Survive and thrive! UNWTO, it’s time to redesign tourism!

Caboverde | eTurboNews | eTN

The tourism sector is looking more and more at Saudi Arabia for guidance and support. This was obvious at today’s UNWTO regional commission for Africa meeting in Cabo Verde. “It’s time to redesign tourism for the future” was the message by the Saudi leader to World Tourism and Africa.

  1. The 64th meeting for the UNWTO Commission for Africa is taking place in Sal, Cabo Verde, at the Hilton Hotel.
  2. Discussion points include an update on the draft International Code for the Protection of Tourists, the preparation for the upcoming General Assembly, and nomination of candidates.
  3. The star of this event came from Saudi Arabia. HE Ahmed al-Khatib, Minister of Tourism for Saudi Arabia, delivered remarks that echoed throughout the event and with delegates.

UNWTO has six regional commissions – Africa, the Americas, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. The commissions meet at least once a year and are composed of all the Full Members and Associate Members from that region. Affiliate Members from the region participate as observers.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, one UNWTO member stood out in attending all regional commission meetings throughout the world so far.

This member is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by HE Ahmed al-Khatib, the Minister of Tourism.

hes.peg | eTurboNews | eTN
Ahmed al-Khatib | Zurab Pololikashvili

The Minister has been seen as the undisputed “star” at any meetings or event he attends, and he attends a lot of them, showing his commitment to the global travel and tourism industry.

Saudi Arabia has been spending billions to help this sector not only in the Kingdom but everywhere in the world. The ambition to bring a center of Travel and Tourism to Riyadh includes the move of UNWTO headquarters.

Delegates at today’s UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa paid close attention when HE Ahmed al-Khatib addressed delegates. He made the following points:

  • The pandemic has underlined the urgent need for stronger international cooperation, coordination, and leadership.
  • We are working with partners across Africa to ensure that the global tourism industry builds on the lessons of COVID-19.
  • We cannot afford an international crisis to damage the sector in the future as much as it did.
  • But I have a strong and positive message to share today. We can action now to ensure this vital sector is strengthened so that it can face future challenges.

al-Khatib summarized its message:

Survive and thrive!
…it’s time to redesign tourism for the future!

Impact of COVID-19 on the Tourism sector in Africa

The impact of COVID-19 on international tourism in Africa resulted in a decline of 74% in the number of international tourists and 85% in terms of international tourism receipts. Data for 2021 shows the region suffered a decline of 81% in international arrivals in the first 5 months of 2021 as compared to 2019. The impact by subregions shows that North Africa lost 78% of arrivals in 2020 and Sub-Saharan Africa 72%.

This same trend is present in the 2021 data showing a decrease of 83% and 80% respectively for the first 5 months of the year.

As of June 1, 2021, Africa holds a comparatively lower level of travel restrictions in place as compared to other world regions, according to UNWTO’s 10th report on travel restrictions. 70% of all destinations in Asia and the Pacific are completely closed, compared with just 13% in Europe, as well as 20% in the Americas, 19% in Africa, and 31% in the Middle East.

Data available at the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker for various industry indicators confirms the impact trends above.

Data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) shows that domestic air capacity is down 33% as compared to 2019 as of July, while capacity on international routes is down 53%. Meanwhile, data on air travel bookings from ForwardKeys shows a significant 75% decrease in actual air reservations.

Both results are nonetheless comparatively better than the world average where air capacity on international routes is 71% down and bookings 88%.

STR data shows the region reached 42% in hotel occupancy in July 2021, a clear improvement over time in 2021. By subregions, North and Sub Saharan Africa (38% and 37% respectively) show better results than Southern Africa (18%) where the situation was worsened in July.

Establishment of Regional UNWTO Offices

The following 5 member states of the Africa region: South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Cabo Verde, and Kenya have formally informed the Secretary-General of their expression of interest to establish a UNWTO Regional Office for Africa to strengthen cooperation and support, as well as complement the implementation of the Agenda for Africa-Tourism for Inclusive Growth and introduce a decentralization process of UNWTO activities and operations in order to align them more closely to the needs and priorities of its African Member States.

The Global Tourism Crisis Committee

In the report presented to delegates in Cabo Verde, the Secretary-General said in his report that in order to ensure a coordinated and effective response, the Secretary-General established the Global Tourism Crisis Committee with the international public and private sector stakeholders, which held its first meeting on March 19, 2020.

The Committee is comprised of UNWTO, representatives of its Member States (Chairs of the UNWTO Executive Council and six Regional Commissions as well as some states nominated by the Commission Chairs), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World
Bank (WB), and the private sector – the UNWTO Affiliate Members, Airports Council International (ACI), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

After 6 crisis committee meetings, it decided to create a technical committee to create global standards and protocols to restart tourism again.

On April 8, at its 9th meeting, the Committee endorsed the UNWTO Recommendations to Restart Tourism consisting of 4 key areas: 1) Resume safe cross borders travel; 2) Promote safe travel at all points of the journey; 3) Provide liquidity to companies and protect jobs; and 4) Restore travelers’ confidence

Under the hashtag #traveltomorrow, UNWTO had released a report on supporting jobs and economies through travel and tourism.

Insiders from some of the organizations mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report were less enthuiastic.

When eTurboNews asked a WTTC executive about the frequency of the Global Crisis Committee meetings, the response was: Not sure about the frequency but not regular. We don’t know much about it. We have our members task force that meets weekly for more than a year.

African Tourism Board

African Tourism Board Chairman Cuthbert Ncube welcomes the message of hope, the vision, and guidance Saudi Arabia has been signaling to Africa.

He told eTurboNews, “The African Tourism Board is ready to work with UNWTO and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to make Africa the ‘Destination of Choice for the World.'”

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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