Interview: Time to rethink tourism, an economic lifeline for millions |

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is one of the 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations, which aims to promote tourism in the world, and to make it the engine of economic growth and sustainable development.

Speaking to UN News’ Bessie Du in late 2021, shortly after the agency’s general assembly, Ms Urosevic began by highlighting the devastating impact of the COVID-19[feminine l’épidémie continue d’avoir sur le tourisme et les perspectives de reprise.

L’interview a été modifiée pour plus de clarté et de longueur.

UNWTO

Zoritsa Urosevic, UNWTO Executive Director

Zoritsa Urosevic: Tourism has been the sector hardest hit by the crisis, along with all the people and livelihoods that depend on it. Basically, these two years have been very difficult, but we see that in the future we will have to completely rethink the sector, and perhaps this is an opportunity.

Developed countries were much better prepared to sustain the blow, mainly with financial packages to support industry and small businesses, and to try to save people’s jobs. Developing countries really struggle to do that.

We have created the Tourism Recovery Package, a tool to quickly assess what needs to be done in a given country, and we have created the first ever tourist protection code, because building trust is really a very important for people who decide to travel.

We are fully aligned with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the importance of engaging in safer travel protocols rather than stopping travel altogether, as we know how many livelihoods depend on tourism, not only directly, but also those who work in the industries that depend on the sector, such as food production, services, and manufacturing.

At a time when populations are moving more and more towards urban areas, rural development through tourism will certainly be one of the major trends in the sector. We have launched an initiative called Best Tourism Villages, and we are going to have a global center for rural tourism development.


Tourists overlooking the Fuego Volcano eruption from the Acatenango Volcano, Guatemala.

UN News/Jing Zhang

Tourists overlooking the Fuego Volcano eruption from the Acatenango Volcano, Guatemala.

UN News: Would you say the blow to tourism is unprecedented?

Zoritsa Urosevic: It was certainly the biggest crisis ever experienced by the sector. Basically, it’s like we’ve gone back 30 years in 2020. Over the last three decades, tourism has been growing steadily by about 4% every year, so now we have a situation where we have a lot supply, lots of businesses, and no tourists.

Countries that had the size and purchasing power, such as China, were able to turn to domestic tourism, but for smaller developing countries like Fiji, which were hardest hit by the crisis, and where tourism represents between 40 and 70 percent of GDP, this is not possible.

We call for the harmonization of travel protocols, which have been very volatile because even if countries reach an agreement, a change in the pandemic situation means it cannot be enforced.

The countries that have been most successful are those that have been able to communicate very clearly and spell out the protocols. Greece is a good example: they opened in July 2020, but communicated well in advance, and many tourists who had planned to go elsewhere went to Greece instead, as they were well informed.


Paris has almost been emptied of its tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo IMF/Cyril Marcilhacy

Paris has almost been emptied of its tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN News: How do you update everyday tourists on progress in the international coordination of travel protocols?

Zoritsa Urosevic: We have really stepped up our social media presence and have a hundred times more followers than before. We do our best, but it’s never enough, so we’re very open to new ideas and new opportunities.

UN News: What do you say to people whose livelihoods depend on tourism?

Zoritsa Urosevic: First of all, I would say that this sector is very resilient: we all dream of it, and we all want to travel. For now, we need to improve education and training, but I think the future is bright. Tourists will come back, and they will be more respectful than before: there will be a new path to happiness in tourism and cultural exchange.


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