The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) hosted a high-level virtual meeting yesterday, bringing together key UN agencies, the chairs of its Executive Council and Regional Commissions, and private sector leaders. Tourism is the economic sector that has been hardest hit by COVID-19 and all participants accepted an invitation from the UNWTO Secretary-General to become part of a Global Tourism Crisis Committee, formed as UNWTO prepares to launch a global guide for recovery. The UNWTO-led Committee will hold regular virtual meetings, reflecting the need for coordinated and efficient action by the private and public sectors, governments, international financing institutions, and the United Nations.
Since the start of the pandemic, UNWTO has been working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) to guide the tourism sector as it faces up to the COVID-19 challenge. This meeting, hosted in Madrid but conducted virtually for reasons of public health, further emphasized the call for international cooperation to underscore a united response based on the latest public health recommendations and reflecting the deep economic ripple effect and social cost of the pandemic.
“This unprecedented public health emergency has already become an economic crisis which will come at a social cost”, said UNWTO’s Zurab Pololikashvili. The Secretary-General added that tourism “is the hardest hit sector and all our best estimates have been overtaken by the changing reality”.
Without any certainty over how long this crisis will last or what the final economic and structural impact on tourism might be, all participants were united in their deep concern over the millions of jobs that are at risk of being lost. With small and medium-sized enterprises making up 80% of the sector worldwide, the wider social impact of the crisis will go far beyond tourism, making it a key concern for the international community.
Coordination is paramount
Tourism has proven in the past to be a reliable partner to lead recovery for societies and communities, but only if the economic policies of governments and the support packages of donor and financing agencies reflect how the sector touches on every part of society.
“The livelihoods of millions of people and their families are at stake, be it in urban centres or in remote communities where tourism is sometimes the main income generator and a vehicle for social inclusion, protecting heritage and kickstarting development”, Mr Pololikashvili said.
This requires political recognition and cooperation across ministries, involving the public and private sectors and set against the backdrop of wider action plans by financial institutions and regional bodies.
All welcomed UNWTO’s tagline to ‘Stay home today so you can travel tomorrow’, which is promoted on digital media through the hashtag #TravelTomorrow.
UNWTO recommendations for recovery
In the coming days, UNWTO will release a set of recommendations for recovery. The document will highlight the steps governments and other authorities need to take to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector and to then accelerate recovery.
Yesterday’s meeting will be factored into UNWTO’s recommendations. These will be complemented by a dynamic component aimed at engaging with innovators across the world through an innovation challenge centred on tourism’s response. Launched with the support of WHO, this challenge will identify new ideas that can be implemented to help tourism return to sustainable growth.
Participants in Thursday’s coordination meeting agreed that this is “a shared challenge that can only be tackled by working together, with recovery dependent on a joint effort on a scale never seen before”.
Global Tourism Crisis Committee
The participants accepted UNWTO’s invitation to be part a global coordination committee which will hold regular virtual meetings to evaluate and advance recommendations as the situation evolves.
The UN’s key tourism related agencies will all be participating, along with WHO and the main representatives of the airline and maritime transportation sectors, as well as the private sector.
UNWTO members are a critical part of this committee, represented through the regional chairs and the chair of the Executive Council.
From within the United Nations, the virtual meeting was attended by WHO Director of Health and Multilateral Partnerships Gaudenz Silberschmidt (sitting in for Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus), the Secretary-General of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), Dr. Fang Liu, and the Secretary-General of the IMO (International Maritime Organization), Mr. Kitack Lim
UNWTO Members were represented by the Chair of UNWTO Executive Council Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Kenya, and by the Chairs of UNWTO’s Regional Commissions: for Africa, Mr. Ronald K. Chitotela, Minister of Tourism, Zambia; for the Americas, Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica; for Asia and the Pacific, Mohd Daud, Undersecretary of Tourism Policy and International Affairs, Malaysia; for Europe, Harry Theoharis, Minister of Tourism, Greece; and for the Middle East, Mohammed Khamis Al Muhairi, Undersecretary for Tourism, UAE. Special interventions were made by Reyes Maroto, Minister of Tourism, Spain, and by Ahmed bin Aqil Alkhateeb, Minister of Tourism of Saudi Arabia.
Representing the private sector were the Chair of the Board of UNWTO Affiliate Members and also Director of IFEMA Ana Larrañaga; Alexandre de Juniac, Director-General of the International Air Transport Association, (IATA); Adam Goldstein, Global Chair, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA); Agnela Gittens, Director General of the Airports Council International (ACI), and Jeff Pool from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge
The ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ challenge will source innovative ideas and disruptive business models related to the tourism needs of the future, in line with growing demand for new experiences. All proposals must be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and should include the introduction or adaptation of digital and technological elements, as well as being focused at least one of the following areas:
- Optimizing and maximizing the potential of experiential tourism
- Harnessing the positive impact of new technology
- Alternative business models
- Innovative experiences
The competition is the first national initiative dedicated to identifying new companies that will lead the tourism sector’s transformation in Saudi Arabia. As well as established businesses, the competition also welcomes applications from Saudi Arabian start-ups and innovators with ideas capable of revolutionizing and inspiring tourists by presenting new ways and reasons to travel.
