Tourism is all about moments.
It is built on person-to-person interactions and invites us all to explore new places, learn about different cultures and embrace new experiences.
The mobility and human interaction that is at the heart of tourism is, however, precisely what has made it vulnerable to today’s global health crisis.
In the first eight months of this year, international tourist arrivals declined by 70 percent as a result of the pandemic. This translates into a loss of more than $700 billion in exports, while more than 100 million jobs are estimated to be at risk. The cumulative impact could see global gross domestic product fall by as much as 2.8 percent.
These numbers, however concerning, have shed light on how significant the tourism sector is for our economies, our societies, and the advancement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Fortunately, domestic tourism is on the rise in many destinations, including Saudi Arabia. This is welcome news, allowing people to discover the wonders of their own countries while supporting jobs and businesses. But, without coordinated efforts, further recovery will be hampered by damaged confidence in international travel.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The adoption of ad hoc measures could create a patchwork of unworkable travel requirements, creating significant obstacles to a global economic recovery.” For international tourism to restart safely and effectively, strong leadership and multilateral cooperation is essential.
Together, this is exactly what we are striving to achieve. As head of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and chairperson of the G20 Tourism Track, we are both deeply committed to international cooperation and the transformative power of tourism
Looking at where the sector stands today, we believe our work must focus on three immediate priorities.
Firstly, to restore traveler confidence we need to ensure standardized criteria are established and implemented in a globally coordinated manner, in line with public health recommendations, to prioritize safety. In resuming in-person high-level visits and hosting a hybrid executive council meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, last month, UNWTO has shown that safe international travel is indeed possible, and we call on others to follow this example.
It is essential that we rebuild tourism stronger and with a global commitment toward a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient future.
Zurab Pololikashvili and Ahmed Al-Khatib
Secondly, we call for further investment in systems and practices that enable a safe and seamless travel experience, including testing on departure and tracing at destinations. Close collaboration between the public and private sector will be key to achieving this, underpinned by a focus on innovation and digital solutions. In hosting the G20’s first Tourism Working Group, which has put meaningful engagement with the private sector at the heart of its efforts, Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency has played an important role in supporting coordinated global action.
Thirdly, we call for all support schemes ensuring the survival of tourism businesses, the protection of jobs and livelihoods, and the development of the sector’s workforce’s skills to be continued and, where possible, expanded. Mitigating the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on tourism by supporting businesses and protecting jobs should continue to be a key priority to sustain livelihoods and the sector as a whole.
As the world’s premier forum for international economic cooperation, the G20 has a duty to drive this action. Meeting this week under the Saudi presidency, the G20 Tourism Ministers committed to leading the recovery of global tourism, ensuring our sector regains its position as a provider of decent jobs, stable incomes and a protector of cultural and natural heritage worldwide.
This year, UNWTO and the G20 Tourism Working Group have worked hard to deliver a new framework for nations globally to help steer the sector toward a sustainable and inclusive recovery. The AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development Through Tourism, named after Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, places inclusive community development at the heart of tourism policies in the fields of education, innovation and technology. The UNWTO Regional Office for the Middle East, which will open in Riyadh, will use these principles to guide growth for the sector and play an instrumental role in unlocking the region’s significant tourism potential.
It is our view that this pivotal moment in history is an opportunity to rethink our contribution to people and the planet. The damage that the pandemic has inflicted has also thrown into sharp relief the immense importance of the tourism sector — not only for economic growth and job creation, but also for the social and cultural enrichment that it offers us all. It is essential that we rebuild stronger and with a global commitment toward a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient future.
As we join forces to restart tourism, we pledge to live up to our responsibility of ensuring that the sector’s benefits are seen and enjoyed by all, leaving no one behind.
- Zurab Pololikashvili is Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization. // Ahmed Al-Khatib is Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism and Chairperson of the G20 Tourism Track.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view