Tourism key to economic stimulus, UN agency chief says

11 March 2009

The head of the United Nations agency that promotes responsible tourism said today that leisure travel should be an important component of programmes that aim to reverse the global economic downturn.

“Tourism means trade, jobs, development, cultural sustainability, peace and the fulfilment of human aspirations,” Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General ad interim of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said as he opened this year’s ITB Travel Trade Show in Berlin.

“If ever there was a time to get this message out loud and clear, it is now, as we meet at a time of overriding global uncertainty, but also of immense possibilities,” Mr. Rifai said.

While UNWTO figures show international arrivals hit a record 924 million last year and annual growth of 2 per cent, the second half of the year showed a monthly decline in many sectors.

Arrivals, for example, showed a negative growth of minus one per cent during the second half of the year and international receipts, which also reached record highs in the first half, saw rapidly declining second-half growth.

To respond to these challenges, Mr. Rifai called on the tourism industry, for its part, to protect its assets, included its skilled workforce, during the downturn, and to think creatively for the changes that will be needed to revitalize the sector as the current crises take unpredictable turns.

“It is the time to revisit our existing structures, policies and practices. It is time for innovations and bold action,” he said.

In that light, he called for the industry to be at the forefront of the transformation to a green economy, and to help the poorest countries develop in a sustainable manner.

He maintained that tourism must be “at the heart of stimulus packages” because of the jobs and trade generated by the sector as well as the business and consumer confidence that increased travel can build.

The ITB Travel Trade Show runs through 15 March.

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