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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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Tourism

Time to rethink tourism, an economic lifeline for millions

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Hopes that the tourism industry would rebound from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been dented by the wildfire spread of the Omicron variant. In an exclusive interview with UN News, Zoritsa Urosevic, Executive Director of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), called for new ideas to restart the sector.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is one of the 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations, which aims to promote tourism around the world, and make it the driving force of economic growth and sustainable development.

UNWTO Executive Director Zoritsa Urosevic. photo:UNWTO

Speaking to Bessie Du of UN News at the end of 2021, shortly after the agency’s general assembly, Ms. Urosevic began by outlining the devastating impact the COVID-19 epidemic continues to have on tourism, and the prospects for recovery. 

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Zoritsa Urosevic: Tourism has been the sector hit hardest by the crisis, as well as all the people and the livelihoods that depends on it. Basically, this has been a very tough two years, but we see that, in the future, we will have to fully rethink the sector, and that’s maybe an opportunity. 

Developed countries were much better prepared to support the hit, mostly with financial packages to support the industry and small businesses, and to try to preserve people’s jobs. Developing countries have been really struggling to do that.

We created the tourism recovery package, a tool to rapidly assess what needs to be done in a particular country, and we have created the first ever code for the protection of tourists, because building confidence is really a very important element for people who decide to travel.

We are totally aligned with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the importance of engaging in safer travel protocols rather than stopping travel altogether, because we know how many livelihoods depend on tourism, not only directly, but also those working in the industries that depend on the sector, such as food production, services, and manufacturing.

At a time when populations are increasingly moving to urban areas, rural development through tourism is certainly going to be one of the major trends in the sector. We have launched an initiative called Best Tourism Villages, and we are going to have a global centre for rural development of tourism.

UN News: Would you say the hit on tourism is unprecedented?

Zoritsa Urosevic: This has been certainly the biggest crisis ever for the sector. Basically, it’s like we went back 30 years in 2020. Over the last three decades, tourism has been steadily growing by around four per cent every year, so now we have a situation where we have a lot of supply, a lot of businesses, and no tourists.

Countries which had the size and purchasing power for it, such as China, were able to switch to domestic tourism, but for small, developing countries like Fiji, which have been the hardest hit by the crisis, and where tourism represents between 40 and 70 per cent of GDP, this isn’t possible.

We are calling for the harmonization of travel protocols, which have been very volatile because, even if countries reach an agreement, a change in the pandemic situation means that it can’t be applied.

The most successful countries have been the ones that were able to communicate very clearly, and spell out the protocols. Greece is a great example: they opened up in July 2020, but communicated well in advance, and many tourists who had been planning to go elsewhere went to Greece instead, because they were well informed.

UN News: How do you inform the everyday tourists on the progress made in internationally coordinating travel protocols?

Zoritsa Urosevic: We have really scaled up our presence on social media, and have a hundred times more followers than we used to have. We are trying our best, but it’s never enough, so we are very welcoming to new ideas and new opportunities.

UN News: What do you say to the people whose livelihoods depend on tourism?

Zoritsa Urosevic: First, I would say that this sector is very resilient: we all dream,and we all want to travel. For now, we need to improve education and training, but I think the future is bright. Tourists will come back, and they will be more respectful than before: there will be a new path for happiness in tourism and cultural exchange.

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New ADB Facility to Help Southeast Asia Revive Tourism

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has set up a $1.7 million technical assistance facility to accelerate Southeast Asia’s tourism recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, boost inclusive, sustainable development in the sector, and help local tourism entrepreneurs, especially women and youth, adopt digital platforms to grow their businesses.

The Southeast Asia Sustainable Tourism Facility will help countries identify and prepare environmentally sustainable tourism projects and catalyze private financing to support them. It will help businesses better operate tourism facilities and deliver digital tourism services. The facility will also help policy makers design visa, online short-term rental, and other policies to attract longer-staying, higher-spending visitors and remote workers, allow more small entrepreneurs to legitimately operate accommodation services, and boost tourism tax revenues.

