Travel and tourism: unity through diversity in the age of globalization

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Tourism’s role in preserving diversity and fostering international understanding were at the center of this year’s World Tourism Day Think Tank debates around the 2009 theme “Tourism – Celebra

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Tourism’s role in preserving diversity and fostering international understanding were at the center of this year’s World Tourism Day Think Tank debates around the 2009 theme “Tourism – Celebrating Diversity.” The Think Tank was the climax of the official World Tourism Day celebrations held in Accra, Ghana, and brought together leading international experts, tourism policy makers, and specialized media. The Think Tank was chaired by Hon. Mrs. Juliana Azumah Mensah (MP), Minister of Tourism of Ghana, and Mr. Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General ad interim.

The Think Tank revolved around three sessions – Diversity, Globalization and Tourism, and Cultural and Environmental Diversity and Tourism and Tourism Strengthening Ties between Nations. Participants at the Think Tank focused on the role of tourism in preserving and maintaining diversity, as well as encouraging international cooperation, all in the context of accelerating economic and cultural globalization.

Against this background, the conclusions stressed the need to protect diversity as an economic asset and stimulus for tourism entrepreneurship, as well as a building block of international understanding in an increasingly globalized world. One of the main challenges identified by the Think Tank was to maximize the benefits from international tourism and tourism-related investment for local communities and ensure that revenues are reinvested into fostering decent work and widening sustainable development efforts. Furthermore, it was underlined that the 2010 FIFA football world cup represents a unique opportunity for the African continent to present its varied cultural and natural diversity and reap the benefits of international tourism in terms of unparalleled global exposure and investment efforts improving general infrastructure.

– In recognizing the value of cultural diversity, local communities and the people which embody them can become the custodians of local diversity and, therefore, of social wealth as globalization advances. The international community is increasingly aware of the risk to culture presented by globalization as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals, trade for aid initiatives, and global climate change response.

– In the face of globalization and diversity, individual countries are increasingly faced with a media reality, which only allows for only a few minutes to promote traditional cultures. Tourism communication can support destinations’ positioning in a sustainable way, going beyond short-term approaches, which are mainly limited to advertisement campaigns. In addition, the media has an important role to play as an education source to transmit best practices.

– Unity in diversity, such as Pan-Africanism, is an example of regional integration for global action. UNWTO works in this very direction providing an interactive platform in the form of, linked to FIFA 2010, which will provide African nations an additional web-channel to collectively use the whole of 2010 to promote individual initiatives to celebrate the World Cup. FIFA 2010 represents an opportunity to reap benefits throughout Africa – not limited to South Africa, which sets the stage for events across the rest of the continent.

– Cultural and ethnical diversity are building blocks for international understanding. As a people-to-people activity, tourism is an educating force, promoting understanding and appreciation and is, therefore, an engine in advancing international understanding.

Looking forward, the 2009 World Tourism Think Tank underscored the need for the industry to come together to implement an efficient climate change response and engage in the shift to the green economy. As such, UNWTO’s Roadmap for Recovery – to be unveiled and discussed at the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly in Astana, Kazakhstan – comes at the right time both for the positioning of tourism as a industry, which creates jobs and provides the basis for sustainable development, as well as playing a key role in the transformation to the green economy. The roadmap will undoubtedly contribute to the challenges of positioning travel and tourism on the global political agenda.

In terms of concrete actions, the Think Tank participants asked the travel and tourism sector to counterbalance the tendency by many governments to implement new taxes in the name of the environment. While these measures might translate into domestic political revenue, they also inhibit international travel, particularly in developing markets. Fiscal barriers to travel such as these pose negative implications for local economies dependent on the economic contribution of international tourism. UNWTO underscored the need to advance in the implementation of its Davos Process, which calls for the sector to mitigate carbon emissions, adapt to changing climate conditions, apply existing and new technology to improve energy efficiency, and secure financial resources to help poor regions and countries.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.