SINGAPORE, 21 September 2022: The countdown to the celebrations of World Tourism Day on 27 September is on and the UNWTO decides to end it “Rethink tourism”. According to UNWTO, World Tourism Day will focus on rethinking the sector’s growth in size and importance.
The host of the official day is the Republic of Indonesia (September 27). However, all UNWTO Member States and non-members, as well as private sector stakeholders, are invited to host their celebrations and promote the day and its central theme.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The potential of tourism is enormous and we have a shared responsibility to ensure that it is fully realised. On World Tourism Day 2022, UNWTO is calling on everyone, from tourism workers to the tourists themselves, as well as small businesses, large corporations and governments, to reflect and rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it.”
World Tourism Day has been celebrated on September 27th every year since 1980. This date marks the anniversary of the adoption of the organization’s statutes in 1970, which paved the way for the formation of the UNWTO five years later. However, the celebrations of the special day are not known for providing even a mood for change or action to correct the plague of pre-Covid-19 ‘overtourism’ to develop an industry that puts local communities first places.
What the UNWTO hopes for from a day of “rethinking tourism” remains unclear in the absence of a mission statement. For the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “rethinking the tourism model includes improving the tourism experience, better managing the impact of tourism and promoting positive spillovers in the broader economy. Tourism policy should ensure that it contributes to broad societal economic growth and improves the well-being of citizens.”
Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the global economy and its potential remains huge. On average in OECD countries, tourism contributes 4.1% to GDP, 5.9% to employment and 21.3% to service exports.
But from the outside, tourism is perceived as a top-heavy enterprise that benefits mega-corporations, global hotel groups and the airline industry at the expense of small local communities. Even in the travel tech arena, giant global booking engines, despite their promise to improve, inevitably gobble up small independent travel tech startups and reduce healthy competition.
Critics warn that UNWTO and its member states’ tourism leaders could be paying lip service to calls for a rethink of tourism if they adopt sustainable practices that ensure travel benefits communities. Instead, tourism is essentially a moneymaker for governments and businesses. Top-down tourism policies make local communities the losers when they should be the main players. The UNWTO holds a standard that says it is ready to rethink tourism, but its actions speak louder than words. It should start by spearheading the conversation to rethink tourism to put local communities at the forefront.