Applications are open until 2 November, with great interest expected, and participants must be Saudi citizens with legal capacity to enter into a contract. Successful projects will be selected based on various criteria, such as the degree of innovation, their viability and sustainability.
An Affiliate Member of UNWTO since 2019, NEOM is an accelerator of human progress and a vision of what a new future might look like. Located in northwest Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea, NEOM is ideally situated at the crossroads of the world, comprising a total area of 26,500 km². A special authority has been established to oversee NEOM, chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism
Tourism “touches almost every part of our economies and societies”, enabling the historically marginalized, and “those at risk of being left behind, to benefit from development”, declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday, marking World Tourism Day.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism could result in a more than $4 trillion loss to the global economy, according to a recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Emergency for developing countries
Highlighting the fact that in the first months of this year, “international tourist arrivals decreased by a staggering 95 per cent in parts of the world”, Mr. Guterres said that tourism continues to suffer enormously due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a major shock for developed economies, but for developing countries, it is an emergency”, he added.
“Climate change is also severely affecting many major tourist destinations, particularly Small Island Developing States”, his message added. There, tourism accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all economic activity.
Tourism for inclusive growth
Acknowledging that many millions of livelihoods are in jeopardy, Mr. Guterres said that now it is “time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism”.
“With the right safeguards in place, the tourism sector can provide decent jobs, helping to build resilient, sustainable, gender-equal, inclusive economies and societies that work for everyone”, he added.
According to the United Nations specialized agency for responsible and sustainable tourism (UNWTO), tourism is a recognized pillar of most the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), particularly Goals 1 (poverty-elimination), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 10 (to reduce inequalities).
In his message, Mr. Guterres went on to call for targeted action and investment, towards green and sustainable tourism, “with high emitting sectors, including air and sea transport and hospitality, moving towards carbon neutrality”.
Adding that everybody should have a say in how tourism shapes the future of our societies, the UN chief concluded that “only through inclusive decision-making can we ensure inclusive, sustainable growth, deliver on the promise of the SDGs, and transform tourism to fulfil its potential”.
The sector could then become “an engine for prosperity, a vehicle for integration, a means to protect our planet and biodiversity, and an agent of cultural understanding between peoples”, said Mr. Guterres.
Africa’s Tourism Leaders Identify Investments as Key to Sustainable Recovery
The African Members of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have met in Cabo Verde to strengthen their cooperation and advance plans for recovery and sustainable growth.
The 64th meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) saw 23 countries represented on the island of Sal, with 21 Ministers of Tourism joining five Ambassadors for the high-level event. Opening the Commission meeting, the President of Cabo Verde Jorge Carlos Fonseca offered a warm welcome to UNWTO’s leadership and to all delegates. The President was joined by Cabo Verde’s Minister of Tourism and Transport, Carlos Jorge Duarte Santos, and Prime Minister Dr. Ulisses Correia e Silva in reaffirming support of the highest political level for tourism and recognition of the sector as a driver of recovery and sustainable development.
Chaired by Christine Kaseba Sata, Ambassador of Zambia to Spain and Permanent Representative to UNWTO, delegates addressed the biggest challenges standing in the way of the sector’s safe restart across the continent. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of speeding up vaccine rollouts across the continent, as well as addressing security issues that continue to have an impact on how global travellers perceive Africa as a safe tourism destination. Also on the agenda was the current level of connectivity between destinations, with improved air links the harmonization of travel protocols identified as an effective means for boosting regional tourism.
Tourism’s restart ‘essential’
Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili welcomed delegates to the Commission meeting, providing an overview of UNWTO’s work during the ongoing crisis and how this is driven by the stated priorities of its African Member States. He said. “The continent is united in its determination to use the power of tourism to drive development and opportunity for all. And with coordination and targeted investments, African tourism can finally fulfil its unique potential.”
Rebuilding trust in travel
In Cabo Verde, UNWTO Members were brought up-to-date on the development of the International Code for the Protection of Tourists, a landmark code aimed at helping restore confidence in travel. Members were also presented with an overview of the UNWTO General Programme of Work & Budget for the Period 2022-2023. Additionally, signalling a shared determination to keep moving forward even in challenging times, Members also held elections for key positions within UNWTO decision-making bodies ahead of the 24th General Assembly.
Running in parallel with the Commission meeting, UNWTO hosted capacity building workshops on innovation, digital marketing and investment These workshops were held ahead of the second edition of the UNWTO Global Tourism Investment Forum, opened by Prime Minister Dr. Ulisses Correia e Silva and featuring the participation of investors from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the USA as well as public and private sector leaders from across Africa. Backing up the workshop on marketing, UNWTO also launched its new Brand Africa publication. Produced with key African Tourism Partners, the publication aims at helping destinations use effective branding to diversify and attract visitors.
Also in Cabo Verde, tourism leader celebrated the signing and approval of the UNWTO Declaration on the Future of Mobility and Sustainable Transportation, a commitment aimed at the better understanding of how investments can help make the sector greener while also encouraging greater cooperation between tourism authorities and transport providers. Concluding the Regional Commission meeting, UNWTO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Cabo Verde. The aim of the MoU is to enhance cooperation between UNWTO and the Ministry of Tourism to strengthen the country’s branding, boost tourism education initiatives, and support research into the socio-economic impact of the sustainable development of tourism across Cabo Verde.
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