September 27, World Tourism Day 2022
This year’s world tourism day has come with a key word ‘Rethink Tourism’.
Countries and economies all over the world are recovering from the post COVID economic distress. This year witnessed the reopening of borders, destinations and revamping of economies. Even though it will take time to fill the economic and social gaps that created by the pandemic. Countries and destinations show strong signs of recovery in international tourism with arrivals reaching 57% of pre-pandemic levels in the first seven months of 2022. An estimated 474 million tourists travelled internationally over the period of last seven months of 2022 compared to 175 million in the same months of 2021 according to UNWTO.
It gives hope to the sector which faced job loss, destination closures, collapse of business firms and related distresses all over the globe. But at the same time the pandemic gives shape to a new dimension to the climate change discourse altogether. It takes out the focus of climate discussion from Carbon to many other factors affecting local and global economy including diseases. United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) jointly call for a decadal action for ecosystem restoration. The core understanding behind this call is that the health of ecosystems is detrimental to the well being, food security and sustainable development. Ebola, Nipa and Covid 19 pandemic and may other possible spill over diseases that may emerge as an outcome of climate change reminds future threats to global economy. Tourism being a sensitive economic sector to diseases and have the capacity to spread diseases among human populations the challenge ahead for the industry is huge. So it is also time to think how tourism can be instrumental to ecosystem restoration for its own sustainability.
While celebrating world tourism day with a slogan ‘people and the planet first’ it is also time to critically evaluate the objectives put forward by WTO ‘Returns to focus on the future’
For the first time ever, the United Nations general assembly held a special debate on tourism in May 2022. The focus of the debate was adoption of challenges and responsibilities to the Glasgow declaration on climate action in tourism spear headed by UN WTO by destinations and businesses. There is a growing consensus among tourism stakeholders as to how the future resilience of tourism will depend on the sectors ability to embrace carbon pathway and cut emissions by 50 % by 2030. Covid pandemic has led to a 7 percent reduction of GHG emissions globally in 2020 providing tangible reference to the magnitude of the effort still ahead to achieve the goals of Paris agreement which will require around 7 % reduction of emission on an annual basis throughout the next decade.
UNWTO says, ‘Putting people and planet first’ and bringing everyone from government to business to local communities together around a shared vision for a more sustainable inclusive resilient sector, as the objective of this year.
The degrowth debate started in 1970s (shrinking rather than growing economies, use less of the world energy and resources and put well being ahead of profit) replaced by the green growth in 1990’s (fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well being relays. Catalysing investment and innovation which will underpin sustained growth and give rise to new economic opportunities) started seeking technological alternatives for environmental problems globally.
The official World Tourism Day celebration will be held in Bali, Indonesia, on 27 September, highlighting the shift towards tourism being recognized as a crucial pillar of development. They aim to provide platform for inclusive dialogue to identify solutions to realise tourisms’ potential as a vehicle for recovery and transformation. UN WTO states its aim is also to ‘Mobilise political will and cooperation to ensure tourism is a central part of policy making’.
In India we can see many state governments highlight tourism as a vehicle for local economic boost and rejuvenation. In many states’ tourism is becoming a local development agenda sharing resources from the welfare fund. The pattern of participation by people in tourism and pleasure of travel behaviour is also changed after the pandemic, given that the country is receiving domestic tourists more than international tourists in this post pandemic situation.
But this shift in tourist inflow has not changed the way tourism operates. The current reopening / revival witnessed across the globe in general and India in particular is not suggesting anything new from the past. We are missing the opportunity of reviving tourism that is resilient and sustainable tourism with a ‘business as usual’ approach.
We urge the Governments to hear the voices of the invisible tourism work force – small hoteliers, local transporters, street vendors, trinket sellers and women in informal economy as well as in formal settings. We would like to emphasize the need for consultations with these groups while the governments are making policies and plans to reboot tourism.
The idea of inclusive growth especially post the pandemic would be something to ponder upon on this world tourism day as we re-think tourism. We call upon the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and the tourism promoters to uphold the principle of “leave no one behind” as a key element for inclusive tourism growth which will be sustainable and ethical.
Rethinking tourism is not an easy task. But the crisis has paved the way for tourism to transform itself to act as an engine for inclusive growth that ensures more and more people are benefitted from tourism. COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for a quality-based tourism than quantity oriented. Fundamental changes and paradigm shifts towards sustainable tourism can reduce the gravity of a crisis like Covid-19 and also increase the resilience of the sector.
There is a need to analyse post Covid 19 tourism in the context of over tourism, global financial crisis, climate change, disaster and other upheavals. Such an analysis may give an insight into other aspects of resilience such as the industry’s marginal profitability and liquidity, over capacity and supply, subsidies, tax incentives, market deregulation, and the development of a disruptive platform economy.
It will be a lost opportunity for tourism, if it does not take into cognisance the learnings from the crisis and transform itself to truly focus on UNWTO call “Returns to focus on the future’.
EQUATIONS, established in 1985 is a research, campaign, and advocacy organisation working on tourism and development issues in India. We envision a form of tourism which is non-exploitative, where decision making is democratised, and access to and benefits to tourism are equitably distributed.
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 Global Tourism Back to 60% of Pre-Pandemic Level During Jan – July 2022 (traveltrendstoday.in)