Tourism will experience downturn over the next six months

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SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt / MADRID, Spain – In the face of the global economic downturn, international tourism will experience less and probably negative growth over the next six to nine months, alongs

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SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt / MADRID, Spain – In the face of the global economic downturn, international tourism will experience less and probably negative growth over the next six to nine months, alongside all major economic sectors. The challenges posed by the economic scenario were discussed at the ‘Conference for the Middle East and Mediterranean Region on Tourism – Responding to a Turbulent Economy’ (Sharm El Sheikh, November 23-24), which also underscored tourism’s potential to foster growth, exports, and employment, particularly in developing countries. The conference called for active government support of the sector.

The conference was a preparatory meeting for UNWTO’s Resilience Committee, to be chaired by Zohair Garrana, Minister of Tourism of Egypt. It was attended by 175 participants from over 20 countries and 14 international organizations.

Minister Garrana underscored his commitment to drive the work of the committee to urgently and practically support the sector. He said “the most urgent priority is to deal with the massive macroeconomic uncertainty and the market consequences and making flexibility in response an imperative, while keeping a close eye on the climate agenda.”

Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said, “UNWTO is committed to actively assist the sector during this period, keeping at the same time a strong focus on the longer-term challenges posed by the sustainable development and climate change agenda.”

The main conclusions were:

However much the tourism sector has held up in 2008, forecasts suggest that the situation will deteriorate over the next 6-9 months: tourism cannot be regarded separately from the turbulences affecting the global economy.
Europe, Japan, and the USA, three major tourism markets, are experiencing severe economic downturns, and major institutions are downgrading expectations. The importance of the Resilience Committee was stressed to:

– Monitor/analyze macroeconomic and tourism market trends in real time.
– Build an information exchange for members on rapid/practical response.

As governments implement economic stimulus, they should reflect the fact

– Tourism has very high export and job delivery capacity – particularly for developing countries.
– Creative approaches could include tax moratoria and rollback.
– More public/private sector collaboration should be encouraged.
– The banking and financial community have a vital role to play in supporting financially sustainable industry programs and in considering innovative measures to respond to the economic circumstances.

The sector must change established practice and cut non-essential cost

– Targeted, strengthened promotion – particularly increasing marketing budgets and regional promotion.
– Integrated new media approaches and institutional collaborative advertising in innovative co-branding approaches.
– Collaborative e-tourism initiatives which foster and brand sustainable communities, engage enterprises, and build capacity.
– Replicating available transport, hotel, and service initiatives to respond to climate change and reduce energy costs.

The conference strongly underscored the potential to promote climate neutral tourism. Green initiatives will contribute to reduce dependence on fossil fuel and spur positive economic stimulation, as well as long-term restructuring. In this context Minister Garrana announced that Sharm el Sheikh would become the second “Earth Lung” destination to help the wise growth of tourism with reduced green house gas emissions, following the concept introduced by Sri Lanka during UNWTO’s Davos Tourism and Climate Summit .

Click here to see the full conclusions of the conference.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.