UNWTO boss chides hoteliers who ignore community
WESTERN BUREAU: HOTELIERS GUILTY of building five-star hotels, while the people in their communities remain in deprived conditions, have come under heavy criticism from secretary general of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai.
“It’s not OK to be building five-star hotels in three-star communities,” the UNWTO official told delegates attending the just-concluded State of the Tourism Industry Conference in Bridgetown, Barbados.
“Tourism must be seen as a transformative tool. People must feel they are a part of it. They must feel empowered,” said the UNWTO official, conscious of the fact that his comments were likely to ruffle some feathers.
Without any apologies, a straighttalking Rifai argued that the people must also be part of the decision-making process while destinations aim for sustainability, which is ethical. Describing the industry as fragile, the UNWTO secretary general said growth is never the enemy. “It is how it reflects on the society.”
Rifai was part of a panel discussing ‘No Place for Status Quo’, with panellists including president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, David Scowsill; Barbados Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy; and Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Hugh Riley.
Pointing out a number of challenges currently facing Caribbean tourism, Rifai said the region’s priorities must be centred on three areas: cultural tourism, cuisine, and connection with local communities.
“Culture and tourism are too far apart. Visitors do not come close enough to the people, the history, the culture, and the food. You are only selling sun and beach, while not capitalising on areas such as gastronomy,” said Rifai.
CENTRE OF INDUSTRY MOVED
Warning Caribbean leaders that the centre of the tourism industry had moved East and South, he said the world had opened up in an incredible way.
Accordingly, 55 per cent of the 1.2 billion people who travelled in 2015 were from the emerging markets.
“One hundred and forty-nine million Chinese travelled last year, far superseding Germany and the UK,” he stated, adding that the demographics of those travelling had changed.
People are living longer, he argued, noting that the industry must be ready to cater to their needs.
The UNWTO secretary general argued that amid the global challenges facing the tourism sector, the UNWTO was urging stakeholders to adopt a number of things to ensure sustainability.
He said safety and security, seamless, and friendly travel were among the most important, particularly at a time when technology has empowered the traveller to see, read, and know what is happening in the world.