From infrastructure and communication to food production and transport, tourism and construction play key roles in a circular economy framework that supports sustainable development. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), together with the Sustainable Buildings and Construction Programme of the One Planet Network, addressed this challenge during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (9-18 July, New York, USA).
Tourism and construction are part of the overall economic value chain. Best practices in circular economy thinking that can help these large economic sectors shift to sustainable consumption and production (SCP) were at the centre of the event ‘Tourism & Construction: Circular Economy solutions for SDG12’, organized by UNWTO.
Advancing sustainability in the tourism sector and fulfilling its responsibility in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a task that benefits from new technological advances, continuous innovation and the strengthening of models such as the circular economy. Especially in view of SDG12 on ‘sustainable consumption and production patterns’, and considering the need to grow responsibly as a sector overall, tourism has an important role to play in the decoupling of economic development from resource use.
With its vast links to other economic activities and direct interaction between consumer and producer, tourism can – if managed well – create positive, long-lasting impacts that go well beyond the sector. Adapting circular production and consumption patterns that accelerate sustainability is therefore key to the long-term health and resilience of tourism businesses and destinations.
Against both this background and the review of SDG 12 at the High-Level Political Forum, the event ‘Tourism & Construction: Circular Economy solutions for SDG12’ underscored that embracing circularity implies robust measurement and monitoring of impacts of tourism and construction activities, including energy and water use efficiency, climate change mitigation, waste management, local sourcing, sustainable land use, biodiversity protection and decent employment, among others.
The 17 SDGs represent a common vision for prosperity, equality, justice and climate action, brought together under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 12 calls for more responsible SCP patterns and practices across sectors, with the One Planet Multi-Partner Trust Fund for SDG 12, inaugurated on 17 July 2018, to support partners’ commitments to accelerating this shift. The Fund is a joint effort of the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNWTO, UN-Habitat and the UN Office for Project Services.
‘Tourism & Construction: Circular Economy solutions for SDG12’ featured panels and presentations from the governments and tourism and development administrations of Bhutan, Botswana, Finland, France, Mexico and Switzerland. The gathering also played host to the launch of UNWTO’s Tourism for SDGs Platform, an interactive online tool that aims to create collaboration, motivate discussion and foster action between the tourism sector and the world of sustainable development. The platform, developed with the support of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs, is for policy makers, companies and all tourism stakeholders to connect and jointly advance their SDG implementation strategies.
Concluding the event, the Head of Delegation for Sustainable Development from the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition of France stressed the need to accelerate the shift towards SCP and encouraged both tourism and construction to build cross-sectorial cooperation. If properly developed and used, circular economy solutions will be instrumental to transforming the sustainability of our economic model.
UN meets to help reverse ‘precipitous drop’ in tourism
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.
“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”.
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.
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”.
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.
Air Transport Among the Top Obstacles for Mongolia’s Tourism Sector
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.
Lithuania Lifts Covid-19 Restrictions to Welcome International Tourists
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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