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Over-Tourism Concern Looms as Policy, Resources and Infrastructure Stretched by Rapid Travel Growth

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Today, the World Economic Forum releases its latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR), ranking 140 countries on their relative strengths in global tourism and travel.

Marking over a decade of travel and tourism benchmarking by the Forum, the 2019 index reveals the sector’s resilience, but warns of an approaching ‘tipping point’, where factors such as less expensive travel and fewer tourist barriers increase demand to unsustainable levels. Given that international tourist arrivals surpassed 1.4 billion in 2018, beating predictions by two years, this tipping point may be approaching sooner than expected.

As travel and tourism growth continues to outpace predictions, travel hotspots will start to feel their infrastructure and services under pressure to meet demand. Furthermore, emerging travel markets will also feel over-tourism pressures as their institutions try to keep up.

The top 10 TTCR scoring countries account for over a third of international arrivals, showing a heavy concentration of travel today. The top 25% of countries account for over two-thirds of arrivals. This combination of concentration of tourist arrivals and rapid travel growth is putting a strain on travel hotspots, despite relatively high infrastructure and travel services scores.

Travel and tourism competitiveness in 2019

The report finds travel and tourism competitiveness to be growing around the world. This is important considering the industry contributed over 10% to world GDP and about the same to global employment in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. This contribution is expected to rise by almost 50% in the next decade due to the expanding global middle class, particularly in Asia.

Among the top 10 countries, the UK was the only country to fall in the rankings. It now sits under the increasingly competitive United States at spot six, thanks to a decline in online searches for its natural and cultural resources and a weaker business environment. Aside from the UK-US switch, the top 10 remain the same as the 2017 ranking with Spain, France, and Germany in the lead.

“With travel barriers and travel costs declining, many countries have been significantly increasing their competitive position in global tourism,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility at the World Economic Forum. “Countries can leverage this opportunity to generate economic and development returns, but they must address gaps in infrastructure and environmental protection to make sure these returns can be achieved over the long-term.“

A link between overall economic versus travel and tourism competitiveness was also explored. The average score for more productive high-income countries was about 38% higher than the average score for low- to lower-middle-income countries. The report suggests that lower-income countries with similar levels of natural resources as higher-income countries can use their natural assets to drive broader economic development through direct investments and related policy vehicles in travel and tourism.

Representing 98% of global travel and tourism GDP, the 140 economies are ranked in four sub-indexes: enabling environment; travel and tourism policy and enabling conditions; infrastructure; and natural and cultural resources. Together, these four sub-indexes include a total of 14 pillars which are used to score a country’s overall travel and tourism competitiveness.

Regional and country highlights

Asia-Pacific

Asia-Pacific, which is one of the fastest-growing travel and tourism regions in this year’s ranking, continues to increase in importance for the global industry. Moreover, the region is the biggest source of global outbound tourist spending, with most of it going on intra-regional travel.

Japan (4, +0) remains Asia’s most competitive travel and tourism economy, ranking 4th globally, recently witnessing a boom in international tourist arrivals and receipts (ranking 12th and 9th respectively). China (13, +2) is by far the largest travel and tourism economy in Asia-Pacific and 13th most competitive globally (up two spots). The Philippines (75, +4) has shown improvement, moving up four places to rank 75 globally.

Eastern Asia-Pacific is the most competitive sub-region and the second most competitive in the world for travel and tourism based on the TTCR. South-East Asia outscores the global average in overall competitiveness. South Asia is the only sub-region in Asia-Pacific to score below the global average for travel and tourism competitiveness, but also experienced the greatest percentage improvement in score.

The Americas

The Americas improved on competitiveness since the last edition of the report, coming in above the global average, largely due to strong natural and cultural resources and travel and tourism policy-enabling conditions. The United States (5, +1), Brazil (32, -5), Canada (9, +0) and Mexico (19, +3) make up the four highest scoring countries in the region and account for most of the region’s tourism industry.

The United States (5, +1) is the top scorer in the Americas, moving up one place to rank fifth globally. The country’s large economy and high competitiveness helps give the US the largest travel and tourism GDP in the world, accounting for over 20% of the global total. Driving this are high levels of natural and cultural resources, which also separate it from many other developed nations in the ranking. Despite these high marks, the country still ranks low in overall environmental sustainability (100) and price competitiveness (119).

Bolivia (90, +9) is the most improved country in the Americas, moving up nine places to rank 90th globally.

