In opening this year’s ITB Travel Trade Show (March 11-15, Berlin), Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General ad interim, underscored that “tourism means trade, jobs, development, cultural sustainability, peace, and the fulfilment of human aspirations. If ever there was a time to get this message out loud and clear, it is now, as we meet at a time of overriding global uncertainty, but also of immense possibilities,” Mr. Rifai said. He urged the G-20 leaders to take note of this message and to include tourism as a key component of their economic stimulus programs and the Green New Deal. His keynote speech addressed the challenges and opportunities of the tourism sector in a time of global economic challenge.
REMARKS BY MR. TALEB RIFAI, SECRETARY-GENERAL A.I. OF THE WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION, AT THE OPENING OF THE ITB BERLIN, GERMANY, March 10, 2009:
Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert, President of the German Bundestag Dr. zu Guttenberg, Federal Minister of Economy and Technology Klaus Wowereit, Governing Mayor of Berlin Dr. Jürgen Rüttgers, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Dr. h.c. Fritz Pleitgen, Chairman, RUHR.2010 Klaus Laepple, President, German Tourism Industry Federation Raimund Hosch, President & CEO, Messe Berlin GmbH
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure and an honor, on behalf of the UNWTO and the world tourism industry, to pay tribute to Messe Berlin for bringing us together again this year to celebrate this unique global phenomenon that we call tourism. We know that tourism means trade, jobs, development, cultural sustainability, peace, and the fulfilment of human aspirations. If ever there was a time to get this message out loud and clear, it is now, as we meet at a time of overriding global uncertainty, but also of immense possibilities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, world leaders tell us that we are facing the biggest challenge of the past half-century:
* There is the immediate crisis consisting of a credit crunch, economic disarray, mounting unemployment, and recessionary reduction in market confidence, with no telling, for now, how long it will last.
* Coupled to the crisis are the long-term systemic imperatives of climate-change response, job creation, and poverty alleviation.
* This situation puts unrelenting pressure on our customers, our employees, and our markets, driving us to radically alter our existing policies and practices.
Over the last few decades, our industry has experienced various setbacks, and faced severe natural and man-made crises. Through it all, the industry demonstrated a remarkable resilience and always came out stronger and healthier. Indeed, resilience has become synonymous with our industry. This juncture, however, seems to be different. This crisis is truly global and its parameters are unclear. We need a different mindset.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
History shows that the biggest challenges provide the biggest opportunities.
The same world leaders that have differed in the past on so many issues are now engaged side by side in the battle. They are working together in ways that would have been unimaginable at any time in the past, to coordinate and collaborate on their economies, their response to climate change and their development agenda. We in the tourism and travel sector can and must play our part. To do this we need what I will call “A Roadmap for Recovery.”
First: We must approach the situation with realism. Our markets started to deteriorate in mid-2008. While UNWTO figures show international arrivals hit a record 924 million last year and annual growth of 2 percent, the second half of the year tracked the monthly decline in macroeconomic results and forecasts. Arrivals experienced negative growth of -1 percent during last six months of 2008. The same is true of international receipts: record highs til mid-2008 but rapidly declining second-half growth. This is an indication of the trend forecasted for the current year. This is the reality.
Second: We must take every action to shore up our own defenses, so that we can weather the storm and emerge intact on the other side when the good times return, as they surely will. We must maintain and preserve, in as much as we can, our valuable structures and trained workforce.
Third: We must also recognize that the measures we need to take now, urgently but precisely, will require unusual action. The complex, interconnected, and dynamically unfolding nature of this crisis makes it unpredictable. The future operating patterns for global economies will be vastly different from the past: the very nature of consumerism will change and so will our markets and our prospects. It is the time to revisit our existing structures, policies and practices. It is time for innovations and bold action.
Fourth: In taking these measures, we must make use of every advantage. We must harness the immense power of technology and modern communications including the Internet to reduce costs, operate with new efficiencies, and manage risk in an environment of uncertainty and constant change.
Fifth: We can benefit by putting the tried and tested model of public-private partnership on the front burner to navigate through the turbulence and beyond. We need to identify best-practice economic and operational models and help embed them in markets around the world. And we need to fight the worst practices like excessive taxes and complex regulation that increase our costs and reduce the value of our products. It is time for solidarity.
Sixth: Lastly, and this I pledge, the UNWTO will provide both leadership and
* as a vehicle for industry collaboration and public-private exchange,
* as a source of trusted data, analysis and research,
* as a policy mechanism, and
* as the central voice for tourism within the UN family, which is increasingly the mechanism of choice for responding to global challenges.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last year, as the challenges began to unfold, we established a “Tourism Resilience Committee” to provide a framework for better market analysis, collaboration on best practices, and policymaking. It will meet here at ITB in two days to assess the short-term realities, to consider immediate responses and to chart strategy. It will be a continuing focal point for crisis response for the tourism sector around the world.
The committee will hold a pivotal meeting at our own assembly in Kazakhstan in October 2009, when we will have a much better view of the way forward and where tourism ministers from all countries, as well as representatives of all stakeholders will be present.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to seize this occasion to publicly invite leading decision-makers from the private sector and industry organizations to join us, to help chart the way forward, in conjunction with organizations like the OECD, the World Economic Forum, CTO, ETC, PATA, WTTC, IATA, IHRA and their counterparts at the regional and national levels. As Benjamin Franklin famously said: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
We must reinforce our position as a primary economic stimulus and job creator and again put that message in bold letters on the desks of economy ministers and world leaders.
We must be at the heart of stimulus packages, because the jobs and trade flows generated by a strong tourism sector, as well as business and consumer confidence in travel can and will play a big part in bouncing back from recession.
We must convince decision-makers that spending on tourism promotion can pay massive returns across entire economies because visitors are exports. This is no time to retract and retrench.
We must also be at the forefront of the transformation to the Green Economy contributing with carbon-clean operations, jobs in environment management, and energy-efficient building. In this respect, I refer you to the outstanding study released last month by my colleague Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, detailing how this “New Economic Deal” can work.
Finally and most importantly, we must do this in a way that helps the poorest countries develop their economies faster and seriously respond to climate change, in line with our Davos Declaration Process. Our commitment, the UN’s commitment, to Africa must remain firm. Enlarging their air transport networks, increasing their revenues, upgrading their technology, enhancing their skills, and obtaining financing in an increasingly climate-neutral world – these are not optional, they are imperative.
In this regard, I must congratulate ITB Berlin for its “ITB Berlin Convention” on market trends and innovation. The emphasis it placed on corporate social responsibility, including the holding of its first CSR Day, is timely and crucial. You are right in that CSR is not just the issue of the day, but rather a fundamental business premise for long-term economic success and competitiveness.
In conclusion, I hope you share our vision of the opportunity that the present adversity offers and the “Roadmap for Recovery” that I have sought to lay out today. We call on all tourism stakeholders to join us. It will not happen without leadership and good management, not crisis management but opportunity management.