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UN agency warns of challenges facing global tourism industry

By By Philip Mwakio | March 7th 2014

By Philip Mwakio

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has highlighted challenges to be addressed by the global tourism sector in order to keep advancing as one of the world’s leading economic activities and one of the few sectors producing positive news around the world at ITB Berlin in Germany.

Kenya is among several countries from Africa taking part at the global tourism trade fair with Cabinet Secretary in charge of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Ms Phylis Kandie leading the Kenyan delegation.

In his speech during the opening of ITB 2014, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai said tourism has become one of the fastest growing economic sectors, one that drives global growth and development, creates millions of jobs, spurs exports and investment and transforms lives.

Positive expectations

He said this on the back of better than expected international tourism results in 2013 and the positive expectations for 2014 and beyond. But these forecasts are not to be taken for granted, Mr Rifai said.

 “To ensure our sector remains competitive, we must address several challenges, which we have set as priorities at UNWTO, committed to transform these into five major opportunities,” he added.

On a policy level, UNWTO’s message to this year’s ITB underscores the need to improve travel facilitation, considering that about two-thirds of the world’s population are required to obtain a visa before departure.

“Air connectivity is another critical area, considering the clear linkages between aviation and tourism, and the fact that over 50 per cent of the world’s international tourists reach their destination by air, while many countries still have disjointed policies between the two sectors,’’ Rifai said.

And finally, Rifai added,  UNWTO wants to see balanced taxation policies on tourism.

“This requires tourism to become a national policy and issue and not a sectoral one, he said. He added that crosscutting government policies and public-private partnerships are the necessary precursor to any meaningful tourism development.

Rifai noted that there exists an opportunity to create new and innovative coalitions for tourism growth and models of co-operation that embrace the tourism public sector and private sectors.

“It should also embrace the civil society and other players coming from areas such as technology, arts, gastronomy or culture,” he said. The ITB 2014 opening address of the UNWTO Secretary-General recalled that “alongside growth comes responsibility”.

“With the economic growth, job creation and development opportunities that tourism brings comes the over-arching challenge of sustainability,” he concluded.

Known for its focus on travel technology products over the years, ITB gathers around 170 exhibitors worldwide this year to exhibit their IT-related services and product innovations in the travel industry, while 30 new exhibitors will be present at the event for the first time.

Meanwhile, this year’s ITB Berlin fair also sees strong growth in segments of Youth Travel, Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism, as 130 exhibitors from 35 countries and regions are represented in total.

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