Berlin/ Madrid | UNWTO says that the world must respond in a holistic way to the twin challenges of Climate Change and Poverty and that the tourism sector can effectively contribute to the solutions.

UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said that “in recent years world leaders have identified a range of challenges of truly global impact with extreme poverty and climate change as the most trenchant issues. They require innovative and changed behaviour to effectively respond over time and Tourism can and must play its part in the solutions to both”. He said that “UNWTO has been actively working on these issues for some years and is committed to seek balanced and equitable policies to encourage both responsible energy related consumption as well as anti- poverty operational patterns. This can and must lead to truly sustainable growth within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals.”

"World tourism has entered into a historically new phase of growth, which began three years ago. In 2005, it broke through the barrier of 800 million international arrivals. Last year, it reached 842 million. This new phase is characterized by a more solid and more responsible type of growth", UNWTO Secretary-General, Francesco Frangialli, said during his key note speech on the opening of the ITB international tourism fair in Berlin.

According to UNWTO figures, this increase represents over 20% growth in the span of three years, equivalent to 150 million additional visitors. Africa registered the strongest growth as it had also done in 2005. Asia-Pacific and Latin America also posted outstanding results and the Middle East proved remarkably resilient in spite of the upheavals being experienced by the region.

While Europe developed on target with world growth, Mr. Frangialli underscored the positive results measured by international arrivals to Germany of nearly 10% in large part thanks to the "Football World Cup effect". The German experience underscores the positive link between sport and tourism, which is one of the reasons behind the close relations between UNWTO and FIFA ahead of the South African World Cup 2010. Big sporting events can promote tourism, which in turn can be streamlined into socio-economic development efforts.

Tourism exchanges benefit primarily the countries of the South

The strong and sustained rise of tourism over the past fifty years is one of the most remarkable phenomena of our time. In spite of the various recent crises, some of which have obviously affected tourist movements, this major industry continues to grow steadily:

  • The number of international tourist arrivals has risen from 25 million in 1950 to 842 million in 2006; this rise is equivalent to an average annual growth of about 7% over a long period.
  • The revenues generated by these arrivals--not including airline ticket sales and revenues from domestic tourism--have risen by 11% a year (adjusted for inflation) over the same span of time; this outstrips that growth rate of the world economy as a whole.
  • International tourism receipts reached US$ 680 billion in 2005 (EUR 547 billion), making it one of the largest categories of international trade.
  • Depending on the year, this trade volume equals or exceeds that of oil exports, that of food products, or even that of cars and transport equipment.
  • Tourism, taken in the narrow sense, represents one quarter of all exports of services – 40% if we include air transport.
  • Its share of direct foreign investment flows, though still limited, has increased spectacularly between 1990 and 2005.

Tourism has shown to be a strong contributor to the balance of payments, as well as a highly labour-intensive activity that opens up opportunities for the small businesses that provide products and services to the tourism industry. Its impact is particularly strong in the local farming and fishing industries, handicrafts and even the construction industry. In these countries, tourism creates many direct and indirect jobs. It represents fertile ground for private initiative. It serves as a foothold for the development of a market economy where small and medium-sized enterprises can expand and flourish. In poor rural areas, it often constitutes the only alternative to declining subsistence farming

On the one hand: Tourism can contribute to poverty reduction

The geographical expansion and labour intensive nature of the Tourism sector provide a spread of employment which is particularly relevant in remote and rural areas where many of the poor live. Poverty alleviation has become an essential condition for peace, environmental conservation and sustainable development, besides being an ethical obligation in an affluent world, where the divide between poor & rich nations seems to have increased in recent years.

UNWTO statistics show the growing strength of the tourism industry for developing countries:

  • International tourism receipts for developing countries (low income, lower and upper middle income countries) will soon pass more than US$ 250 billion.
  • Tourism is one of the major export sectors of poor countries and a leading source of foreign exchange in 46 of the 49 Least Developed Countries.

Through its ST-EP programme (Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty), UNWTO has put in place a framework for poverty alleviation, linking its longstanding pursuit of sustainable tourism with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and its own Global Code of Ethics.

