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UNWTO at FITUR 2020: Sustainability, Innovation and Accessibility to Take Center Stage

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will place innovation and sustainability at the top of the agenda as it returns to the International Tourism Fair in Madrid (FITUR). At the 40th edition of the leading trade fair, the United Nations specialized agency will emphasizes the global tourism sector’s enduring resilience and status as a beacon of stability in times of political, economic and social uncertainty.

FITUR 2020 will see UNWTO build on its presence at the recent COP25 UN Climate Conference, where it highlighted tourism’s unique and cross-cutting ability to contribute to several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On the eve of FITUR (Monday 20 January), UNWTO will host its annual News Conference, setting out its accomplishments to date as well as its vision for the future, both during the 2020 UNWTO Year of Tourism and Rural Development and beyond. Also at the News Conference, UNWTO will present the latest data on global tourism numbers and trends, its first such report of the new decade.

On the opening day of FITUR (22 January), UNWTO will launch the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, a landmark opportunity for tourism operators and destinations to establish themselves as global leaders in reducing plastic consumption and pollution. The initiative has already gained the support of major players within the sector.

Alongside the launch of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative in Madrid at FITUR, UNWTO will also host the final of the second edition of its Tourism Start-Up Competition (20 January), identifying innovators who are disrupting the sector and making tourism more closely aligned with the SDGs. Additionally, alongside the ONCE Foundation, UNWTO will host its Accessible Tourism Destination (ATDs) Awards (22 January) to recognize destinations that are proactively opening themselves up to tourists of all abilities and backgrounds.

Looking ahead to the event, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “For 40 years, FITUR has served as a key focal point for sector leaders, bringing the public and private sectors together to drive tourism forward. Now as we look to the future, I am confident that FITUR will once again produce ideas and concrete plans needed to ensure tourism can become an increasingly important part of the sustainable development agenda. As we begin 2030, the global community has just 10 years to realize our ambitious climate and development goals, and the tourism sector needs to face up to its large responsibility and recognize its unique power here.”

For the first time, on the evening before the start of FITUR, UNWTO will host a high-level Gala Dinner, with guests of honor to include His Majesty, King Felipe VI of Spain, heads of state and private sector leaders.

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Tourism and COVID-19: UNWTO and WHO Call for Responsibility and Coordination

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As the current outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continues to develop, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) are committed to working together in guiding the travel and tourism sectors’ response to COVID-19.

On 30 January 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and issued a set of Temporary Recommendations. WHO did not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available. WHO is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and the global community on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak.

Cooperation is key

The tourism sector is fully committed to putting people and their well-being first. International cooperation is vital for ensuring the sector can effectively contribute to the containment of COVID-19. UNWTO and WHO are working in close consultation and with other partners to assist States in ensuring that health measures be implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

Tourism’s response needs to be measured and consistent, proportionate to the public health threat and based on local risk assessment, involving every part of the tourism value chain – public bodies, private companies and tourists, in line with WHO’s overall guidance and recommendations.

UNWTO and WHO stand ready to work closely with all those communities and countries affected by the current health emergency, to build for a better and more resilient future. Travel restrictions going beyond these may cause unnecessary interference with international traffic, including negative repercussions on the tourism sector.

At this challenging time, UNWTO and WHO join the international community in standing in solidarity with affected countries.

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UNWTO Places Tourism in the European Parliament

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To mark the start of the new mandate of the European Commission, Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili was in Brussels for a series of high-level meetings. In a notable first, the head of the United Nations specialized agency for tourism met with Elisa Ferreira, the new European Commissioner responsible for Cohesion and Reforms.

Jobs, climate and rural development on the agenda

The talks focused on making tourism a more central part of the European Union agenda, with a particular focus on the sector’s potential to contribute to the creation of more and better jobs and to achieving the ambitious climate goals set out in the new European Green Deal. At the same time, as UNWTO celebrates its Year of Tourism and Rural Development, the role the sector can play in regenerating and driving sustainable growth in rural communities across Europe was also highlighted.

Addressing the Committee’s members, Mr. Pololikashvili said: “The new European Commission has rightly put sustainability and the implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of its strategy for the future. We now have an opportunity to place tourism front and centre in the debate over what kind of Europe we want to build now and for future generations. Above all, as we face up to the biggest challenge of our lifetimes in the climate emergency, we must make sure tourism’s potential to contribute to the European Green Deal is fully realized.”

UNWTO offers strong support to China and tourism

Secretary-General Pololikashvili also used the opportunity of addressing the Committee and Transport and Tourism to reaffirm UNWTO’s support for the people of China and the global tourism sector as it deals with the effects of the current outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). He stressed tourism’s proven ability to help drive recovery from setbacks including health emergencies, and reaffirming UNWTO’s close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese authorities.

In Brussels, Mr. Pololikashvili was accompanied by three Secretary of States for Tourism, representing Spain, Portugal and, coinciding with their current Presidency of the European Union, from Croatia. Additionally, the UNWTO delegation also met with Minister of Tourism and Environment of Albania.

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Greece Welcomes UNWTO Support for Sustainable Tourism Growth

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Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili was in Athens for high-level talks with political leaders, as well as high-level representatives from across the private sector. The discussions focused on the key issues of harnessing tourism as a driver of education and opportunities for all, encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting tourism investment.

Mr Pololiksahvili said: “Greece is one of the world’s true tourism leaders. They also chair the UNWTO Regional Commission for Europe, highlighting the country’s commitment to international cooperation and to sustainable and responsible tourism.” Looking forward to returning to Greece in the very near future, he added: “I am delighted to be further strengthening our partnership and look forward to working more closely with Greece to make sure as many people as possible, including rural and coastal communities, are able to enjoy the many benefits tourism can bring.”

Greece Committed to Working with UNWTO

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed UNWTO’s visit and support of the national tourism sector and showed a sincere interest for prospects of the cooperation with the Greek tourism sector. At the same time, Minister of Tourism for Greece Harry Theocharis expressed his thanks to the UNWTO for the official visit and welcomed its readiness to work alongside Greece in promoting year-round tourism and digital transformation.

He added: “Working with UNWTO gives Greece the chance to learn from the lessons of other countries, share positive experiences and build useful partnerships in the areas of education, innovation and sustainable development.”

European context

UNWTO welcomed Greece’s commitment to sustainable tourism development, making the case for tourism as pillar of stability in uncertain times.

The visit of UNWTO to Greece comes as UNWTO assumes leadership of the global tourism sector’s response to the climate challenge. Later this week, Secretary-General Pololikashvili will address the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN). The intervention in Brussels will be made against the backdrop of the first meeting of the Tourism Task Force, with its Members to discuss the place of tourism in the European Green Deal, including both the opportunities and challenges.

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