Governments around the world should follow the Chinese approach to tourism, according to the UNWTO Ministers’ Summit which took place at World Travel Market in London.
Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said: “China is seeing the benefits from giving tourism a very high priority within government. It is an example other countries should try to follow.”
More than 150 tourism ministers and aides attended the Summit. Qiwei Shao. Chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, said that the Chinese government started to listen when he was able to show that 109 other sectors were involved in tourism. Some 15 million people are employed directly in tourism, with another 85 million indirectly employed.
The importance of tourism generally varies across the globe. John Penrose, Minister of Tourism of the UK pointed out that he is the first dedicated tourism minister the UK has ever had; Italy and Argentina have both upgraded the importance of tourism within the structure of their government.
Mexico’s tourism minister, Gloria Guevara, said that tourism was a priority for the country, which wanted to become one of the world’s top five destinations. It is already in the top ten.
One way in which ministers can make their government colleagues listen is to rethink the data used to make the economic case for tourism. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Minister of Tourism and Aviation for the Bahamas, said that the key metric should be economic value, not only arrivals.
The role of the private sector in this is pivotal, ministers insisted, although competitive concerns and the fragmented nature of the sector often prevent companies from working together.
Sustainability was also high in the Summit’s agenda, with ministers told that they needed to be more vocal in defending tourism’s environmental record. Many ministers agreed that sustainability was not only about climate change but also culture heritage, resources and socio-economics.
Taxation was another recurring theme. The UK’s controversial Air Departure Tax (APD) was blamed for prompting other countries – Germany and Austria – to shortly introduce a similar measure.
Christopher Brown from the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) in Australia warned that governments “could drown small island nations in a sea of taxes before the tidal waves arrive.”
Fiona Jeffery, Chairman of the World Travel Market, said; “This is our fourth UNWTO Summit at World Travel Market. We are delighted that it’s the largest-ever and includes ministers from Iraq and China for the first time.
“The discussion today has really helped set a framework for the industry going forward.”