With international tourism projected to grow again by more than 4 per cent this year, the United Nations has set 2007 as “a critical year” to consolidate tourism as a key agent in the fight against poverty and a primary tool for sustainable development.
“Mainstreaming tourism in the international development agenda does not require such a great leap of faith,” UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said in a New Year’s message.
“The tourism sector is the largest common area of export income and foreign direct investment across the world’s poorest countries. Tourism to these countries is growing at twice the rate of industrialized markets. No sector spreads wealth and jobs across poor economies in the same way as tourism,” he added.
Major UNWTO initiatives this year include a world summit on “Tourism and Religion,” hosted by the Government of Spain, to explore ways to strengthen the interrelationship between tourism and the world’s great religions so as to further encourage peaceful development and intercultural dialogue.
The agency also plans to intensify its eTourism initiatives together with the Microsoft software company to introduce an Emergency Response System for disasters and enhance the Windows on Africa Portal to boost tourism there.
Major areas cited by Mr. Frangialli for consolidated global action include the need for industrialized and newly emerging states to craft pro development strategies; for least developed states to collectively recognize the impact and potential of tourism across their economies; and for international development agencies to place tourism amongst their key priorities for infrastructure and entrepreneurial support.
“Look at the difference the huge numbers of travellers forecast from India and China in the years ahead could make in Africa and the Asia Pacific region,” he said. “It just needs imagination and political will. And the same holds true for the industrialized states who should see their tourists as human development support, with the additional benefit that they build bridges of understanding between cultures.”