and inclusive tourism and make Mongolia “the international destination for nomadic culture and tourism”. This may require prioritizing segments and markets with highest value potential before increasing the number of foreign tourist arrivals, the report points out.

The lack of resources allocated for infrastructure development and a protectionist aviation policy impede sector development, according to the enterprise survey of tourism companies conducted in the beginning of 2021. Furthermore, the tourism industry representatives acknowledged policy and sector coordination issues to be among the top issues facing the sector, including the lack of centralized marketing support, national tourism policy implementation, and coordination.

Mongolia’s tourism sector has suffered a loss of MNT 1.5 trillion due to COVID-19 with around 1,600 companies and 88,000 jobs put in risk. We are facing an unprecedented challenge of retaining experienced professionals in the sector and minimizing the impact of the economic downturn. The comprehensive analysis—prepared by the World Bank at this critical time when we need a strategy to revive the tourism sector—will assist us in assessing the current situation and defining the appropriate measures and policy,” – said Minister of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia Mr. B. Bat-Erdene.

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Lithuania Lifts Covid-19 Restrictions to Welcome International Tourists

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Lithuania has lifted its COVID-19 restrictions for all EU/EEA countries and continues to ease them for other countries. From February 15, all visitors from EU/EEA and some of the non-EU countries—such as Israel, the U.S., Sakartvelo, Ukraine, and others—will no longer be required to provide a vaccine certificate, documentation of recovery, or a negative COVID-19 test when entering Lithuania.

Starting from March 31, visitors from other countries will be still required to present a vaccination certificate, documentation of recovery, or a negative COVID-19 test, however, they will not need to undergo additional testing or self-isolate. Furthermore, those immunized by Nuvaxovid (Novavax) and Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccines can already enter the country.

This decision taken by the Lithuanian government follows the recommendations of the World Health Organisation to lift or ease travel restrictions, as pro-longed strict COVID-19 measures can potentially cause economic and social harm. After implementing these changes, Lithuania remains one of the most open European countries regarding international travel.

“Lithuania is one of the first countries in the region to quickly and flexibly respond to the changing nature of the virus. The lifted restrictions send a positive message to the entire Lithuanian tourism sector, which has been affected by the pandemic,” said Aušrinė Armonaitė, Lithuania’s Minister of the Economy and Innovation. “Previous restrictions would no longer serve the same purpose, and would only have a negative impact on the economy, seeing that the current strain of virus is considered milder. This is also good news for tourists and Lithuanians living abroad since both groups will now find it easier to come to Lithuania.”

Before the pandemic, almost 2 million tourists visited the country in 2019. With over €977.8M spent by visitors that year, tourism became a significant part of the country’s economy. It is expected that the lifted restrictions will drive the country’s tourism businesses towards a faster recovery as entering Lithuania from EU/EEA countries now will be no different from the regulations valid in the pre-pandemic period.

Most tourist attractions are now open in Lithuania and allow visitors to explore the country with minimal safety limitations such as wearing medical masks in public indoor spaces and FFP2 grade respirators during indoor events.

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