Tourism protests a ‘wake-up call’, says UNWTO chief

Tourism protests a ‘wake-up call’, says UNWTO chief

Growing protests at over-tourism are a “wake-up call” to the industry, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) secretary general Taleb Rifai has warned.

Speaking at the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, China, Rifai said: “We have started to see resentment to tourism – to see a tourism phobia – in Barcelona, in Venice, in Rome, in Dubrovnik.

“It is a wake-up call. Tourism can’t just grow.”

Rifai told the UNWTO General Assembly: “Tourism is not a big party. It is one of the real transformative forces that can make the world a better place. [But] we sometimes take the sector for granted.”

Referring to what he called “the tourism phobia” exhibited by recent demonstrations in cities around Europe, Rifai said: “Growth is not our enemy. We can’t live without it.

“But we have to make it more sustainable, to make life better.”

He told members: “You can’t just grow. You have to be sensitive to everybody.”

In a debate on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and tourism, Rifai said: “We need to ensure the benefits of the sector reach communities and prevent negative impacts by tackling issues such as overcrowding.”

Pascal Lamy, chairman of the UNWTO Working Group on Tourism Ethics and former director general of the World Trade Organisation, said: “Tourism raises opportunities, but also challenges.

“There are extreme good sides, but also negative impacts on environmental resources, on cultural heritage, on communities.

“We need common rules [and] this is what the UNWTO is about – setting a global standard in how the industry should behave. Let us have a common discipline, common standards, common rules that are monitored properly.”

Lamia Boutaleb, secretary of state for tourism in Morocco, said: “We have rural areas where people have nothing but tourism. It is the second-biggest contributor to employment and to GDP in Morocco. It has a huge impact.”

But she insisted: “Tourism developments have to sign up to standards – to employ women, to manage waste, to accept controls on density [in building].”

Eric Jakob, head of the promotion activities directorate for the state secretariat of Switzerland, said: “Our biggest challenge is empowering regions. A local mayor will be keen on inclusive growth and preserving the natural environment.

“The regional and local level is key. Empower regional and local authorities – the people who love their region.”

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