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UNWTO Convenes Global Tourism Crisis Committee

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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.

Unprecedented

“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).

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Giorgio Armani and Gino Sorbillo Named New Special Ambassadors for Tourism

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has appointed two new Special Ambassadors as it leads the restart of the sector across Europe. On the occasion of a visit of the Secretary-General to Italy, the first official delegation to travel since the closure of borders in response to COVID-19, UNWTO has named renowned fashion designer Giorgio Armani and celebrated chef Gino Sorbillo its latest Special Ambassadors for Tourism.

In their new roles, both Special Ambassadors will draw on their status and influence promote the work of the United Nations specialized agency for responsible and sustainable tourism. As leaders in gastronomy and fashion, they represent two of Italy’s biggest economic sectors and two of the industries that contribute to making the country a global tourism leader. Since launching his own company in 1975, Giorgio Armani has become synonymous with Italian style. As a chef, Gino Sorbillo celebrates traditional Nepalese pizza and has opened award-winning restaurants around the world. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Italy is one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. Each year, millions of people visit to enjoy its culture, its fashion and its gastronomy. In return, tourism supports livelihoods and local and regional economies and helps preserve this Italian culture. As UNWTO Special Ambassador for Tourism, Giorgio Armani can help amplify UNWTO’s key messages of the power of tourism to create opportunities and drive growth. As UNWTO Special Ambassador for Gastronomy Tourism, Gino Sorbillo will showcase the unique ability of gastronomy to preserve and promote heritage and give tourists a unique taste of the destinations they visit.”

Upon receiving the plaque, Mr Armani said: ‘I am genuinely pleased to have been honoured in this way by an organisation that believes that people should be encouraged to see the beauty of the globe in a respectful and responsible manner. It has been a sense of responsibility for our community that has helped my country through this terrible pandemic, and this too is what has driven me to play my small part in helping those engaged in the fight against the virus, and the fight against the economic challenges it has posed. A belief in community – the global community – and an appreciation of the humanity we all share are what will help us build a better future for ourselves and the generations to come, through being mindful of the important things in life, like the preciousness of the environment and our duty to protect it. It is therefore an honour to take up the role of Special Ambassador for Tourism.’

The appointments also strengthen UNWTO’s strong relationship with Italy, the first Member State to receive a visit from the organization’s leadership since destinations around the world introduced restrictions on travel in response to the pandemic. The UNWTO delegation led by the Secretary-General will visit Rome, Italy, Milan and Venice and work with both the national and city authorities to support tourism’s restart and ensure this goes hand-in-hand with wider economic and social recovery.

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Small Island Destinations in Critical Need of Urgent Support as Tourism Plunges

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Without strong support, the sudden and unexpected fall in tourism could devastate the economies of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has warned. Since tourism is a strong socio-economic pillar of many SIDS, the impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector places millions of jobs and businesses at risk, with women and informal workers the most vulnerable.

In the second of its Briefing Note series on Tourism and COVID-19, UNWTO has highlighted the severe impact the pandemic could have on livelihoods in these destinations. According to the latest data from the United Nations specialized agency, tourism accounts for more than 30% of total exports in the majority of the 38 SIDS. In some countries, this proportion is as high as 90%, making them especially vulnerable to falling tourist numbers.

Such a major shock translates into a massive loss of jobs and a sharp decline in foreign exchange and tax revenues, which curbs public spending capacity and the ability to deploy necessary measures to support livelihoods through the crisis, UNWTO further warns.

International Tourists dropped 47% in the first four months  

In 2019, SIDS welcomed some 44 million international tourist arrivals and the sector earned US$55 billion in export revenues. International tourist arrivals were down 47% in the first four months of this year. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption. International tourist arrivals have fallen dramatically, and destinations that rely on the sector for jobs and economic wellbeing such as small islands will be hit the hardest. As such, measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on these states and to stimulate the recovery of tourism are now more critical than ever.”

Informal workers and women at greatest risk

The United Nations estimates that SIDS economies could shrink by 4.7% in 2020 as compared to 3% for the world economy.

The UNWTO Briefing Note also highlights the risk posed to those working in the informal economy by the sudden fall in tourist arrivals in SIDS. As a sector, tourism is a leading global employer and, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than half of all workers in the accommodation and food services sector in most SIDS reporting data are women. In many, this proportion is even higher, including in Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago (70%+).

At the same time, workers in the informal economy are at risk of falling into poverty as the impact of COVID-19 is felt in SIDS and other low- and middle-income countries worldwide, UNWTO also warns.

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UNWTO Adapts Agenda for Africa to Accelerate Tourism Recovery

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Member States from across Africa have shared their priorities for tourism against the backdrop of COVID-19. As with every other global region, African destinations have been hit hard by the restrictions on travel introduced in response to the pandemic. The sudden and unexpected drop in tourist arrivals has placed many millions of jobs at risk and threatened to roll back the progress made in sustainable development.

Now, as UNWTO leads the restart of tourism, African Member States have set out their vision for the sector. This builds on the UNWTO Agenda for Africa – Tourism for Inclusive Growth, the roadmap for African tourism that was adopted at the UNWTO General Assembly in 2019, and is based on the responses to a survey sent out by the Regional Department for Africa.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “This feedback from our African Member States will help us guide tourism through the challenging months ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on tourism across the continent. However, UNWTO is committed to helping Africa grow back stronger and better and for tourism to emerge from this crisis as an important pillar of economies, jobs and sustainability.”

Investment and innovation key priorities at continental level

At the continental level, the survey revealed that the five key areas of the UNWTO Agenda for Africa that Member States would like to see prioritized in order to better support them as they recover from the impact of COVID-19 are:

  • Unlocking growth through investment promotion and public-private partnerships
  • Promoting innovation and technology,
  • Promoting travel facilitation, including enhanced connectivity and tourism visa policies 
  • Fostering resilience, including through promoting safety and security and crisis communications
  • Advocating for “Brand Africa”

At the same time, the survey answers showed that Member States would like to see the part of the Agenda for Africa focusing on Fostering Resilience to be realigned to reflect the current situation. This will allow for a more effective response to the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and to accelerate recovery. Alongside this, Member States across Africa also expressed a wish for UNWTO to focus future capacity building and training sessions on the topics of crisis management and communications, marketing, developing domestic tourism and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

Sub-regional priorities outlined

The survey also revealed the different priorities of Member States from different parts of Africa. In North Africa, the number one priority is expanding capacity building, including through the provision of more training; in both Western and Eastern Africa, Members named promoting better travel facilitation and unlocking tourism growth through investments and public-private partnerships as their priorities.

Meanwhile, advocating for “Brand Africa” emerged as the number one priority for Member States in Southern Africa, and in Central Africa, the focus is on strengthening tourism statistics systems. Furthermore, the survey also found that Member States from across the continent would like to see UNWTO add a new section to the Agenda for Africa focusing on the promotion of regional and domestic tourism. 

Last but not least, Member States also suggested UNWTO undertake a range of actions both at the political and technical level, including strengthening collaboration between governments, facilitate the creation of investment funds to support tourism and provide practical support to SMEs. These actions would be particularly beneficial to countries whose GDP heavily depends on the tourism sector including the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

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