Op-Ed: ‘The right people and investments are needed for a more sustainable tourism sector’ – Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO
Secretary-General, United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
In September 2022, on the occasion of World Tourism Day, UNWTO asked the global community to “Rethink Tourism”. Travel restrictions were steadily being lifted and visitors returning, including to the beaches, cities and cultural gems of Greece. Ours was a call-to-action. We noted that, while the return of tourists brought hope to businesses and communities everywhere, we could not go back to “business as usual”. Instead, we need to build a tourism sector that is more sustainable, more inclusive and more resilient.
One year on, the challenge remains as significant as ever. Building a tourism that works for people and planet will not be easy. But it can be done. And we are getting there. First up, we need to measure if we are to manage. UNWTO is well on the way to establishing the first global standard for Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism. This will be an important step forward in making our sector more accountable, transparent and committed to positive change.
At the destination level, too, we are getting better at identifying what we are doing right and where we can still do better.
Our International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (or INSTO) keeps growing and includes the team at the Observatory of the Aegean Islands. Together with their counterparts in every global region, they monitor tourist flows and impacts and guide data-based policy, exactly what we need to step up and speed up our sustainability efforts.
We’re also collaborating with the Greek Ministry of Tourism in establishing a first research station dedicated to measuring the sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism across the Mediterranean. Again, the first step of doing better is identifying where we can still improve.
We also need the whole of the tourism sector to get behind our sustainability efforts. Here too, we are making good progress. Tourism depends on clean seas, a healthy planet and thriving ecosystems. Conversely, extreme weather events and climate change will do our sector massive harm. For this reason alone, businesses of all sizes are doing more.
Since we launched our Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism at COP26 in 2021, for example, we’ve welcomed more than 800 signatories, with everyone from global corporations to small businesses and even destinations and National Tourism Organizations committing to our vision for a Net-Zero sector by 2050.
However, for such ambitious plans to be put into action, we need above all two things: The right people and the right investments. These must be tourism’s priorities for the years ahead. Without either, our plans for a more sustainable sector will not get off the ground.
UNWTO has placed creating and supporting decent jobs at the heart of the European Commission’s Transition Pathway for Tourism, a bold plan to build a stronger, greener and fairer sector across every part of the region. To succeed, we also need a firm commitment from Europe’s governments and businesses to make tourism a sector people want to work in – and stay in to grow professionally.
Hand-in-hand with this, we need more governments investing in tourism, in its infrastructure as well as education and training, and ensuring that investments are directed where they can make the biggest impact.
Many destinations, Greece included, have shown that an investment in tourism is a sound investment in a country’s prosperity and wellbeing, for supporting jobs and businesses.
Now, with our sector well on track to reach pre-pandemic levels of arrivals by the end of the year, this is an example that needs to be embraced more widely, allowing tourism to grow not just in size but in significance as a key driver of sustainable development and inclusive opportunity everywhere.