STARK WARNING: UN chiefs says tourism must be ‘more responsible’

The United Nations General Assembly met this week for a first-ever dedicated session on tourism and its key role in inclusive recovery and growth. The meeting on Wednesday came at a critical juncture in history as the industry navigates its recent pandemic past while transitioning sustainably to the future – a future the assembly’s president warned is on a trajectory that “we cannot allow… to continue.”

The High-Level Thematic Debate was convened by the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, in collaboration with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and included both government representatives and public and private stakeholders in recognizing tourism’s unique ability to drive positive change.

Abdulla Shahid, UN General Assembly President

As the first-ever UNWTO Secretary-General to address the UN General Assembly, Zurab Pololikashvili stressed that “now is the time to build resilient and peaceful societies – and tourism can help make this happen. Tourism is a leading provider of opportunities because it is based on people, builds bridges, and helps create a better tomorrow for people everywhere.”

 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Chair Amina J. Mohammed, added, “Every part of the United Nations system, including the World Tourism Organization as its specialized agency for the sector, can leverage tourism to help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, from inclusive growth to gender empowerment and biodiversity protection.”

Shahid stressed the importance of tourism, particularly for small islands and developing states, but warned of its impact – from pollution (like plastics) to emissions and pressure on ecosystems and wildlife.

“We face a critical opportunity to not only reboot tourism, upon which so many are dependent for their jobs and livelihoods, but to transform it to make it more resilient, more sustainable and more responsible.”

With the UN’s “Green Economy Report” predicting triple-digit global increases in waste disposal, greenhouse gases and energy consumption by 2050, Shadid added, “We cannot allow this to continue. We must not reboot global tourism in a business-as-usual manner. We must be more ambitious than that, more responsible than that.”

People, planet and prosperity

A Fireside Chat, chaired by CNN International anchor Richard Quest, reflected the challenges faced through tourism’s recovery, addressing how best to reconcile potential trade-offs between the need for economic growth and creating jobs with advancing efforts for overall sustainability.

The high-level debate also featured a special roundtable discussion focused on tourism for people, with an emphasis on inclusivity. This was followed by a roundtable discussion on accelerating the climate-friendly transformation of tourism. The concluding third roundtable discussion focused on re-invigorating investments in tourism.

Placing tourism in the General Assembly

On the eve of the debate, Pololikashvili and Shahid met for discussions on tourism’s role in the wider work of the United Nations in which the latter commended UNWTO’s work in guiding tourism first through the biggest crisis in its history and now through the sector’s restart and recovery.

The high-level meeting also laid the foundations for the potential inclusion of tourism as a topic of annual debates or thematic sessions within the UN General Assembly.

First published at Travel Industry Today