The world is waiting

The world is waiting

The tourism sector uniquely contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals, but as COVID-19 threatens the industry worldwide, support from the G7 is needed. Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general, United Nations World Tourism Organization, shares how political action can get things moving in the right direction

The start of the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the start of the Decade of Action. In 2015, the global community, including the G7 members, committed themselves to advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This bold agenda, built around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, sets out a framework to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and address climate change. There are now fewer than 10 years left to make good on the promises we made to future generations.

As the United Nations specialised agency for tourism for sustainable development, the UNWTO has long championed the unique ability of our sector to contribute to several, if not all, of the SDGs. As we focus on one in particular, it is evident just how important tourism is for advancing this agenda, particularly in developing countries and particularly for the most vulnerable members of our society.

SDG 5 is aimed at achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. In this regard, tourism is showing the way. A leading sector of employment for all, tourism is especially a source of opportunity for those who are often marginalised in the workplace. It offers fast and accessible entry into the jobs market for youth, for those living in rural communities and for women. Indeed, at the end of 2019, women were 54% of the global tourism workforce, compared with 39% of the broader economy. For many, tourism is not only an economic lifeline but also a source of empowerment.

Advancing gender equality

Moreover, it is not only at the lowest level of the employment market where tourism is advancing gender equality: around one in four of the world’s tourism ministers are women, and the gender pay gap is decidedly less pronounced than in other sectors. Nevertheless, a gender pay gap of any size still represents a challenge to be overcome. And the progress made towards making a reality of SDG 5 – as well as the other goals to which the sector has established itself as a major contributor – must never be a reason for complacency, but instead be a catalyst for more action.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought tourism to a standstill. It has placed the sector’s ability to advance economic and social equality in jeopardy. The United Nations Development Programme’s message could not be clearer: this pandemic looks set to trigger a development crisis, exposing and deepening existing inequalities and hitting the poorest the hardest. This is why support for tourism means so much more than enabling people to holiday again or even supporting jobs and businesses. While tourism is indeed a leading employer of women, many hold casual or informal jobs, without safety nets to fall back on. These are the positions most at risk as the knock-on effects of the travel restrictions and declining consumer confidence are felt at the grassroots level.

The start of the Decade of Action has been far more challenging than any of us might have ever imagined. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all sectors hard, and above all tourism. However, we can still get back on track towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Firm commitments from all G7 members to support tourism, including through reviewing fiscal policies and regulations affecting the sector, will be crucial here. The G7 not only includes some of the countries that have been hardest hit by this crisis, but also includes countries where the benefits of tourism have long been felt and harnessed to create opportunities and transform lives.

Where the G7 leads, the rest of the world will follow. Supporting tourism, not just through words but with firm policies, enhanced political and economic cooperation and concrete actions, will allow the sector to resume its role in driving economic growth within advanced economies. At the same time, getting tourists crossing borders again with the responsible and timely lifting of travel restrictions will allow the many benefits tourism brings to be enjoyed in developing countries, above all in those places where the sector is the main source of income and opportunity for many.