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The Future Is Now! UNWTO Recognizes World’s Best Innovators Facing Up To COVID-19

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The top solutions for accelerating the recovery of tourism have been celebrated in the ‘Healing Solutions for Tourism’ Challenge. Launched by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and with the aim of identifying start-ups with ready-to-implement ideas for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, the initiative attracted more than 1,000 applicants from 100 countries.

Tourism has been among the hardest hit of all major economic sectors. To rebuild confidence in travelling and to enhance tourism’s contribution to wider societal recovery, UNWTO called on innovators to share their ideas for positive change. Entrepreneurs pitched in three categories: Healing for People, Healing for Prosperity and Healing for Destinations. Over 1,100 applications were received and from the 30 shortlisted projects, nine were selected by a panel of sector leaders, including UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

In the category of Healing for People, the four finalists were CleanScan /Chameleon  Welcome Back (Canada/USA), Outpost Healthy Destinations (Canada), SeeTrue (Israel) and Smart Occupancy (Spain).  In Healing for Prosperity, the two finalists were MyStay (Czech Republic) and WAAM (Poland). The three finalists in Healing for Destinations were Airside (United States of America), Beautiful destinations (United States of America) and iBonus COVID19 Digital Prevention System (Hong Kong, China).

“Solutions for all”

Mr Pololikashvili said: “Tourism faces the biggest challenge of a generation. But, as this event shows, tourism can deliver solutions for all. We now have an opportunity to rethink tourism and do things better. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and big data will all have a part to play in our joint response to COVID-19, and in building resilience for the future. As such, I thank all those who took part in the Healing Solutions initiative and look forward to the winning ideas being scaled up to make a real difference in the challenging times ahead.”

The Challenge enjoyed strong support, both within and outside of the tourism sector. Addressing the finalists during the virtual event hosted by UNWTO were Dr. Gaudenz Silberschmidt, Director, Health and Multilateral Partnerships (WHO), and Hannah R. Messerli, Senior Specialist, Trade, Investment and Competitiveness at the World Bank Group.

From Madrid to the world

This event was made possible thanks to the support of the city of Madrid, UNWTO’s home base and the capital of one of the worst-hit of all European countries.

Secretary-General Pololikashvili extended his gratitude to Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida for providing the ‘La Nave’ space from which to host the Challenge and for agreeing to run pilot implementations of the winning Healing Solutions. “Your support generates trust, and trust is the new distinctive asset of sustainable tourism development and our overall recovery”, Mr Pololikashvili concluded.

A full list of the shortlisted start-ups can be found on the Healing Solutions for Tourism Challenge webpage.

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Tourism

Reforms Needed to Future-Proof Tourism Industry

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Tourism officials from APEC’s member economies are advancing cooperation in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the tourism industry and charting the way towards recovery.

It was announced at the APEC Tourism Working Group virtual meeting on Friday that the pandemic deeply affects international travel and would set back international tourist arrivals by 58 percent to 78 percent in 2020.

“The tourism industry is the first sector to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be among the last ones to recover as travelers become more conscious of the health risks and are discouraged by the stringent travel restrictions that are being implemented around the world,” said Muhammad Daud, Senior Director of Tourism Policy and International Relations of Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

“We have to assume our role by consolidating our efforts in areas where we can support the businesses and communities in the region,” added Daud, who is also the Lead Shepherd of the working group.

The Asia-Pacific region recorded the highest growth in terms of tourist arrivals globally with a total of 464.7 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, or about 33 percent of global tourism arrivals. Moving forward, this will no longer be the case.

“It will take a long time before people have the confidence and trust in traveling again. Even when the situation gets better, it will take a while for global travel to pick up the pace,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, the APEC Secretariat’s Executive Director, in her remarks to officials.

“The tourism industry is the backbone for many of our small businesses, women and vulnerable communities,” she continued. “We must fine tune our approach to provide the people in our communities the support they need in navigating through these difficult times.”

The travel and tourism sector employs 57.5 million people in the APEC region and contributes USD1.5 trillion to global domestic product (GDP). There are 470 international airports in APEC economies, facilitating business and leisure travel. The scale of the industry’s contribution to the economy makes it an important driver of growth for the region.

Work in promoting sustainable and inclusive tourism within APEC is underway, including aligning policies among member economies, facilitating travel and improving coordination mechanisms. Given current developments, the group is reviewing the existing work plans and goals, including exploring the best solutions to conform to the new normal within the tourism industry.

The group will also bolster efforts in strengthening the resiliency of tourism by incorporating risk and emergency management measures, enhancing information flow for sharing best practices and encouraging more collaboration.

“Members are keen to open up the economy and revive the tourism sector, however the health and safety of travelers are paramount. We need to work closely with our health and emergency preparedness agencies in developing standard procedures that will instill confidence, encourage travel and ensure safety at the same time,” Daud concluded.

