More than 1,300 delegates from over 130 countries attended the opening of the 22nd session of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly in Chengdu, China, on Wednesday, September 13.
During the next four days, the priorities of the Organization for 2018-2019, the transformation of the UNWTO Code of Ethics for Tourism into an International Convention and the impact of technology on tourism will center the discussions. On the agenda of the Assembly is also the election of the Secretary General for the next four years.
“China is an inspiration to others in terms of its supportive tourism policies and in placing tourism at the centre of its poverty alleviation and national development strategies,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai at the opening of the 22nd session of the General Assembly. “Besides being the fourth most-visited country in the world, with 59 million international arrivals in 2016, China is also the largest domestic tourism market, with 4.4 billion trips made within its borders,” he added.
The Secretary-General also recalled the relevance of having this General Assembly, the last of his mandate, under the framework of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017. “I feel very proud to have contributed to expanding the capacity of travel and tourism to the progress of the SDGs that guide our common action to 2030. This General Assembly is a unique opportunity to continue advancing together,” he said.
Wang Yang, Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China, recalled that, since the inclusion of China in UNWTO in 1983, the tourism sector has grown to represent 10% of the country’s economy. Vice-Premier confirmed that “smart tourism” will guide the development of the sector and highlighted the need to enforce policies to enhance sustainable tourism.
The UNWTO General Assembly will discuss the Chengdu Declaration on ‘Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals’. The document, in which the potential of the tourism sector is underlined in economic, social and political terms, includes 19 articles that, among others, recommend to governments “to develop an integrated and holistic approach to tourism policy in order to leverage the sector’s positive impact and multiplying effect on people, planet and prosperity (Article 1).”
High level debate on Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals
The opening of the 22nd session of the UNWTO General Assembly was followed by a high level session on tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals and Building Partnerships for Development: The Example of the Belt and Road Initiative, conducted by Richard Quest of CNN International.
“Growth and sustainability should go hand-in-hand. Recent protests in cities are the evidence that growth should be sustainable. But growth is not the enemy, as it is the story of humankind. We need to take local communities into account,” said Rifai.
The debate on the SDGs was followed by a session dedicated to the Belt and Road Initiative where the discussion focused on the characteristics of this initiative.