The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has set the bar for its annual Global Summits too high during the last seven years that made this year’s edition, held in Hainan, China, a bit underwhelming. While the summit topics were relevant and indeed significant, the two-day event as a whole wasn’t as impactful as previous summits.
Last year, the keynote speakers of WTTC’s Global Summit and First Regional Asia Summit former US President Bill Clinton and former UK Prime MinisterTony Blair, respectively, were undoubtedly the summits’ biggest draw. Not only did they help set the tone for their respective summits, Clinton and Blair echoed the same message, which has become WTTC’s main mantra – “Tourism is a force for good.”
At this year’s Global Summit, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was tapped to deliver the opening ceremony’s keynote speech, but he had to cancel last minute due to health reasons. A former aide to Annan, Mark Malloch-Brown, who is the chairman of FTI Consulting for Europe, Middle East and Africa, was sent to deliver what the former UN secretary-general would have said in his speech. No offense to Malloch-Brown, but Clinton and Blaire are two tough acts to follow.
Nevertheless, Malloch-Brown proved he was a worthy representative for Annan during the first session, “Travel & Tourism: A force for good in a problematic world.” Moderated by self-proclaimed “Chinophile” British broadcaster Nick Ross, Malloch-Brown was joined by Creatura Director Julian Caldecott, Environmental Film Maker John D Liu, Creatura Director, Environmental Film Maker John D Liu, Environmental Film Maker, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai and Mexico Tourism Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu as panelists.
Session one had the potential to as reinforce the message that “travel and tourism is a force for good.” Unfortunately, there was not enough time to really dig deep and discuss the problems of the world related to travel and tourism. It didn’t help that the panelists kept focusing on “looking at the soil” to determine how much damage has been done to the environment. I don’t understand how any of the panelists, or the moderator for that matter, failed to acknowledge the air pollution in Beijing and Shanghai as “problems.” Being that China was the host country, it was an opportune time to discuss “best practices” to reverse the toxic levels of air pollution in these two cities.
I wanted to raise the issue, but having already spoken regarding orphanage tourism, I gave others the chance to raise their respective issues. But, no one discussed what was perhaps the “elephant in the room.” I sought to take the matter via Twitter (as this has been proven to be a viable form to reach the panelists in previous summits), but I was not able to. WTTC’s summit “tweeting” feature was not an option in China.
Twitter, as the rest of the world knows it, doesn’t exist in China. I hear there is a “Chinese version,” but what use would that have been for a journalist like me trying to do live-blogging as I have done in previous summits? A minor conundrum, but significant nonetheless. And, something that WTTC should take to consider and should perhaps provide a contingency plan for in future summits. I use Twitter and Facebook to take notes for my final report on the summit. Having been stripped off of these “features” is a major reason for this report being delayed.
BBC should also take note of the Twitter situation in China. “We will blast this campaign on Twitter” is probably something the Chinese do not want to hear, especially when it pertains to their tourism campaign being discussed while in China.
As a foreign journalist, I also encountered major language barrier. During the opening ceremony, Wang Yang, Vice Premier People’s Republic of China, Shao Qiwei, Chairman China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) and Jiang Dingzhi, Governor Hainan Province, all addressed the delegates. It was not announced that the only opportunity for their speeches to be translated was during their actual speech via a translation device. No copies of their speeches were ever provided, translated in English or otherwise.
Language barrier was also evident during session 5, “Travel, Tourism and Trade: opening the world to growth.” In discussing “Connectivity,” it appeared as though the panelists were not unanimous in what the word meant. Or perhaps the “discussion” was not framed properly. Whatever the case, Pacific Asia Travel Association CEO Martin Craigs got it right when he spoke of the challenges of attending an upcoming UNWTO meeting in Legaspi City (in the Philippines). Contextually, connectivity is about air accessibility and ease of travel, not private and public partnership as discussed by one of the panelists. Even BBC HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur was confused.
Some of the highlights include Costas Christ passing the baton of Tourism for Tomorrow chairmanship to Fiona Jeffrey, as well as former WTTC president and CEO Jean Claude Baumgarten and former National Basketball Association player Yao Ming making an appearance. The most memorable moment came during session seven, “Staying ahead of tomorrow,” for obvious reason – it was about a problem that most delegates could relate to. “I don’t understand why hotels are still charging for Internet,” said Desirée Bollier, Chief Executive, Value Retail PLC. Bollier suggested that hotels should cease charging for Internet and start putting barcodes on hotel furnishings that customers could “easily scan with their mobile phones.”
All in all, this year’s edition of WTTC’s Global Summit had in place a formidable program that contained issues which were discussed by the right people. Videos of WTTC’s 2014 Global Summit are now available for online.
To watch them, point your browser to