The one billion international tourists expected to travel this year are a vital force for economic growth and social welfare said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, opening the ITB Travel Trade Show (Berlin, Germany, 6 March 2012).
“By the end of 2012, one seventh of the world’s population will have crossed international borders as tourists in a single year,” said Mr. Rifai in his keynote speech at the official opening of ITB.
This “extraordinary number” will contribute to more jobs, higher income possibilities and countless opportunities for development, so critical at this time of economic uncertainty, he added.
“With growth comes responsibility,” continued Mr. Rifai. Tourism, if properly planned and managed, can be one of the most promising sectors for achieving a more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable future, he said.
“Imagine how business models would be transformed if one billion people demanded sustainable practices from hotels and tour operators. Imagine how many would benefit if one billion people bought local produce or hired a local guide. These are small actions, but given the size of our sector, their impact would be huge.”
Referring to the challenges facing international tourism as it reaches one billion, the Secretary-General spoke of the many people still facing barriers to travel. “Complicated, lengthy and overpriced entry formalities are making it extremely difficult for tourists, especially from emerging economies which are leading growth in terms of outbound markets, to travel,” said Mr. Rifai, adding that obstacles such as burdensome visa processes are not just a barrier to travelers, but to “growth, job creation and free trade.”
The Secretary-General called on the tourism sector to unite around the issue of travel facilitation as a means to stimulate demand and, as a result, create jobs. “Travel facilitation must top our agenda and we must speak together on this if we are to be heard at the highest levels of decision-making,” he said. “It is in this belief that UNWTO has joined the voices of the sector such as the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the World Economic Forum (WEF), to advance this important issue.”