Rebuilding tourism in a safe, equitable, climate-friendly way

By Ranjan K Baruah

In the recent pandemic the worst affected industry or sector is tourism. We know about the contribution of tourism amongst lives of millions around the world. It provides livelihoods for millions of people and allows billions more to appreciate their own and different cultures, as well as the natural world. For some countries, it can represent over 20 per cent of their GDP and, overall, it is the third largest export sector of the global economy.
COVID-19 has directly impacted the tourism sector which has directly impacted people directly associated with the tourism sector. There is no country which has been unaffected when it comes to the tourism sector. Restrictions on travel and a sudden drop in consumer demand have led to an unprecedented fall in international tourism numbers, which in turn have led to economic loss and the loss of jobs.
Impact in tourism has impacted conservation of biodiversity mainly in national parks areas and other biodiversity rich zones. The sudden fall in tourism revenues has cut off funding for biodiversity conservation. With 90% of World Heritages Sites closed as a result of the pandemic, humanity’s cultural heritage is at risk in all parts of the world.
Development through tourism can also keep rural communities alive. It is estimated that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities. We must be aware that tourism employs one in every ten people on Earth but because of the pandemic, 100-120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) foresees that domestic tourism will return before international tourism and there is no doubt that if managed well, this could benefit rural communities. Interestingly tourism is a lifeline, offering young people a chance to earn a living without having to migrate.
Like many other days World Tourism Day (WTD) is observed on 27th September around the world. On this Tourism Day, the COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity to rethink the future of the tourism sector, including how it contributes to the sustainable development goals, through its social, cultural, political, and economic value. This date was chosen to coincide with an important milestone in world tourism: the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO Statutes on September 27, 1970 and the day is observed since 1980 and making it to 40th celebration in 2020.
The 2020 edition of WTD, with the theme of “Tourism and Rural Development”, shall celebrate the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of big cities and preserving cultural and natural heritage all around the world. This year’s observation comes at a critical moment, as countries around the world look to tourism to drive recovery, including in rural communities where the sector is a leading employer and economic pillar providing jobs and opportunity, most notably for women and youth.
The United Nations Secretary General in his message said that “in the 40 years since the very first World Tourism Day, much has changed. Demand for travel has soared. The world has opened up, allowing more people than ever to explore the globe and its different cultures.” “In this most challenging year, let us focus on tourism’s importance for people living in rural areas, so we can deliver on the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave nobody behind”, he added.
It is the role and responsibility of each and every one of us to contribute positively in rebuilding the tourism industry. Apart from government, other agencies like private sectors and others must take positive steps to rebuild the sector as it engages rural communities’ part from others. New schemes and supports have been announced by different ministries for re building the sector and it is up to the people how they take it ahead. On this day let us also commit to be responsible tourist post pandemic and contribute for sustainable development.

(With direct inputs from UN publication and feedback may be sent to [email protected])

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