The World Tourism Organization of the United Nations (UNWTO) - an agency responsible for the promotion of sustainable and universally accessible tourism - is partner of the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum 2012. The workshop topic: “Tourism in the News: Mirroring Globalization and Going Beyond the Evident”.
We talked with Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization in Madrid, about the future of tourism in the context of intercultural dialogue and sustainability.
DW: It seems that tourism is increasingly being recognized as a development tool for alleviating poverty. Do you think it can also help advancing sustainability?
TR: Without a doubt. When developed and managed correctly, tourism has proven to significantly contribute to all three pillars of sustainability (economic, environment and social) by stimulating local economic growth, employment and development, while also mitigating environmental impacts and raising awareness of environmental issues.
The Green Economy Report – a ground-breaking United Nations study on how to guide the world towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive future – identifies tourism as one of the ten sectors key to achieving a greener economy. With the right investment, tourism is well-placed to significantly reduce its water consumption, energy use and CO2 emissions while continuing to generate much-needed economic growth.
DW: Incorporating the idea of sustainability into tourism requires learning on both sides, on behalf of hosts and tourists. What can be done to encourage this process?
TR: Achieving sustainability is indeed a shared responsibility. On the side of the hosts, it is up to governments to promote sustainable practices, create standards and the adequate legal framework, as well as provide financing and incentives for green research and investment. The private sector, on the other hand, must invest in business models which preserve the environment, respect local communities and contribute to socio-economic development. Public-private partnerships are a big part of incorporating sustainability into tourism.
At the same time, it is up to tourists themselves to make their trips as sustainable as possible. We need to act in a responsible manner both at home and when traveling.
UNWTO encourages all tourists to read the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism before setting off on their travels.
DW: Your organization, the UNWTO, supports the millennium development goals to reduce poverty. Which role does inter-cultural dialogue play on the way to reaching these targets?
TR: Intercultural dialogue is fundamental to achieving the eight social and economic targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Only through mutual understanding and tolerance can the world achieve peace and security. Tourism has a powerful role in building international understanding and mutual respect. With one billion tourists forecast to travel to another country in 2012, millions are coming into contact with other cultures as never before. This spontaneous contact and intercultural dialogue between people of different backgrounds is helping to foster tolerance and respect, and subsequently advance development goals.