“This new facility aims to help ADB’s developing member countries in Southeast Asia revive tourism, which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said ADB Principal Tourism Industry Specialist for Southeast Asia Steven Schipani. “Projects supported by the facility will develop green and resilient urban and transport infrastructure in secondary cities to improve the tourism sector’s competitiveness, help create jobs, protect the environment, and accelerate inclusive digital transformations.”

In 2019, travel and tourism accounted for 12.1% of Southeast Asia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employed 42 million workers, mostly women working for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But international visitor arrivals dropped 82% in 2020 from 2019, while domestic tourism remains constrained by travel restrictions and reduced economic activity. The sector’s contribution to regional GDP fell by 53% in 2020, pushing more people into pov­erty.

Even before COVID-19, Southeast Asia trailed global tourism competitiveness benchmarks for ground, port, and urban infrastructure, information and communication technology readiness, and environmental sustainability. Governments hope to address these challenges in tandem with efforts to revive tourism. The facility will support key tourism-related priorities set out by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and subregional tourism strategies in Southeast Asia.

The facility includes a  $500,000 grant from ADB’s Technical Assistance Special Fund. In addition, ADB will administer a $225,000 grant contribution from the Project Readiness Improvement Trust Fund financed by the Nordic Development Fund, a $500,000 grant from the Republic of Korea e-Asia and Knowledge Partnership Fund, and a $500,000 grant from the Spanish Cooperation Fund for Technical Assistance. 

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COVID-19: WHO urges Europeans to be smart and safe this holiday season

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is reminding Europeans to remain vigilant against COVID-19 spread as they round out the year with friends and family. 

In a message on Thursday, WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge urged Europeans to “be smart, be kind, be safe this holiday season.” 

The COVID-19 threat remains high across the continent, which was already the epicentre of the pandemic even before the emergence of the new Omicron variant.  

Use the tools 

“My message to the people of Europe and central Asia is to exercise caution this holiday season. Use the many tools we have at our disposal. These stabilizers help us to manage the virus and keep people safe,” said Dr. Kluge. 

He urged people to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. 

“Vaccines remain the best way to prevent severe disease and death, even with the arrival of the Omicron variant,” said Dr. Kluge. “If you are eligible for a third dose and it is available to you, take it.” 

Families and friends meeting up should keep these gatherings small, he added,while recommending that people should take a lateral flow/antigen or PCR test beforehand to ensure they are not infectious.

“Follow other preventive measures, even if you are fully vaccinated,” Dr. Kluge advised.  “Avoid crowded or confined places, wear a well-fitting mask, observe physical distancing of at least one metre, ventilate indoor spaces by opening windows and/or doors, and keep your hands clean.”

Finding the right balance 

In separate advice to governments and health authorities, WHO Europe called for “a balanced and risk-based approach” to COVID-19 prevention measures this winter season. 

As people socialize more indoors, or travel to visit loved ones, the opportunities for further virus transmission are significant.  

WHO Europe said with the right mix of measures, countries can find a balance between keeping coronavirus transmission down and societies and economies open. 

Government response should be centred around preventing severe COVID-19 disease and stabilizing transmission. 

Measures include continuing to vaccinate, targeting those most at risk, and prioritizing eligible groups for booster shots.  Governments should also strengthen public health actions such as testing, contact tracing and regulations for mass gatherings. 

Regarding international travel, WHO Europe said while countries may apply appropriate measures to reduce virus transmission, particularly in response to new variants, blanket travel bans will not prevent their international spread. 

Additionally, decisions on mass gatherings should “rely on a risk-based approach”, and WHO has produced a policy brief and risk assessment tool to support authorities in this regard. 

New assessment tool 

WHO Europe recently launched an online mechanism to help governments decide on the type and level of measures to implement in their territories. 

The COVID-19 Public Health and Social Measures (PHSM) Calibration Tool brings together the crucial information required to make an assessment, and then provides a situational report with recommendations on appropriate measures. 

The (PHSM) Calibration Tool will allow governments and local authorities to quickly adjust measures as needed, which in turn should help reduce virus transmission, among other benefits.

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