The framework for a stronger UNWTO focus of debate at the Executive Council


PUERTO IGUAZU, Argentina – Since the last meeting of the UNWTO Executive Council in October 2009, global economic prospects have improved steadily, with tourism demand also regaining momentum. Held directly following the UNWTO Commission for the Americas, the 88th Session of the Executive Council, held in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, from June 6-8, 2010, was an opportunity for UNWTO members to reflect on the future challenges facing the tourism industry and how the organization can more effectively address them.

The tourism industry has undergone rapid and substantial change since UNWTO was founded in 1975. In 1975, there were 222 million tourist arrivals, 75 percent of which were concentrated in 15 countries, almost all from the developed world. By 2009, this number had risen to 880 million, with developing and least-developed countries attracting nearly 50 percent of arrivals. At the same time, new and complex challenges currently face tourism, ranging from the climate imperative to the widening development gap and the continued economic uncertainty in which the industry must operate.

In light of this new reality, UNWTO is undertaking a reform process to better address the current and future tourism and global challenges. Opening the 88th Session of the Executive Council, the chairman of the Council and the Minister of Tourism of Costa Rica, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, welcomed the leading role of the organization during the recent global economic crisis, as well as the ongoing restructuring process.

In his report to the Executive Council, UNWTO Secretary-General, Mr. Taleb Rifai, updated members on the state of the industry and outlined the ongoing steps to make the organization stronger and better prepared to face rising challenges. Mr. Rifai also confirmed that, “Though 2009 was one of the most difficult years for the tourism industry, the sector proved to be solid and resisted better than many others, proving its value in terms of job creation and income generation.”

Regarding the organization’s objective to mainstream tourism in the global agenda as a driver of economic growth and development, the Secretary-General shared with the members the actions undertaken; namely the meetings held with several heads of state and parliaments and their support of the “cause of tourism.” In this context, the Council stressed that each country should strongly advocate at the national level the importance of the tourism sector as a generator of jobs and wealth.

Recognizing the global nature of current challenges and recalling the recent closure of European airspace due to the ash cloud, the Council also highlighted the need for strengthened collaboration among members and developing new instruments, frameworks, and guidelines for international cooperation and understanding.