In particular, the country improved its price competitiveness (109th to 61st) by lowering ticket taxes and airport charges and upped its international openness (88th to 72nd) by reducing visa requirements. Brazil is South America’s highest scoring country and its largest travel and tourism economy. The nation relies on its exceptional natural (2) and cultural (9) resources to attract visitors, especially given its less impressive performance in other areas of travel and tourism competitiveness.

Sub-regionally, North and Central America are more competitive than South America but also experienced less TTCR score growth. In contrast, all but three of South America’s members states covered by this report improved their competitiveness since 2017.

Europe and Eurasia

Europe and Eurasia remain the most competitive when it comes to travel and tourism, with six of the top 10 scorers from the continent. More specifically, Western Europe remained the most competitive sub-region in the world, improving its already high score.

The United Kingdom (6, -1) was the only country in Western Europe to decline in competitiveness dropping one spot since its last ranking, due primarily to the improved competitiveness of the United States and also falling digital demand (online searches of tourism-related subjects), and a slight decline in the business environment.

Spain (1, +0) maintains top place. France (2, +0) also keeps its second place thanks to high cultural resources and business travel ranking. Germany (3, +0) is Western Europe’s largest travel and tourism economy and the third most competitive in the world. Serbia (83, +12) saw the greatest rise in Europe, climbing 12 spots.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has improved since the last TTCR, with 12 of the 15 countries in the MENA region increasing their score from the last report. Despite progress, this region still falls below the global average largely due to lower natural and cultural resources and low international openness.

UAE (33, -4) remains the highest scoring country in the region, with its high ranking in ICT readiness and overall infrastructure boosting its score. Egypt (65, +9) is the region’s most improved country, moving up nine places since the last ranking. Saudi Arabia (69, -6) has the largest travel and tourism GDP within the region, but its competitiveness is undermined by a lack of international openness.

Oman (58, +8) ranks 3rd globally for safety and security. Israel (57, +4) leads the region in health and hygiene and human resource and labour market. Meanwhile, Qatar (51, -4) leads the region for business environment, ranking 8th globally, thanks to low tax rates and an efficient legal system.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest ranking travel and tourism region in this year’s report, with all but three of the 36 countries studied performing lower than the global average. Mauritius (54, +1), is the highest-ranking country in the region, largely due to a good business environment and, by comparison to its peers, high health and hygiene and international openness scores. The country is followed by South Africa (61, -8) and Seychelles (62).

Yet, despite its lower rankings, Africa is expected to have the second highest growth rate over the next 10 years, potentially bolstering its attractiveness to international investments in travel and tourism. Moreover, the region has massive potential for nature-based tourism thanks to its relatively underdeveloped, but rich, natural resources.

Rwanda (107, -10) currently leads the region in safety and security, ranking 31st in this pillar,but has seen its ranking in this area slip 22 spots from the last travel and tourism report and the country fell 11 spots overall. Tanzania (95, -4) is another leading country in the region, ranking first in Sub-Saharan Africa for natural resources and 12th in this category globally.

When considered by sub-region, Southern Africa is the most competitive, especially outscoring the other sub-regions in tourist services infrastructure, prioritization of travel and tourism and price competitiveness. Eastern Africa comes second among the sub-regions and Western Africa comes third. However, the report also finds that Western Africa has seen the highest growth of travel and tourism competitiveness in the region.

Anticipating the tipping point

The burden of over-tourism is already being felt by many travel hotspots. Last May, workers at the Louvre Museum in Paris walked out saying that overcrowding was unmanageable and dangerous. Venice has announced plans to redirect cruise ships away from the city’s central islands, following public discontent. In Spain, there is backlash from residents who feel their way of life is disrupted by high levels of tourism.

Many emerging markets have also begun to feel the strain. For example, Thailand had to recently close its famous Maya Bay cove after a rise in visitors caused extensive ecological damage.

These cases show that competitive travel economies might be approaching a ‘tipping point’ where rising tourism is not met with enough carrying capacity or sufficient management policies. The resulting potential loss of competitiveness puts nations at risk of becoming victims of their own success.

“Countries must look beyond their short-term gains from travel and tourism to ensure a positive future for their economies,” said Lauren Uppink, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism at the World Economic Forum, “Travel and tourism can drive economies, but only if policy-makers ensure proper management of their tourism assets, which requires a holistic, multistakeholder approach.”

Without appropriate investment in travel infrastructure and other travel resources, long term competitiveness may be undermined by bottlenecks. The Forum plans to continue research on over-tourism’s effects on travel and tourism competitiveness with its ‘Data for Destinations’ project launching in 2020.

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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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