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UNWTO Releases a COVID-19 Technical Assistance Package for Tourism Recovery

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has released a Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package to offer guidance to Member States in response to COVID-19. The package is structured around three main pillars: economic recovery, marketing and promotion and institutional strengthening and resilience building.

With tourism among the hardest-hit of all sectors, UNWTO has identified three possible scenarios for the months ahead. Depending on when restrictions on travel are lifted, international tourist arrivals could decline by 60-80% in 2020.

This could translate into a decline in export revenues from tourism of between US$910 billion to US$1.2 trillion and place 100-120 million jobs directly at risk. The social ripple effect is also feared to be at least equally challenging for many societies the world over.

Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package is designed to support governments, the private sector and donor agencies face this unprecedented socio-economic emergency.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili says: “We must support the tourism sector now with real actions while we prepare for it to come back and be stronger and more sustainable. Recovery plans and programmes for tourism will translate into jobs and economic growth, not just within tourism itself but across the whole of societies. This package of support will help governments and business implement our Recommendations for Recovery”

Call for action: economic, promotional and institutional measures

Alongside the set of recommendations already released by UNWTO to call for action to mitigate the socio-economic impact of COVID and endorsed by the UNWTO Global Tourism Crisis Committee, the package identified three potential areas of intervention to accelerate the recovery of tourism: economic, promotional and institutional.

The COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package makes the case for policies and measures to be introduced to stimulate the economic recovery of the tourism sector. These should be introduced alongside the development of impact needs assessments and country-specific plans for tourism recovery, among other measures.

In terms of marketing and promotion, UNWTO stands ready to provide technical assistance to identify markets that can help accelerate recovery, addressing product diversification, and (re)formulating marketing strategies and promotional activities.

The third pillar, institutional strengthening and resilience building, is particularly aimed at enhancing public-private partnership and promoting collaborative efforts for tourism recovery, and, enhancing skills in crisis management and recovery.

Tourism for Sustainable Development

The technical support offered by UNWTO is designed to help Members work towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Several of these Goals directly relate to tourism, most notably the SDGs 8, 12 and 17, on ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, and ‘Partnerships for the Goals’.

UNWTO is also working as part of the wider UN response to COVID-19, emphasizing the role tourism can play in shielding developing countries and the most vulnerable members of society from the worst impacts of the current crisis.

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Research Shows Strength of Tourism Sector’s Support for Workers and Communities

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Employers from across global tourism are taking the lead in supporting their workers and helping the communities in which they operate, research carried out into the sector’s response to COVID-19 has found.

As the sector faces up to an unprecedented challenge, the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (a subsidiary of the World Tourism Organization) has analysed the steps being taken by businesses and trade associations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Studying the actions taken by Private Sector Commitment to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET) in 25 countries, the research revealed that, in spite of staff furloughs, employers across the sector are stepping up their support for workers and for communities.   

Tourism ‘going beyond its responsibilities’

Committee Chairman Pascal Lamy touched base with the GCET Signatories to learn about the mitigation actions being championed by tourism companies and trade associations.  Mr Lamy said: “It is evident that the sector’s engagement goes beyond symbolic CSR actions. The GCET signatories, although hit terribly hard by the crisis like their colleagues across the tourism sector, have shown that they indeed care for the societies they operate in while striving to keep their businesses afloat”.

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili welcomed the initiative of the tourism sector while at the same time calling on governments to work with private employers to safeguard jobs and livelihoods. He said: Governments should not abolish the resources already allocated to tourism in their budgets for 2020. Tourism administrations also need to communicate to the general public what the sector is doing for the society in these troublesome times.”

Solidarity with Tourism Workers and Communities

The survey found that many companies are providing 24-hour psychological help for their employees, while also maintaining medical insurance and  facilitating platforms with motivational videos, medical updates and training. Many are also offering free lodging and food for stranded international staff and their families.

Monetary donations have been given to city councils, underprivileged families and rural communities, and food and supplies have been sent to frontline workers and vulnerable groups. Some businesses chambers are working with public, real estate, financial and legal entities to provide SMEs with funding and identify guarantors for those unable to receive a loan. Associations have engaged in local pandemic committees to flag up the most pressing issues and better articulate their support.

Hotels have donated thousands of gift nights to medical staff for their holidays and remained open for them and COVID19 patients whenever necessary. Guides offered virtual tours for voluntary contributions donated to hospitals, and transportation companies offered their channels to bring critical emergency equipment to save lives. Volunteer platforms also have been set up to create youth loans. Virtual solidarity groups gathered hundreds of travel agents with multiple jobs to exchange goods and support their livelihoods.

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