As the world steadily opens up, the restarting of tourism is bringing hope to people around the globe. The sector’s recovery represents a unique opportunity to reassess the impact tourism has on people and on the planet and to build a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future.
The World Economic Forum’s latest Travel & Tourism Development Index makes clear the scale of the challenge but also of the enormous untapped potential of tourism, particularly for developing countries. It also demonstrates that sustainability and resilience are key pillars of tourism growth and that tourism development can only be successful if built on a systemic approach where people, the planet, and prosperity go hand-in-hand.
Tourism has never been more relevant. Nor has its importance to both our societies and our economies been more visible as it is right now. The return of tourism offers a chance to reassert the values that define the sector, namely peace, solidarity, and international cooperation. The sector’s recovery also represents a unique opportunity to reassess the impact that tourism has on people and on our planet and to build a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future.
Changes in demand, including the drive towards greater digitalization, growing interest in nature-based experiences, and the emergence of digital nomads, will come with many challenges but also immense opportunities for new businesses, entrepreneurs, and entire communities.
Destinations that cater to tourists with non-traditional tastes are already being established. But for these opportunities to be realized, the sector needs both economic and practical support. Now is the time for all countries to prioritize tourism and back the sector through post-COVID recovery and beyond. The time is now to build a new governance structure for tourism. This includes both governments and the private sector. Governments need to place tourism at the center of development policies and the private sector can contribute to greater coordination and partnerships as well as new innovative financing.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism. As much of the world begins to open up, the UNWTO is working to promote investments in projects that will help destinations scale their tourism industries sustainably, inclusively, and resiliently. We also have the ambitious objective to achieve net-zero tourism emissions.
In this context, unlocking innovative finance will be key to enabling tourism’s transformation at every level, including through the development of essential infrastructure and the strengthening of socio-economic resilience in developing states.
The investment will also be crucial to enable destinations in all global regions to successfully adapt to meet the changing demands of consumers while working towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals. And, of course, it will provide both countries and communities with the economic support they need to be part of tourism’s movement towards greater sustainability, allowing the sector to meet its climate action obligations.
In response to the resolutions set out at the COP26 in Glasgow, UNWTO is looking to create a UN NetZero TOURISM Facility and Ecosystem. The ecosystem will rest on the following pillars:
UN TOURISM, a unique alliance of United Nations partners, will lead the change at the global and national levels. International financial institutions and equity funds to support the green investment required.
International organizations, development partners, and the private sector at large to support both the transformation and investment to reach net-zero emission levels for tourism.
Importance of investing in tourism
Investing in tourism will pay significant dividends, not least for destinations and their host communities. To a significant extent, this will depend on stability and peace. War, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence in travel, global governance, and institutions will only hamper the return of tourism and prevent our sector from delivering on its unique potential.
As such, UNWTO calls on all governments and international partners to recognize tourism’s role as a pillar of peace and to ensure the right conditions are in place to allow the sector to recover and kickstart wider recovery.
Supporting tourism at this crucial juncture will provide a lifeline for the most vulnerable in society, empowering them through jobs and education. At present, about 80% of the sector is made up of small and medium-sized businesses, many of them individual or family-owned enterprises. This shows the fragility of the sector but also its unique ability to drive transformation and development from the grassroots up. The restart and recovery of tourism will, in turn, help drive global inclusive recovery and build resilience against future shocks.
(This article is part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 at Davos)