I am now a few days back from participating as a delegate at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 14th Annual Global Summit. It was an engaging experience with some notable takeaways.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is an organization of chief executives of more than 100 of the world’s leading travel and tourism companies, and WTTC invites several hundred “opinion formers” to participate as delegates to its annual forum on travel and tourism. This year’s Summit was in Sanya, China.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang opened the Summit with a welcoming speech that reiterated his country’s commitment to sustained domestic growth and shared plans to make tourism “a pillar industry of China’s economy.” Past UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown both celebrated the value of tourism globally and raised tough questions about its true impact on local economies. UN World Tourism Organization Secretary General Taleb Rafai took a less provocative view, reiterating tourism’s global influence and encouraging the industry to embrace its challenges as opportunities.
WTTC President David Scowsill called on the sector to operate at the highest standards and demonstrate travel as a force for good. He urged governments to proactively create the infrastructure necessary to accommodate tourism growth. And he cited the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, given annually to organizations that embrace sustainable tourism practices, as reflecting an ethos worthy of integration into industry wide practices.
With a conference program that spanned economic, environmental and social themes, the Summit underscored the complexity of our world. Yes, travel and tourism directly contributes about $2.2 trillion annually to the world economy, and its 1 billion tourist arrivals each year are a potent force for intercultural exchange and for job creation. But at the same time, travel and tourism is a leading producer of carbon emissions and can damage heritage sites and create unintended social ills. While their relative importance can be disputed, the benefits and the challenges are equally real. And the Summit accommodated a range of views, from presenters, panelists and audience participants.
While youth and student travel held no specific spot on the agenda, it fit well into virtually every theme. And the audience seemed to take collective note as four panelists, when responding to a question I posed, described the importance placed by China’s government on youth travel and noted that the age segment makes up a whopping 30 percent of the nation’s travelers. And gratifyingly, hostels were both acknowledged and endorsed by panelists as a valuable way to enable wider youth travel.
The Global Summit provided a forum for travel and tourism industry leaders to deliberate on both the benefits and the challenges ahead. By promoting and advancing thoughtful dialogue, the WTTC elevated the entire sector.