As the world slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people’s thoughts have turned to holidays. How many of us feel for a break? But what sort of break?
Months of lockdowns and isolation, not to mention deaths of loved ones and a new-found respect for healthcare workers, have triggered serious reflection on the ways in which the world has been functioning.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tourism sector. A healthy tourism industry is essential for the global economy, culture and environment, but in the past, it has also done harm.
“This pandemic sent a warning that we need to change the way we live, travel and see the world. We have an opportunity to build back greener and opt for low-carbon measures that protect nature and biodiversity while maintaining the economic benefits that the multi-million dollar tourism industry brings to local communities around the world,” said Mark Radka, Chief, Energy and Climate Branch of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The stakes are high. In 2019, the sector accounted for – directly and indirectly – some 330 million jobs worldwide, equivalent to one in 10 jobs globally, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Related sectors such as hospitality, hotels and food service industries, employed an additional 144 million workers in both developed and developing countries. Failure to recover could reduce global GDP by 1.5 to 2.8 per cent.
In some Small Island Developing States, tourism accounts for 30 per cent of export revenues (UNWTO). Small businesses, responsible for 80 per cent of the industry, are particularly vulnerable, as well as women, who make up 54 per cent of the tourism workforce, according to studies by ILO and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Moving to sustainable tourism
UNEP is at the forefront of efforts to mainstream policies which transform the industry and address the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
At a recent online conference, Transforming Tourism for a resilient and sustainable post-COVID world, UNEP experts laid out a six-point plan moving from over tourism to sustainable tourism by building more resilient communities and businesses through innovation, digitalization, circularity, sustainable finance, sustainability and partnerships.
“Financial stimulus and recovery packages for COVID-19 are a once in a lifetime opportunity – not a dollar can be lost or wasted while transforming the tourism sector towards a future which is as ‘pandemic and climate-proof’ as possible,” said Radka.
The pandemic’s impact on tourism has been significant. Dwindling tourist numbers in protected areas have threatened the species and communities that live there. Deforestation and poaching have risen in many parts of the world. COVID-19 also led to an increase in single-use plastic products and packaging by the hotel and tourism industry.
“Reducing the use of plastic items and packaging can actually reduce cross-contamination touch points,” said Helena Rey, Tourism Programme Officer from UNEP. “Through cleaning and sanitization procedures, the tourism industry can bring in re-use models that can increase traceability and reduce the risk of contamination. This would also ensure that tourism reduces the burden on local waste management systems and protects local ecosystems.”
UNEP is raising awareness of these issues through global campaigns and partnerships, including the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative and the Clean Seas campaign. These efforts call on citizens, governments, and industry to take action to reduce plastic pollution. In particular, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative enables businesses, governments, and other tourism stakeholders to lead by example in the shift towards greater circularity in the use of plastics.
Transforming value chains
Tourism is responsible for 1/10th of greenhouse emissions worldwide. UNEP is working with its partners to reduce emissions created by hotel operations, food consumption and events. The work is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
The Transforming Tourism Value Chains project focuses on environmental issues like cutting food waste, improving the sourcing of products and services, and improving the efficiency of air conditioners, in four countries in which tourism occupies a major role in the national economy: the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Mauritius and St Lucia.
Jake Kheel, vice president of Grupo Punta Cana, a private sector partner in the Dominican Republic, says this makes good business sense as holidaymakers, particularly the younger generation, want to be assured they are bringing value to the places they visit.
“People want to know their leisure time is not affecting local communities and eco-systems. Handled correctly, tourism can bring great benefits, create jobs, increase revenue for people who need schools and health services. It has to be self-sufficient,” he said.
The pandemic has also advanced digitalisation, innovation and the integration of new technologies into tourism. Virtual journeys, electronic menus, touchless check ins, digital consumption behaviours are on the rise. Since the COVID-19 outbreak this year, the online ticketing rates at scenic sites nationwide in China have risen to around 40% from less than 20% in 2019, signalling a rapid uptake in digitalization.
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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