Tourism: A Promising Industry
The New Year greeted us with very encouraging news. Despite the lingering challenges of the world economy and geopolitical complications and beyond our initial expectations, in 2013, international tourism grew by a staggering 5 percent, with 52 additional million, reaching 1,087 million international tourists traveling the world in one single year.
And the sector is expected to continue striving – UNWTO forecasts international tourism to grow by 4 percent to 4.5 percent in 2014 and to continue expanding up to 1.8 billion international tourists in 2030. Indeed, tourism has become one of the fastest growing economic sectors; a sector that drives global growth and development, creates millions of jobs, spurs exports and investment and transforms peoples’ lives.
Yet, to ensure our sector remains competitive, we must address a few challenges and as in every year at ITB, we take stock and look into the future in an attempt to set the agenda for the sector. Mindful that many issues such as financing, infrastructure development or human capital which remain central to the future of the sector, allow me to briefly focus on five key challenges, which we have set as a priorities at UNWTO, committed to transform these into five major opportunities.
In spite of the significant progress made in recent years, destinations around the world still require about two-thirds of the world´s population (66 percent) to obtain a visa before departure. We must therefore improve visa policies and processing, particularly if destinations want to attract the growing source markets of China, Russia or India. It is rewarding thus to see recent moves in the right direction coming out of the Schengen zone, the USA or the UAE.
The advances of air transport in recent decades have greatly contributed to tourism´s extraordinary growth. Yet, in spite of the clear linkages between aviation and tourism, and the fact that over 50 percent of the world’s international tourists reach their destination by air, many countries still have disjointed policies between the two sectors and restrictive skies. UNWTO has made it a priority to bridge air transport and tourism policies; we must therefore improve policy alignment and further liberalization as these will lead to the growth of both sectors.
When the imposition of unbalanced taxes, levies, visa fees or airport fees becomes arbitrary, we are in fact “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.” While properly constituted taxes are a fundamental and legitimate fiscal tool, and the sector should naturally contribute its due, an unbalanced taxation policy on tourism can actually produce a net damage to the economy.
Having visited Australia two weeks ago, it was very encouraging to see the Government’s freezing the Passenger Movement Charge as a means to contribute to Australia’s Tourism 2020 targets. We need to see more of this. We need to revisit out tax regimes and measure their effects, not only on the tourism sector, but on the economy all-together.
Cross-cutting government policies and public-private partnerships
There can be no tourism development without public/public partnerships; without national, cross-cutting policies and inter-governmental coordination. Tourism needs to be a national policy and not a sectoral policy. By the same token, there can be no tourism development without public/private partnerships. This is an expression we have become accustomed to use but the truth is, we are still far from a real engagement of public and private sectors in tourism development. The world has changed, the sector has transformed. We have before us an opportunity to create new and innovative models of cooperation which not only embrace the tourism public sector and private sectors, but also the civil society and other players coming from areas such as technology, arts, gastronomy or culture. We must therefore realize that tourism is no longer about a product; it’s about interconnected experiences that need all players for it to be complete.
With growth comes responsibility. One billion international tourists travelling the world can mean one billion opportunities or one billion disasters. With the economic growth, job creation and development opportunities that tourism brings, comes great responsibility and the over-arching challenge of sustainability: it is up to us to shoulder this responsibility by placing sustainability and ethics at the core of tourism development.
Together with our sister UN agencies – UNESCO and UNODC – and leading partners in the private sector (Marriott and Sabre) we are calling on tourists to make the right ethical choice as consumers and thus contribute to preserve the natural and cultural assets that form an invaluable part of the world´s heritage. We need to protect our planet, our people while we make profit.
We are stepping up the efforts to support the fight against poaching in Africa. This illegal killing of wildlife in the continent is reaching alarming levels, threatening not only Africa´s entire ecosystems, but also risking depriving thousands of local communities of their livelihoods as Africa’s main tourism capital is in danger.
Let us take the good news of tourism´s growth a step further by answering its higher call. For growth and responsibility are not a zero sum game. Our collective, responsible actions will ensure that tourism remains an effective agent of change, shaping a better future and a better world for all of us. – The African Executive
• Taleb Rifai is the UNWTO Secretary-General