UNWTO General Assembly Secretary-General Taleb Rifai remarks at the Opening Ceremony

At the opening ceremony for the UNWTO General Assembly, Secretary-General Taleb Rifai spoke in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Excellency President Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe,

UNWTO General Assembly Secretary-General Taleb Rifai remarks at the Opening Ceremony

At the opening ceremony for the UNWTO General Assembly, Secretary-General Taleb Rifai spoke in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe:

Excellency President Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe,
First Lady Mai Grace Mugabe,
Excellency President Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia,
First Lady Dr. Christine Kaseba,
Honourable Vice President J.T.R. Mujuru,
Honourable Vice President Dr. Guy Scott,
Honourable Walter Mbemzi, Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe,
Honourable Sylvia Masebo, Minister of Tourism and Arts of Zambia,
Honourable ministers and heads of delegation,
Friends of the press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

Manheru (good evening).

Welcome to the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly at the mighty Victoria Falls.

The General Assembly is UNWTO’s most important gathering.

Every two years this is our opportunity to convene our Members, under one roof, to debate the state of the sector, devise ways to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of tourism and ensure this sector is a force for good for both people and planet, while building a stronger UNWTO for the benefit of all.

Before we take on this essential task in the days to come, I would like to thank our hosts, the government of Zambia and the government of Zimbabwe, and their wholehearted and welcoming people, for the warmness with which we have been received here in the mighty Victoria Falls.

It is no doubt an immense privilege to gather in one of the most beautiful sceneries that one can imagine. Being here awakens our imagination far back to 19th century when David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer believed to have been the first European to view the Victoria Falls, described them as “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” He was so right!

Here in the “Mosi-Oa-Tunya,” or “The Smoke that Thunders,” the name given to the Falls by the Kololo Tribe, men and nature live together; as privileged visitors of this monumental destination for a few days I invite you to merge with its magical symbiosis and feel the true spirit of Africa, its nature and its people.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, We gather at this 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly in the heart of Africa with the will to continue along the 3 encouraging path to drive tourism towards its fullest potential in fostering sustainable economic growth and development.

In 2012, we celebrated a momentous occasion as more than one billion tourists travelled the world in a single year.

On the political level, 2012 reflected our collective efforts to improve tourism’s recognition in the global agenda. World leaders at the G20 Summit in Mexico and at the Rio+20 UN Decadal Sustainable Development Conference, singled out, for the first time, tourism as a driver of economic growth, development and job creation.

The mighty Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World heritage site, are an inspiring backdrop to celebrate these milestones, reaffirm our commitment to place tourism high in the political and economic agendas and ensure that we cooperate ever more to promote policies that ensure the sustainable and inclusive growth of tourism.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, The last two years were also marked by a slower than expected global economic recovery, a lingering recession in the Eurozone and remarkable geopolitical changes in many parts of the world.

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In spite of these many challenges, international tourism continued to grow, reaching all-time records.

International tourist arrivals grew by 4% in 2012 and by 5% in the first half of 2013, exceeding thus UNWTO’s initial forecast for the current year of a 3% to 4% growth.

This 20th General Assembly takes place at a moment of continued growth in the tourism sector and of increasing political recognition of the role of tourism in contributing to a more sustainable growth.

UNWTO forecasts 1.8 billion international tourists by 2030. This forecast not only proves tourism’s resilience, if we consider the challenges many nations are facing. It also calls upon increased awareness of the global responsibility we share as a critical global activity and of the urge to cooperate further in ensuring the continued and sustainable growth of our sector.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, This is the first time that the UNWTO General Assembly gathers in Southern Africa, and the second time it is conveyed in Africa, after Senegal hosted the 16th session of the UNWTO General Assembly, in 2005.

Tourism is a central sector for the future of all countries, but particularly of developing nations in Africa, where it accounts for an increasing number of jobs, community developments, investment, and export earnings.

International tourist arrivals in Africa grew from 15 million in 1990 to 52 million in 2012 while exports from international tourism reached US$34 in 2012 up from a mere US$6 billion in 1990.

By 2030, international tourist arrivals to Africa will reach 134 million, almost three times its current number.

The future of tourism in Africa is bright. The sector is on the move and is today recognized as one of the pillars to support Africa’s growth and development.
This 20th Session of the General Assembly is thus a unique occasion to celebrate tourism in Africa and devise ways to advance the contribution of our sector in building better livelihoods in the region while protecting its immense and unvalued cultural and natural heritage.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear delegates, I hope that during the coming days you are able to fully enjoy this magnificent African experience.

I also hope that you make the most of your participation in the works of the Assembly. Your active participation at this General Assembly and commitment going beyond is critical to our shared goals.

UNWTO is all its members and we will continue joining our efforts to devise a more effective and relevant Organization.

On behalf of all delegates, I would like to once again express our heartfelt appreciation to our hosts for the warm welcome and immense efforts put in place to host us all in the mighty Victoria Falls.

My last words could not be other than to recognize the men and women that work in the tourism sector in this amazing location.

Coming to the Assembly in the flight from South Africa, a story in the inflight magazine about the people that “live” the Falls caught my attention and reminded me once again why we are here.

Seven people working in tourism here in the Falls shared what the water meant to them – “it has improved my lifestyle, my health, my community and education” a young gentlemen said. This is our job; working to change lives through tourism.

It is now my pleasure to share with you the special message of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon to the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly.

Thank you.

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