The 23rd Session of the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (9 - 13 September 2019) has drawn to a close in St Petersburg after days of debate and discussion which saw 117 countries reaffirm their commitment to making global tourism more sustainable, more inclusive and more ethical.
More than 1,300 registered participants from around the world took part in the most important high-level meeting for the global tourism sector in the world. As the first General Assembly held under Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, the focus was on working to make the global tourism sector more sustainable and more accessible, along with a key driver of growth and employment through the embracing of entrepreneurship, innovation and education.
The Report of the Secretary-General, presented to and warmly welcomed by Members on the first day of the General Assembly, outlined the progress made over the past year. Notable achievements outlined in St Petersburg include UNWTO regaining its financial stability, allowing the organization to deliver better value for its growing network of Member States and Affiliate Members. A key highlight of the Report was the presentation of the UNWTO 2030 Agenda for Africa. Specifically requested by African Members States at the last General Assembly, this was delivered in St Petersburg, with its 10-point plan aimed at growing the continent’s tourism sector and using it as a catalyst for economic and social development. The Agenda for Africa was fully approved by the Members.
Education, Skills and Jobs
Within the framework of the current UNWTO Year of Education, Skills and Jobs, Ministers and private sector leaders debated the role of tourism in creating jobs and training workers to fill the tourism jobs of tomorrow. In a significant step forward, UNWTO announced a new partnership with IE University in Madrid, the Online Tourism Academy. With the support of the State of Qatar, the Academy will allow tourism sector workers of all levels enhanced their skillsets, with a particular emphasis on preparing workers for the jobs of tomorrow. Also looking to the future, and in line with the Organization’s emphasis on promoting entrepreneurship in the sector. UNWTO, in partnership with Globalia, announced the launch of the 2nd UNWTO Tourism Start-Up Competition, a global initiative aimed at identifying and supporting the best new ideas in tourism and which attracted more than 3,000 applications last year.
First Ever Convention on Tourism Ethics Adopted
In another major step forward, and bringing UNWTO in line with the wider United Nations system, Member States unanimously agreed the adoption of the first ever Global Convention on Tourism Ethics. Pascal Lamy, the Chair of the World Committee of Tourism Ethics, who has long been been advocating the transformation of the existing code of ethics of tourism said: "I congratulate the countries who took this historic decision to elevate ethics of tourism into a binding legal instrument. Globalisation needs to be harnessed by principles that make it better, not worse, for humankind"
Advancing Tourism for All
“This General Assembly has demonstrated that, globally, the tourism sector is ready to stand up and be counted as a leader in the Sustainable Development Agenda and in innovation,” said Secretary-General Pololikashvili. “If tourism is to fulfil its massive potential as a creator of jobs, driver of economic growth and catalyst of equality, then it needs to be open to all, and open to new ideas. As we have seen, countries around the world, along with leaders of the private sector, are ready to meet this challenge.”
The General Assembly saw the awarding the first Accessible Tourism Destination (ATD) accolade in partnership with Spanish NGO ONCE. Portugal was named the most accessible tourist destinations, with the cities of Barcelona and Thrissur in India were also recognised for steps taken to welcome tourists of every ability.
At the conclusion of the 23rd Session of the General Assembly, the Kingdom of Morocco was chosen as the host for the 24th Session. Again, in line with the wider United Nations system, electronic voting was introduced for the first time at a UNWTO General Assembly.