UNWTO boss chides hote­liers who ig­nore com­mu­nity

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Janet Sil­vera Se­nior Gleaner Writer janet.sil­vera@glean­erjm.com

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.

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