More than 1300 delegates from over 130 countries attended the opening of the 22nd session of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly in Chengdu, China this morning. During the next four days, the priorities of the Organization for 2018-2019, the transformation of the UNWTO Code of Ethics for Tourism into an International Convention and the impact of technology on tourism will centre the discussions. On the agenda of the Assembly is also the election of the Secretary General for the next four years.
“China is an inspiration to others in terms of its supportive tourism policies and in placing tourism at the centre of its poverty alleviation and national development strategies,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai at the opening of the 22nd session of the General Assembly. “Besides being the fourth most-visited country in the world, with 59 million international arrivals in 2016, China is also the largest domestic tourism market, with 4.4 billion trips made within its borders,” he added.
The Secretary-General also recalled the relevance of having this General Assembly, the last of his mandate, under the framework of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017. “I feel very proud to have contributed to expanding the capacity of travel and tourism to the progress of the SDGs that guide our common action to 2030. This General Assembly is a unique opportunity to continue advancing together,” he said.
Wang Yang, Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China, recalled that, since the inclusion of China in UNWTO in 1983, the tourism sector has grown to represent 10% of the country’s economy. Vice-Premier confirmed that “smart tourism” will guide the development of the sector and highlighted the need to enforce policies to enhance sustainable tourism.
The Vice-Premier also mentioned that the inherently sustainable approach to tourism in China resulted from the traditional harmony between man and nature widely present in Chinese culture. In addition, he underlined the relevance of increasing cooperation among countries in the field of tourism, especially in crisis situations such as natural disasters. He further noted that 6 million jobs related to tourism have been created in 2016 in China, particularly for women, people with disabilities and rural communities. “I feel very proud to have contributed to expanding the capacity of travel and tourism to contribute to the SDGs that guide our common action to 2030,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai
“UNWTO is irreplaceable for its role of supporting the multiple dimensions of the tourism sector as well as its wide potential,” he added.
The UNWTO General Assembly will discuss the Chengdu Declaration on ‘Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals’. The document, in which the potential of the tourism sector is underlined in economic, social and political terms, includes 19 articles that, among others, recommend to governments “to develop an integrated and holistic approach to tourism policy in order to leverage the sector’s positive impact and multiplying effect on people, planet and prosperity (Article 1).” In addition, it proposes “to undertake national assessments on tourism’s contribution and commitment to the SDGs and ensure the inclusion of tourism in interministerial SDG commissions and/or working groups as well as to enhance the contribution of tourism in SDGs national strategies through the set-up of institutional frameworks and mechanisms that allow participation of all stakeholders.”
The High-Level Segment discussed ‘Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals’ “To advance, the tourism sector should decouple growth from environmental harm; fight climate change throughout the entire tourism value chain; measure the impacts of travellers every day accurately and regularly, and promote accessibility for all,” stated Rifai. “Furthermore we need to ensure the benefits of the sector reach communities, and prevent negative impacts on their social fabrics by tackling issues such as overcrowding, protect the weak from being exploited in our sector, prevent leakages and address global and tourism-sector security challenges without compromising people’s rights, particularly to freedom of travel and movement,” he added.
High level debate on Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals
The opening of the 22nd session of the UNWTO General Assembly was followed by a high level session on tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals and Building Partnerships for Development: The Example of the Belt and Road Initiative, conducted by Richard Quest of CNN International.
Among the participants were: Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of UNWTO; Li Jinzao, Chairman of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA); His Majesty King Simeon II, Special Ambassador of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development; Sandra Howard, Vice-Minister of Tourism of Colombia; Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Tourism of Azerbaijan; Pascal Lamy, the World Committee on Tourism Ethics; Mohammed Yehia Rashed, Minister of Tourism of Egypt; Lamia Boutaleb, Secretary of State for Tourism of Morocco; Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities of Uganda; Benito Bengzon Jr., Undersecretary for Tourism Development Planning of the Philippines; George Chogovadze, Head of the National Tourism Administration of Georgia; Gloria Guevara Manzo, President and CEO of WTTC; and Ambassador Eric Jakob, Head of the Promotion Activities Directorate, State Secretariat from Switzerland.
“Growth and sustainability should go hand-in-hand. Recent protests in cities are the evidence that growth should be sustainable. But growth is not the enemy, as it is the story of humankind. We need to take local communities into account,” said Rifai.
The debate on the SDGs was followed by a session dedicated to the Belt and Road Initiative where the discussion focused on the characteristics of this initiative. Among the speakers were: UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai, CNTA Chairman Li Jinzao, Oleg Safonov, Head, Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation, Roland Ratsiraka, Minister of Tourism of Madagascar, Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism of Cambodia, Nikolina Angelkova, Minister of Tourism of Bulgaria, John A. E. Amaratunga, Minister of Tourism Development, Christian Religions Affairs and Lands of Sri Lanka Askar Batalov, Deputy Minister of Culture and Sport of Kazakhstan and István Ujhelyi, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism/Chair Tourism Task Force at the European Parliament.