Interview:

‘Tourism Starts with Pride’

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The out­go­ing Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the United Na­tions' World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO), Dr Taleb Ri­fai, shares his views with Chi­nanews on tourism de­vel­op­ment and his legacy af­ter seven years at the helm.

Newschina: As we ap­proach the end of 2017, what are the high­lights of the year for tourism?

Taleb Ri­fai: We are see­ing the sev­enth con­sec­u­tive year of sus­tained growth in the tourism sec­tor since the 1960s. We have reached 1,235 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals in 2016. This con­sti­tutes an in­crease of four per­cent over the pre­vi­ous year. We still face many chal­lenges, such as safety and se­cu­rity, the need to adapt to tech­no­log­i­cal changes and sus­tain­abil­ity, but our sec­tor con­tin­ues to grow strongly. In the first eight months of 2017, we wit­nessed an in­crease of seven per­cent in in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals. Dur­ing this pe­riod over 90 mil­lion tourists trav­eled to in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions.

NC: What are the main trends you see in the tourism in­dus­try?

TR: I would say that four key fac­tors are shap­ing our sec­tor. Tech­nol­ogy, the changes in con­sumer be­hav­ior and the quest for au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, the growth in emerg­ing mar­kets such as China, and air con­nec­tiv­ity. Above all, we should never for­get that as a sec­tor we should place sus­tain­abil­ity at the heart of our de­vel­op­ment.

NC: What is the big­gest shift you have seen in travel and tourism over the past seven years at the helm of UNWTO?

TR: The im­pact of tech­nol­ogy and the growth of mar­kets like China are the big­gest shifts I have seen. Be­sides these, I have seen a higher re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment of the tourism com­mu­nity – gov­ern­ments, pri­vate sec­tor and even the trav­eler – to sus­tain­abil­ity and a greater recog­ni­tion by na­tional and in­ter­na­tional de­ci­sion mak­ers of tourism as a tool for eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment. Tourism ac­counts for 10 per­cent of global GDP, one in 10 jobs in the world and seven per­cent of the world's ex­ports.

NC: We are now ap­proach­ing the end of the In­ter­na­tional Year of Sus­tain­able Tourism for De­vel­op­ment, so how can the in­di­vid­ual trav­eler make a dif­fer­ence?

TR: Some 1.2 bil­lion trav­el­ers vis­ited in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions last year. Ac­cord­ing to the UNWTO Re­port ‘Tourism to­wards 2030,' this num­ber will reach 1.8 bil­lion by that year. These can be 1.8 bil­lion op­por­tu­ni­ties for a bet­ter fu­ture or 1.8 bil­lion dis­as­ters if they do not act with re­spon­si­bil­ity and re­spect for the en­vi­ron­ment, for our cul­ture and the com­mu­ni­ties they visit. Each trav­eler can make a dif­fer­ence with small ac­tions and that is why this year we launched a cam­paign called ‘Travel. En­joy. Re­spect.' Be­cause we be­lieve that tourism is about fun but also about be­ing con­scious and re­spect­ful.

NC: How do you see the China ef­fect on global tourism?

TR: China is a lead­ing source mar­ket and tourism des­ti­na­tion. Be­sides, China is an ex­am­ple in terms of tourism pol­icy hav­ing placed the sec­tor as a pil­lar of its so­cioe­co­nomic de­vel­op­ment and as an ef­fec­tive tool to al­le­vi­ate poverty. The recog­ni­tion that China has given to tourism is ex­em­plary and can guide other coun­tries.

NC: What is your view on China's tourism re­sources?

TR: His­tory, cul­ture, na­ture, tra­di­tion, health, gas­tron­omy… for me and for many oth­ers who have not even vis­ited China, this is the per­cep­tion about the coun­try.

NC: Do you have any sug­ges­tions for China in pro­mot­ing in­bound tourism?

TR: I do not think that China needs any les­sons from any­body as it is ev­i­dent that the coun­try knows very well how to pro­mote trav­el­ing to na­tional des­ti­na­tions. And I say this be­cause through­out its his­tory, Chi­nese cit­i­zens have learned to keep their tra­di­tions, to value their trea­sures, and to rec­og­nize its cul­tural signs. Tourism starts with that pride.

NC: Are there any col­lab­o­ra­tive plans be­tween UNWTO and China's tourism au­thor­i­ties?

TR: We have been work­ing in very ac­tive co­op­er­a­tion with the China Na­tional Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion (CNTA) for many years. Ex­am­ples in that re­gard in­clude the host­ing in 2016 in Bei­jing of the 1st In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Tourism for De­vel­op­ment and the cel­e­bra­tion of 22nd UNWTO Gen­eral Assem­bly in Chengdu in Septem­ber 2016 where we had a record at­ten­dance and could see once again the com­mit­ment of China to tourism de­vel­op­ment and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion.

NC: How did your life path take you to­ward the tourism in­dus­try?

TR: I will never for­get the mo­ment in which my pro­fes­sional ca­reer shifted into the tourism sec­tor. I was the Min­is­ter of Tourism in my coun­try at the same time as Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion and I soon started to love tourism. When I see to­day the evo­lu­tion that tourism has had world­wide, it con­firms my be­lief about the po­ten­tial and the power of this sec­tor to trans­form this world into a bet­ter place.

NC: What is your most un­for­get­table travel ex­pe­ri­ence?

TR: It is very dif­fi­cult to say be­cause most of the time, trav­el­ing is about feel­ings, per­cep­tions, your own mo­ment in that pre­cise in­stant. Be­cause of that, vis­it­ing the same place twice can be sim­i­lar to trav­el­ing to dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions. What I have con­cluded af­ter vis­it­ing so many places around the globe is that even the most hum­ble cor­ner of our planet is beau­ti­ful and has unique hu­mans. That is the real value of tourism and also its po­ten­tial.

NC: What is the mo­ment you are proud­est of, and what was your great­est chal­lenge as Sec­re­tary Gen­eral?

TR: Again, you give me a very dif­fi­cult task, but when I talk about pride, I al­ways men­tion my team and all those work­ing in this sec­tor as they are the peo­ple that have made the tourism sec­tor big­ger and more rel­e­vant in the last years. As Sec­re­tary Gen­eral my big­gest am­bi­tion has been to reach that es­sen­tial con­sen­sus among the big­gest num­ber of na­tions on the po­ten­tial of tourism to in­duce trans­for­ma­tive change. I be­lieve that I have humbly con­tributed to that.

NC: What will your legacy be?

TR: I be­lieve that lega­cies can be de­fined af­ter years, but I am very sat­is­fied to have cel­e­brated the In­ter­na­tional Year of Sus­tain­able Tourism for De­vel­op­ment in the last year of my man­date at UNWTO as well as hav­ing seen the emer­gence of what I trust will be the first in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tion in the field of tourism – the UNWTO Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tourism Ethics, which was ap­proved in Septem­ber 2016 in our Gen­eral Assem­bly and which I hope will in the near fu­ture be adopted in all of­fi­cial lan­guages by our mem­ber states.

The UNWTO and the Guang­dong Chime­l­ong Group sign a part­ner­ship agree­ment to es­tab­lish the Unwto-chime­l­ong Ini­tia­tive on 19 May 2016

Dr Taleb Ri­fai, UNWTO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral 2010-2017

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