UNWTO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have formally launched the UN Silk Road City Awards Scheme within the framework of the Silk Road Initiative (SRI), which is to be implemented in the coming months. The key aims of the Initiative are to improve policy and legal conditions for trade, to attract investment to the region, and to promote and attract tourism.

The SRI was established in 2003 to enhance regional cooperation and development in the areas of trade, investment and tourism for the Silk Road region. The Initiative currently involves the participation of the Governments of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. As the Initiative develops, there are plans to expand the participation to other Silk Road countries. The overarching goal of the Initiative is to help the region meet the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and promoting growth and equality.

The UN Silk Road City Awards scheme was launched as a part of the tourism component of the initiative and is the first scheme of its kind to be launched by the United Nations for the Silk Road. The awards, which would be held biennially, will bestow the title of UN Silk Road City to cities in the participating countries which demonstrate their historic ties to the Silk Road and how a city’s traditions and culture have influenced its modernisation and development. Cities will also be evaluated against a range of additional criteria to assess their commitment to sustainable tourism, cultural preservation and environmental protection, existing facilities and services and community awareness. The scheme will play a key role in highlighting the cultural wealth and diversity of the Silk Road and its tourism attractions and help raise greater awareness of the region internationally, and strengthen dialogue and cooperation among stakeholders at all levels.

An Eminent Persons Group (EPG) has been established for the awards scheme to act as an independent panel of experts for the awards and provide guidance for its further development. The first meeting of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) was held at the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid on 5th December to discuss the implementation of the initiative and agree on a broad strategy for its further development.

UNWTO and UNDP have invited a select group of high-level international experts from a wide range of professional fields to serve as EPG members and contribute their knowledge and expertise to the scheme.

Opening the meeting, UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli underscored the strong role UNWTO has played in the development of tourism for the Silk Road, dating back to 1994 with the Samarkand Declaration, and drew attention to the prime opportunity for the Silk Road to attract visitors interested in diverse tourism attractions and cultures. Mr. Khalid  Malik, UNDP Resident Representative for China, described the Silk Road as “the first wave of globalisation” and highlighted the need to develop “new institutions and mechanisms to facilitate tourism” as a means of delivering greater prosperity.

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