For travel & tourism to grow, it has to start from the top and, all the more today, we need strong leaders.
For travel & tourism to grow, it has to start from the top and, all the more today, we need strong leaders. The central discussions at the just-concluded WTTC Global Summit in Bangkok had moved from – in previous years – the disruption wrought on businesses by technology to the rise of nationalism and even anti-tourism that we’ve all seen in recent months, which of course hits the movement of travel and trade.
It has thus become even more imperative for everyone to understand the industry’s transformative powers, not just on the nuts-and-bolts of jobs creation and GDP contribution but in the deeper aspects such as changing people’s lives and livelihoods, and bridging a world that is more than ever divided by fear and mistrust.
Former British prime minister David Cameron understood. He described how when he came to office in 2010, there was literally a note left by his predecessor saying there was no more money left. His prime task therefore was to rescue the public finances. He recognised travel & tourism was key, and rather than delegate it to a junior minister, he took direct responsibility for it. Because of that, travel & tourism’s contribution to the economy rose by one-fifth in the first few years he was prime minister.
That’s one example that to harness the industry’s transformative industry, it has to start from the top. Another example from the summit is even more remarkable. It’s the last summit for David Scowsill as president & CEO of WTTC, since he’s stepping down in June. Also for Taleb Rifai, whose term as secretary-general of UNWTO ends this year. In my years of covering the industry, I have not seen a more aligned and effective public sector/private travel & tourism collaboration than this. Usually, each side only tries to work together, or then they simply groan about each other behind their backs.
But these two leaders were able to forge a real partnership that has benefited the global industry immensely. The collaboration produced 84 meetings with presidents and prime ministers, where messages on why tourism must be taken seriously were sent, always with well-researched evidence. It led to a coalition of global travel & tourism associations worldwide and soon enough we saw they were in one voice over key issues such as travel facilitation, terrorism, infrastructure development and sustainability.
The coalition is the best chance this industry, which has such diverse sectors, rallies together and be cohesive in overcoming common challenges. I hope the new WTTC and UNWTO heads will be able to forge a relationship as tightly knit. “Half-brothers”, they called each other on stage during a panel featuring them both. And when the usually non-emotional Scowsill publicly told Rifai “I don’t think I could carry on without you”, it brought an oooh from the audience – a rare, touching moment at WTTC Summit that reflects the power of the right leaders to bring about tourism’s power to transform.
This article was first published in TTG Asia May 2017 issue. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.