UNWTO expected to play larger role as tourism becomes world's biggest

Updated: Sep 19, 2017 Xinhua Print
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The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is likely to play a larger role in the future as tourism has become the world's biggest industry with an estimated 10 percent contribution to the global gross domestic product last year.

The latest UNWTO data show a continued growth in global tourism. In January-June, international tourists increased to 598 million, making it the strongest half-year rise since 2010.

A sustainable tourism for development and growth is expected of the sector amid global economic sluggishness. Its role in promoting understanding between countries as well as people-to-people and cultural exchanges is meanwhile highlighted especially in the face of terrorist threats in many parts of the world.

As the 22nd session of the UNWTO General Assembly held on Sept 13-16 in Chengdu, China came under the framework of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai said he is very proud of the relevance.

"I feel very proud to have contributed to expanding the capacity of travel and tourism to the progress of the SDGs (UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals) that guide our common action to 2030. This General Assembly is a unique opportunity to continue advancing together," he said.

With a focus on sustainable development and tourism, the biennial UNWTO gathering this year has highlighted the importance of building partnerships for development, taking tourism cooperation concerning the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative as an example.

Discussions related to the China-proposed initiative during a high-level session following the opening ceremony on Wednesday covered such travel facilitation details as visa policy and insurance in future cooperation.

Li Jinzao, head of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), told reporters the discussions were fruitful and successful, while Rifai described them as "conducive."

"China is an inspiration to others in terms of its supportive tourism policies and in placing tourism at the center of its poverty alleviation and national development strategies," Rifai said.

More than 1,300 delegates including tourism ministers from over 130 countries attended the UNWTO meeting in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and an economic center in Western China.

Zurab Pololikashvili said that compared to the last meeting, the number of delegates had doubled this time, adding that he is very impressed with Chengdu's performance in hosting the UNWTO gathering. The 40-year-old Georgian ambassador to Spain was elected to be the new UNWTO chief for 2018-2021 during Thursday's session.

Pololikashvili, during a brief meeting Friday with Li, the CNTA chief, pledged continued UNWTO cooperation with China, which he said is a "main partner" of the Madrid-based 156-member tourism organization.

The UNWTO will "continue cooperation with China in a productive way," he said, while expressing the hope for further cooperation with Chengdu on projects concerning the Belt and Road Initiative that aims to build trade and infrastructure networks along ancient trade routes to seek common prosperity.

On the newly-launched World Tourism Alliance (WTA), Pololikashvili said UNWTO and WTA "are brothers, sisters."

The China-initiated non-governmental, non-profit organization was established in Chengdu on Sept 12. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, during his speech delivered at the UNWTO meeting's opening ceremony, said that the WTA's role will be helpful and complementary to that of the UNWTO in global tourism development.

"My vision for UNWTO is fully based on the needs of its member states, considering current political and economic uncertainties across the globe," Pololikashvili said on the UNWTO's future under his leadership in a UNWTO press release.

"One of the top priorities will be to expand the UNWTO membership ... Cooperation with new members on tourism's contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is essential," he added.

Pololikashvili, who will take office in January, also proposed to hold global leaders' summits on travel and tourism biennially and annual ministerial meetings on safety, security and travel facilitation, among others, as UNWTO thematic platforms "so that dialogue among decision-makers results in effective inter-sectorial coordination."

Sustainability, technological impacts and security are listed by Rifai as major challenges to the global development of tourism. Pololikashvili believed the UNWTO should focus on long-term challenges, strengthen its expertise and prepare management and marketing guidelines for different tourism destinations considering current technological advances, new business models and the rise of digital tourism.

On Friday, delegates at the UNWTO meeting approved, with 51 votes for, 23 against and 56 abstentions, a non-binding international convention on tourism ethics after more than two years of drafting work to transform the UNWTO

Code of Ethics for Tourism, a move deemed as an important step in global tourism governance. The convention is expected to go into effect after it is approved by countries.

The delegates also approved St. Petersburg, Russia as the venue of the next session of the UNWTO general assembly scheduled for 2019.

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