Tourism that invests more in the education of stakeholders, frontline staff and consumers can help deliver a better model post-lockdown, according to an analysis at World Tourism Day (WTD) 2023.
Speakers opined that if people had a greater understanding of conscious travel, which contributes to the betterment of society and the environment, the tourism industry could grow sustainably and responsibly.
WTTC CEO Julia Simpson pointed out the importance of tourism to the global economy – of 10 jobs on the planet, one comes from travel and tourism; global tourism will be worth US$9.5 trillion by the end of 2023; and tourism lifts people out of poverty and contributes to less of the world’s carbon emissions than people expect, at only eight per cent.
Now, as global travel recovers, there is an urgency to invest in the industry’s sustainable future, said Anita Mendiratta, special advisor to the UNWTO, adding that tourism has the power to connect people and help them learn about themselves and others.
“We need to respond with the same energy on climate change as we did on Covid,” she said.
Saudi Arabia’s vice-minister of tourism Haifa Al Saud said attendees had “a collective responsibility” to commit to tourism that supports “planet, peace and prosperity”.
Speakers hailed education as a way to inform the public and private sectors on how to deliver sustainable development, to equip staff in travel and hospitality with key skills, and to persuade consumers to travel more responsibly.
The UNWTO used WTD as a platform to launch Tourism Opens Minds, a global initiative designed to promote travel to new destinations following recent research revealing that only a minority of tourists intend to visit new or different destinations when they start travelling again. Under the scheme, people will be encouraged to diversify their travel habits in a bid to combat over-tourism and level-up tourism development.
“We want to teach the world that every country is the best destination. Authenticity is what attracts people to a place,” said Saudi Arabia’s minister of investment Khalid Al-Falih.
The concept is being adopted by nations. In South Africa, where most inbound tourism is focused on the western cape, including Cape Town, efforts are underway to diversify offerings while educating travellers on “the hidden gems all over the country”, shared South Africa’s minister of tourism Patricia de Lille.
The power of educating consumers is evidenced by eco-conscious travellers who are already driving change in global tourism.
“More tourists are making decisions based on how sustainable a destination might be,” opined Gregory Djerejian, head of investments and legal at developer Red Sea Global. The company is driving the Red Sea Project, a tourism destination along Saudi Arabia’s west coast that Djerejian said would not simply preserve the community and environment, but also improve it.
Eduardo Carmona, CEO of Chile-based private capital fund Sudamerik, agreed that developers “need to be less invasive in nature” as consumers want green options that are also less crowded.
Today’s travellers also want to see where their money is going, and that their money is reaching local communities, added UNWTO’s Mendiratta.
UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili described education in tourism as “the number one priority for UNWTO”, noting that in many countries, a job in tourism is “the first step towards economic empowerment”.
Still, more needs to be done to ensure education equips talent with right skills, explained Leo Wang, CEO of private educator Swiss Education Group: “Where are green (sustainability) skills? The future will be in green skills and we want a green skills standard in education.”