Tourism stakeholders gather at the 2018 World Rural Tourism Conference

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The Third International Rural Tourism Conference was held in Huzhou, China from 27 – 29 October 2018. At the conference, Dr Scott Smith, Assumption University Thailand, said, “Rural Tourism as a tool for socio-economic revitalization, if properly managed, stimulates economic growth, creates good jobs and business opportunities and, most importantly, improves the livelihood of these precious communities.” adding, “The setting of this conference in the beautiful northern Zhejiang province of China reminds us all that sustainable tourism development can help residents leave the fields without leaving the villages and may encourage young, educated and creative people opportunities to return to their hometown as entrepreneurs to participate in the development of tourism products that deliver an authentic experience and meets the needs of the market.”

The UNWTO “Report on International Rural Tourism Development: An Asia Pacific Perspective” prepared by Editor-in-Chief, Peter Semone was revisited by stakeholders. The report, made possible with the support of Huzhou City, and done in partnership with PATA and in collaboration with the UNWTO, presents best practices and successful strategies in rural tourism development throughout Asia and the Pacific. The report showcases the power that tourism has to help millions of people escape poverty and improve their livelihoods. Dr Bottrill and Dr Smith both contributed to this report that has become required reading for those interested in rural tourism development.

Dr Smith encouraged international tourism organizations such as the UNWTO, WTTC, PATA and SKAL International to “ work closely with public and private stakeholders to assist in creating a framework for sustainable tourism development.” adding, “These august organizations can assist in the development of human capital and establish and maintain partnerships and networks,”

Considering the location of the conference, Dr Scott said, “As we experience the unique and authentic culture of Huzhou, the star of sustainable rural tourism development in China and globally, I see a great opportunity for Huzhou to inspire, encourage and facilitate future rural tourism product development and innovations around the world.”

Indeed, the importance of culture and the need for authenticity was a central theme at this year’s conference. Dr Chris Bottrill, PATA Chairman, spoke about the importance of culture, “Culture connects us with our pasts, and with each other. It differentiates us, gives us direction, enlivens us and makes us proud. Culture can define us as a community.”

The conference was expertly organized and hosted by Huzhou City in the Wuxing district in China in collaboration with Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). Matters relating to policy, planning, product development and marketing of rural tourism were discussed throughout the conference which was of great interest to public sector participants and private sector tourism stakeholders.

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