When Andorra’s Minister of Economy, Pere Lopez, showed up at Grand Valira, one of Andorra’s most famous ski and snowboarding resorts, to host a lunch for the media last week, it became evident that the Andorran official was serious about the first-ever Global Tourism Forum (GTF), an event by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
That dedication by Minister Lopez only became clearer, as not only was he present throughout the entire two-day event, but it was confirmed by Andorran Prime Minister Jaume Bartumeu himself that Mr. Lopez, along with Tourism Minister Claude Benet, have all been instrumental in the planning of UNWTO’s Global Tourism Forum event.
And Minister Lopez has every incentive to be taking on a very pro-active role in his country’s tourism industry, as he himself admitted that it is Andorra’s main industry, raking in approximately 1 billion euros a year. In traffic, the minister said Andorra welcomes about 8 million tourists a year. For a country that has a population of about 80,000 and doesn’t even have an aviation industry, this is quite an achievement.
Minister Lopez said: “Tourism provides 35% of Andorra’s GDP. That is why our country is undoubtedly one of the places that is most paradigmatic in talking about the different questions such as the one I raised here. But I’d also like to point out that in a small territory only 468 kilometers square, which annually receives millions of tourists, questions of environment, sustainable growth, respect for the landscape and the natural cultural heritage are the questions that are constantly on our political agenda.”
He expressed his gratitude towards associations and agencies that helped make the event possible. He said: “Andorra’s peaks and valleys are home to opinion leaders in the public and private tourist sector, political and economical authorities, civil society, academicians, and representatives of international organizations. We have shared ideas, we have examined and shared dialogue on the state of tourism worldwide, and we debated aspects such as competitiveness and responsibility in building new models for growth in the tourism sector.”
According to the Andorran official, the plenary sessions helped to show the current state of the tourism sector given our recent challenges and focused on how to situate tourism development in a more competitive and responsible way. “The debate was less than optimistic on the role of tourism, perhaps in the political agendas of countries around the world, and the clout, and the role of ministers of tourism in different governments, or the weight of policies intending to give tourism a bigger place in government budgets. There are major challenges before us from a statistical standpoint and in terms of drawing up quality studies, making it possible to comprehend, and in particular to calculate the actual contribution of tourism to the economic activities in many countries and know the contribution of tourism to public finance through the fees and taxes paid by tourists.”
He also cited that at the high-level retreat, held on March 5, 2011: ”Allocations for tourism are perhaps the only ones that have an immediate directed return on the country’s economy, and so the public accounts. Now, what’s needed is an effort to make this aspect clear from a numerical standpoint. It was a substantial debate on decisive aspects affecting competitiveness and sustainability of tourism on legislation, national plans, and promoting tourism through joint actions and investments.”
According to Minister Lopez, another element that the industry is debating and is being pushed forward is determining different mechanisms for facing up to the problems of fragmentation of the sector and the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how the tourist industry spans everything, from visas and entry permits, to airport fees and taxes, political and cultural policies, training, and many other aspects. “The different side events highlighted the main questions relating to tourism specifically, such as the role of major events, the collaboration of our sponsor visa, and the importance of communication in cooperation with our global media partners at CNN. And the World Economic Forum seized the opportunity of this platform to announce its Competitiveness Report 2011,” Minister Lopez stated.
Andorra, Minister Lopez added, has perfectly understood the importance of tourism, and will do its utmost to give this industry more impact in all areas of government by acknowledging its importance in the country’s agenda, both nationally and internationally. “Andorra lives and breathes tourism, and, in fact, the tourism sector drives Andorra’s growth and development. It’s a committed industry – committed to safeguarding the environment and our rich natural heritage,” he said.
It is the Andorran economy minister’s belief that UNWTO’s GTF “should have an impact in terms of our reflections on tourism, and for us, serves the platform not only to gain visibility, but to claim our place in tourism and publicize our commitment to positioning our country within the values that the tourism industry is implementing in mountain tourism in particular. This forum should continue to set the bar high and become a benchmark in the tourism industry annually – an Internet exclusive event as the key meeting place for the tourism sector.”
UNWTO’s inaugural GTF was a rousing success, not so much in the number of attendees, but by the sheer collective power of those that did attend. Mexican Tourism Minister Gloria Guevara Manzo, South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwy, World Travel & Tourism Council President David Scowsill, Visit Britain Chairman Christopher Rodrigues, Pacific Asia Travel Association Chairman Hiran Cooray, greenearth.travel Chairman Geoffrey Lipman, UNESCO World Heritage Center Deputy Director Marina Apaydin, World Travel Market Managing Director Fiona Jeffrey, and Jeffrey Sachs, who is the Director of Columbia University’s The Earth Institute, who delivered a keynote address via satellite from his office at the university.
In closing, Minister Lopez said, “On behalf of the government of Andorra and on my own behalf, I already invite you to the next in 2012 at the same place and dates.”