Funding has been approved for 13 ST-EP projects so far, amounting to around US$1 million, benefiting 18 countries (Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Honduras, Kenya, Lao, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia, and a regional project in West Africa). In parallel, 25 ST-EP projects are being implemented by UNWTO with funding from the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) for a total of around EUR 1.2 million (Albania, Cambodia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Montenegro, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, SADC countries, Uganda). Italy, is funding 8 ST-EP projects (Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mali), and funding has been approved for additional projects during 2007.

On the other hand: Tourism as a cause and a vector for climate change issues

Favourable climatic conditions at destinations are key attractions for tourists, especially in beach destinations, which are still the dominating form of tourism. Mountain tourism or winter sports are also highly dependent on specific climate and weather conditions. In general, for all forms of tourism activities taking place outdoors, accurate climate and weather information is key for the planning and carrying out of trips and programmes. Climate can impact on a wide range of other basic resources of tourism, such as availability and quality of freshwater supply.

Inadequate climatic conditions can seriously harm tourism operations and host communities that depend on them. Directly, climate variability and changing weather patterns can affect the planning of tourism programmes and seriously affect the tourists’ comfort, their travel decisions, and eventually the tourists’ flow. Indirectly, climate change can have a significant impact on tourism activities by altering the natural environment that represents both a key attraction and a basic resource for tourism.

At the same time, transport, which is at the heart of travel and tourism is an evident challenge – not only the high profile air transport with its direct interrelationship to green house gases, but also road and rail transport which are major factors in intraregional and domestic tourism, but also cruises which are one of the fastest growing areas of the sector. In this context we are working particularly closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization to ensure that a true tourism dimension is reflected in their work in this area.

But climate change also brings some opportunities, and it can induce the re-structuring of both, tourism demand and supply patterns. For example, extremely hot temperatures in the main season of seaside tourism destinations might reduce the tourists’ motivation to travel, but it can increase visitations in shoulder seasons, or in warmer winter periods; it can also divert tourists to more in-land and higher altitude coastal areas with cooler temperatures. Summer seasons in mountain regions, meanwhile, could lengthen, and generate increased demand, although this could bring further negative environmental consequences.

Whatever the environmental outcome, tourism cannot be seen in isolation. Major changes in the pattern of demand will lead to wider impacts on many areas of economic and social policy - such as, for example, in employment and labour demand and in regional policy issues such as housing, transport and social infrastructure. Knock-on effects could influence other sectors, such as agriculture supplying tourism demand, handicraft industries, local small business networks and so on.

In recognizing the high dependence of tourism activities on climate conditions, and the high vulnerability of many destinations to climate change impacts, UNWTO made an important initial step to address the complex relations between climate change and tourism by convening the First International Conference on Climate Change & Tourism, in 2003 in Djerba (Tunisia). The conference brought together delegates from 53 countries, drawn from the scientific community, various UN agencies, the tourism industry, NGOs, national tourism administrations and environment departments, as well as local governments. The main outcome was the Djerba Declaration on Climate Change and Tourism - a basic framework for further action by stakeholder groups.

The path ahead

This year, to further develop awareness and improve the understanding of this complex relationship, we are convening two conferences to follow up on Djerba in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme – with whom we are working closely on all these issues:

  • The first will be a Global Summit in Davos (Switzerland) at the beginning of October, and will convene senior experts from tourism and environment ministries, academic institutions and researchers, for a high-level technical debate and the search of possible courses of action.
  • The outcome of this first event will be submitted to a Ministerial Conference in London, on 13 November held with the UK Government in the context of World Travel Market, for recommending policy decisions in this field.

“Climate change as well as Poverty alleviation will remain central issues for the world community. Tourism is an important element in both. Governments and the private sector must place increased importance on these factors in tourism development strategies and in climate and poverty strategies. They are interdependent and must be dealt with in a holistic fashion. This calls for a more responsible growth. Tourism has become both the victim and the vector of climate change Our sector has to reduce its emissions; it also has to adapt", Mr Frangialli said. UNWTO is therefore strongly engaged in a leadership initiative to evolve to more responsible tourism growth, bearing in mind that "the development of tourism means, above all, social progress, job creation and poverty alleviation", he concluded.

UN Tourism Communications Department
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