Tourism can drive the global recovery, but restarting it must be done responsibly, requiring political will and investments
The agenda of Italy’s G20 presidency is built on three core pillars: ‘People, Planet and Prosperity’. Undoubtedly, in the 22 years since the G20 was first established at the level of finance ministers and central bank governors, much progress has been made in each of these areas.
However, the Rome Summit comes at a time when such progress is either slowing or is in reverse. Extreme weather events highlight the severity of the climate crisis, and the pandemic has not only cost lives but also had a major impact on the economies of both developed and developing countries. And it has also had a significant social impact, with the most vulnerable members of our societies the hardest hit of all.
Tourism is rightly recognised as a core pillar of growth and opportunity. Thanks to the unique breadth of the sector, touching on almost every part of our societies, it has the power to drive recovery and get the international community back on track. For people, it is a leading employer and provider of opportunities, most notably for women, youth and rural communities. For our planet, the tourism sector helps safeguard habitat and species – witness how the sudden halt in tourist arrivals has led to an increase in habitat destruction and wildlife poaching in many parts of the world. Moreover, tourism has also been leading by example in facing up to its climate responsibilities. The innovation driving the sector forward can help us build a more sustainable future for all.
Smoothing the road to travel
It is imperative, then, that both individual countries and the international community prioritise the timely and responsible restart of tourism. The benefits this will bring will be felt far beyond the sector itself. First, we need to restore trust in travel. This means no more confusion on rules and travel regulations. Instead, we need clear, consistent and harmonised protocols, with decisions driven by data and made on a multilateral basis. Additionally, we need to embrace internationally recognised digital solutions that advance safe and seamless travel without compromising on data security. Given the unequal spread in vaccine availability between wealthy and lower-income countries, this is essential and the ethical way forward. No country or no individual should be subjected to more restrictions on their movement simply because they have been unable to access a vaccine.
Alongside this, we must also look to the future. This crisis presents an opportunity to rethink tourism and realign the sector. To achieve this, we need both political will as well as targeted investments in the sector. For this reason, raising levels of green investment in tourism, not just in hotels but particularly in infrastructure projects with the power to achieve greater sustainability and provide opportunities outside of the sector itself, is a priority of the World Tourism Organization. So too is ensuring that tourism’s restart and recovery drive wider growth, and that such growth is inclusive, with the economic benefits enjoyed as widely and fairly as possible.
Representing many of the world’s biggest economies and 80% of global gross domestic product, the G20 must do more than support tourism with words. Certainly, there can be no doubt that its members recognise the importance of our sector to economic well-being. Moreover, as the meeting of tourism ministers demonstrated in May, the G20 also recognises the need to ensure the sector lives up to its climate action responsibilities through accelerating the shift towards greater sustainability at every level. But still, concrete action is required, above all through ensuring the sector is a central part of recovery plans.
Again, much progress has been made, as reflected in tourism being part of the discussions in Rome. However, more needs to be done to really unlock the unique potential of tourism to kickstart recovery and drive future growth. Crucially, by leading the restart of international travel, G20 members can throw a lifeline to developing countries where tourism is an essential provider of livelihoods and economic well-being. The return of tourism will allow these communities to get back on their feet not through aid but through sharing their culture, their heritage and their hospitality with the world once more.