Global tourism debate under way in Africa

A series of questions were posed to
some of the most powerful tourism ministers in the world at a summit in Johannesburg this week.

United Nations World Tourism
Organisation Secretary General Taleb Rifai was speaking at the opening ceremony
of the inaugural T20 Ministerial meeting.

Rifai said that the economic
crisis, environmental challenges and H1N1 flu had made 2009 a tough year, but
recent growth was stronger than expected. It raised several questions, which
the summit was set to consider.

He said that the recovery was weak,
uneven and downside risks remained. Unemployment, public debt and budget
deficits were ‘alarming’, noted the secretary-general.

“We must therefore assume that the
world will continue to need to strengthen both its resilience and stimulus. How
can we devise creative ways for our sector to be positioned in any new cycle?”
he asked delegates.

Cooperation

Mr. Rifai explained that it was
clear that economic crisis and climate imperatives could only be addressed by
global co-operation. He said that on a more local level some countries had been
quick to implement mitigating measures, which have made a difference.

“We know that some governments have
specifically reduced taxes on hotels or provided funds to help small tourism
enterprises and taken specific action to encourage demand.

“Are there any lessons we can
incorporate in our outputs here?” continued Rifai.

External

His speech went on to discuss the
external influences on the tourism industry. They included security, armed
conflicts, health scares, natural disasters, energy costs, tax increases and
other challenges that global policies could address in order to support
sustainable tourism development and growth.

Unemployment was an issue of the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development, said the secretary-general. The question was how
to secure skilled jobs and green economy jobs in a time of soft employment
trends.

Climate issues were on the table
and following the Copenhagen Climate Summit the tourism industry worldwide had
to address how to ensure it could commit to green issues whilst serving the
needs of the poorest countries. Mr. Rifai said that they were the countries
that could be often best-served by the tourism sector. He also asked delegates
how travel and tourism could contribute to global equity and shared benefits.

Initiatives

The T20 and assembled ministers were
not working cross-agenda with any other political or industry groups, concluded
the secretary-general. Rather, it was their hope that other initiatives can
underscore the contribution that the tourism sector can make to the main areas
of action agreed by the G-20 Leaders at their most recent Summit
in Pittsburgh
last September.

 “I would like to highlight a framework for
strong, sustainable, and balanced growth; energy security and climate change;
strengthening support for the most vulnerable; putting quality jobs at the
heart of the recovery and an open global economy.

“In all of these areas, tourism can
make a significant contribution,” said Mr. Rifai.