Imperative to rebuild tourism in safe, equitable and climate-friendly manner: UN secretary-general

As part of the wider UN response to COVID-19, the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres released a thematic brief on the impact the pandemic has had on tourism. Drawing on the latest data from the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the lead author of the publication, it warns that as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, and the massive drop in export revenues from tourism could reduce global GDP by as much as 2.8%.

The brief stresses that tourism is an essential pillar of the SDGs and the most vulnerable workers and nations at greatest risk. Tourism has been among the hardest hit of all sectors by COVID-19 and no country has been unaffected, with restrictions on travel and a sudden drop in consumer demand leading to an unprecedented fall in international tourist numbers.

The ‘Tourism and COVID-19’ Policy Brief from Guterres makes clear the impact that the pandemic has had on global tourism and how this affects everything from jobs and economies to wildlife conservation and the protection of cultural heritage.

He said: “It is imperative that we rebuild the tourism sector in a safe, equitable and climate friendly manner and so ensure tourism regains its position as a provider of decent jobs, stable incomes and the protection of our cultural and natural heritage.”

He further underscored that tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors, providing livelihoods to hundreds of millions more, while it boosts economies and enables countries to thrive, and at the same time allowing people to experience some of the world’s cultural and natural riches and brings people closer to each other, highlighting our common humanity.

The Policy Brief notes that women, youth and workers in the informal economy are most at risk from job losses and business closures across the tourism sector. At the same time, destinations most reliant on tourism for jobs and economic growth, including SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are likely to be hardest hit, including through an anticipated fall in foreign direct investment (FDI).

In addition to calling for strong support for the sector in mitigating these massive impacts, the Brief stresses that this crisis represents an opportunity to rethink tourism, including how it contributes to the SDGs. To this end, the Policy Brief provides five priorities for the restart of tourism, all aimed at ensuring a more resilient, inclusive and carbon neutral sector. These priorities are:

  • Mitigate socio-economic impacts on livelihoods, particularly women’s employment and economic security.
  • Boost competitiveness and build resilience, including through economic diversification and encouragement of MSMEs.
  • Advance innovation and digital transformation of tourism
  • Foster sustainability and green growth
  • Enhanced focus on coordination, and responsible leadership
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