Sustainable tourism: Everyone can drive change
The development of sustainable tourism plans and schemes is fast becoming an integral part of government strategies for meeting longterm objectives, especially in emerging countries with volatile markets. Hospitality News ME spoke to Taleb Rifai, United
1. How effectively do you think involved states will be implementing sustainable tourism procedures?
There are different manners and strategies to develop sustainable tourism practices. Legislation may appear as the major one, but the involvement of key stakeholders, such as private sector firms, is an important requirement. In parallel, customers’ and travelers’ needs must also be addressed and considered.
2. What practical solutions is UNWTO offering?
Sustainability refers to environmental protection, cultural preservation and respect for host communities. The solutions are as immense as the potential that they offer. The strategies vary, depending on the destination, but also on the level of involvement of local stakeholders. From our side, UNWTO has several tools, among which I would highlight our recommendations and manuals on accessible tourism and the UNWTO Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories.
The Middle East possesses a particular pride, which is always relevant in developing measures to protect heritage, landscapes and traditional cultures
3. How do you think Middle Eastern companies could become involved?
The first step to getting involved and building commitment is to be informed and see the benefits. Throughout history, we have witnessed stakeholders of different backgrounds beginning to contribute to causes of common interest when they become aware of their impact. Besides this ethical component, highlighting the benefits that companies can enjoy when they become more sustainable prompts a second level of engagement. This helps to increase customer trust. Their business becomes more efficient and this adds value in the medium and long term. From a more personal angle, I believe that the Middle East, the cradle of human civilization, possesses a particular pride, which is always relevant in developing measures to protect heritage, landscapes and traditional cultures. Sustainable tourism is about all of these. In this context, I invite all Middle East countries and companies to support the UNWTO current process of transforming the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism into an international convention, and companies to join the private sector’s commitment to the Code, which we have been promoting since 2011.
4. What are your views on the newly imposed travel bans and how do you think international and regional politics are affecting global and regional tourism?
We do not support these decisions as they have proved to lead to greater misunderstanding and confrontation between nations. Tourism is a language of dialogue, since, when we travel, we become more open-minded and more cultivated individuals, with global concerns. As tourism increases its presence in national strategies, global policies will play a bigger part in reducing distances between countries.
5. How will technology contribute to the future of tourism?
Technology has always contributed to the development of tourism, from the first maps, compasses and sextants that guided travelers in the past. Today, social media, devices that help to easily capture the best moments of our trips, digital platforms that simplify travel, and strategies, such as the e-visa that speeds up processes, constitute
not an alternative, but a mandatory component of tourism development. We recently held the ‘I International’ conference on smart destinations, and all experts agreed on the tremendous value for destinations of investing in these technologies.
6. What is your advice to countries where the tourism industry is getting back on track?
These countries are consolidated destinations and we’re confident that sooner or later, they will regain the good figures that they have always enjoyed. Egypt’s case is particularly felt at UNWTO. Having worked in the tourism field for several decades, we know the potential that the country holds, the effort put in and the role that Egypt has played in driving regional tourism, serving as a reference for many countries.
7. Where do you see regional tourism heading, and how would joint projects and routes, such as the Phoenician Route and Silk Road, bring countries together?
The entire region has a lot to offer, not only in terms of tourism, but also in parallel areas, such as culture, renewable energies and business development, so I’m quite sure that the coming decades are going to be very bright for this very special part of the world.
Tourism is a language of dialogue, since, when we travel, we become more openminded and more cultivated individuals