World Tourism Organization
 

Statement

 by 

Francesco Frangialli 
Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, 

at the World Summit on Sustainable Development 

Johannesburg, South Africa, 
29 August 2002




Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Throughout this Summit, you will be discussing poverty, people living on less than a dollar per day, the exhaustion of vital natural resources, the lack of safe drinking water, increasing pollution, spreading epidemics...

If  I, on the other hand, were to start talking to you about beach holidays, cultural leisure activities, cruises, casinos, golf and winter sports, some of you would undoubtedly find it highly inappropriate. The more generous among you might simply assume that I have walked in on the wrong meeting.

But no!- Both reactions would be mistaken because we are talking about the same thing. The purpose of my speech is to point out tourism's contribution to wealth creation, to poverty alleviation and to sustainable development - a contribution that may well be a decisive one.

Poverty reduction has become one of the most pressing concerns of our time. Poverty cannot be equated merely with insufficient income. We are dealing with a complex multidimensional phenomenon closely linked to illness, illiteracy, infant mortality and the deterioration of the environment, among many other factors.

The United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions and the OECD have established concrete poverty-reduction targets, with the signatories of the "Millennium Declarafion" committing to a timeline for the achievement of these objectives. Governments and agencies of the United Nations family have been asked to pool their efforts in order to attain these goals. Unfortunately, it seems that we are already behind schedule and there is a real danger that we will miss our targets. Perhaps now is the time to consider the opportunities we have failed to seize and the instruments we have left unused. 

Up to now, tourism has not been accorded a substantial role in the majority of poverty-reduction strategies drawn up by developmental aid organizations, if it has been given a role at ail. To fail to include tourism is to overlook the Tact that it represents the biggest and, undoubtedly, the most diversified and creative economic activity of all.

The strong and sustained rise of tourism over the past fifty years is one of the most remarkable economic, social and cultural phenomena of our time. The events of September 11 dealt a severe blow to this major industry, but it is already back on the path of growth. The number of international tourist arrivals has grown from 25 million in 1950 to 693 million in 2001. This is equivalent to an average annual growth of 7 percent over a period of 50 years.

The revenues generated by these arrivals -not including airline ticket sales and revenues from domestic tourism- have grown by 11 percent a year over the same span of time. This rate of growth far outstrips that of the world economy as a whole. International tourism receipts reached 462 billion dollars in 2001, making it one of the largest categories of international trade. Depending on the year, this trade volume equals or exceeds that of oil and petroleum product exports, or that of cars and transport equipment.

According to the World Tourism Organization's reasonable and carefully considered projections, this trend will continue and tourism will enjoy 
steady growth in the foreseeable future. The number of international tourist arrivals is expected to surpass 1 billion in 2010 and 1.5 billion in 2020 -a threefold increase within a generation. The central question is whether we can harness this activity's potential to contribute to poverty allleviation. The initial signs indicate that this is indeed possible.

Over the past decade, the annual growth of tourist arrivals in developing countries has been higher than the world average. In the 1990s, such countries experienced strong growth in their international tourism receipts, which demonstrates the existence of a competitive advantage in their favour. Developing economies and those in transition enjoy a surplus in their tourism trade balance with OECD countries, something that can be said about few other segments of the services sector.

Specifically, the tourism receipts of the least developed countries (LDCs) have more than doubled between 1992 and 1998. At the same time, tourism has become the main source of foreign exchange revenues for the 49 LDCs, not counting the oil industry, which in any case is concentrated in only three of these countries. Taking all the activities together, tourism accounts for more than a sixth of their non-petroleum exports, far surpassing their second and third largest export earners (raw cotton and textiles). Tourism has become one of the main components of these countries' GDP, or, in some cases, the largest one.

These revealing figures show the important place tourism already occupies in countries that suffer from extreme poverty. Considering the speed with which the tourism industry is developing all over the world and the potential of developing countries in general, and that of LDCs in particular, it is possible to substantially improve on the results currently being obtained. This was the conclusion of last year's Brussels Conference on least developed countries.

Would not the situation of LDCs such as Bhutan, Myanmar, Senegal, Tanzania, San Tomé and Principe, the Maldives and many others be much direr were it not for tourism? And where would the economic future of Cambodia, Nepal, Cape Verde, Vanuatu, the Comoros, Haiti, Yemen, and many others lie if sot in tourism development?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In all developing countries, tourism has shows itself to be a highly labourintensive activity that opens up opportunities for the smail businesses that are engaged in or provide products and services to the tourism industry. Its impact is particularly strong in the local farming and fishing industries, handicrafts and even the construction industry. In these countries, tourism constitutes exceptionally fertile ground for private initiative. It serves as a foothold from which the market economy can expand and flourish. And above all, it creates many jobs: jobs in small and medium-sized enterprises as well as work for the self-employed; jobs for the poor, jobs for women, for indigenous communities, for unskilled as well as highly skilled workers. It creates jobs at resorts as well as in isolated rural areas, in handicrafts and in ecotourism.

Furthermore, in all of these countries, we can see the crucial contribution of tourism-generated foreign exchange receipts to the balance of payments. Such revenues reduce the country's foreign debt and their dependence on a single export sector, in most cases a raw material with low value and fluctuating price. Contrary to an oft-repeated misconception, tourism revenues in most developing countries are much larger that the induced imports or repatriation of benefits that it may generate.

Due to the above reasons, tourism can play a major role in improving the standard of living of people and help them lift themselves above the poverty threshold.

Unfortunately, a large part of the tourism potential of many of these countries remains untapped due to several limiting factors, especially the Jack of infrastructure and communications systems, deficiencies in the organization of public services, new information technology skills or in human resource development. Also, the insufficient diversification of certain economies, especially in the case of island countries, as well as the failure to take into account specific aspects of tourism development, increases the risk of leakages and prevents the full benefits of tourism spending's multiplier effect from fully materializing. We therefore hope that this Summit leads to greater awareness of these considerations, which will allow us to do much better.

This is the reason why the World Tourism Organization, in conjunction with UNCTAD, will be presenting at this Summit an initiative called STEP (Sustainable Tourism as a tool for Eliminating Poverty), which opens up a new avenue that has been insufficiently explored until now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of us here hope that the "Monterrey Consensus" will make it possible to reverse the negative trend in the evolution of public developmental aid over the past few years. But we are also all well aware that this will not suffice, and that the only real key to lasting development is the participation of poor countries in intemational trade and finance under good conditions. The results of the World Trade Organization's Doha Conference give us hope, and this hope applies to tourism. As an activity that epitomizes free movement, international tourism has everything to pain from the greatest possible liberalization of trade in services related to it, accompanied by greater facilitation of border movements for visitors.

In order to be effective, this increased liberalization and the elimination of anti-competitive practices, which we wish to see in the tourism industry, must be consistent with the principles of sustainable development: what we need is liberalization with a human face.

The reason is simple: in the absence of proper guidance and control, the inevitable growth of the number of visitors will amplify the undesirable effects produced by today's tourism, which are cited by the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism: unbearable pressure on fragile areas, threats to biodiversity, demands on water and energy resources that compete with the necessities of local residents; overcrowding at the most-visited cultural sites and monuments; the endangerment of local traditions, the exploitation of workers uprooted from their villages, organized sexual tourism that may even involve children... Not everything can be justified in the name of trade liberalization and the development of new destinations!

This much is certain: sustainable development represents the future of world tourism - not as a limit to its growth, but rather as a guarantee of its long-lasting success. This has nothing to do with slavishly following intellectua! fashions but is simply a statement of good common sense.

In particular, ecotourism, along with sports, nature and cultural tourism, makes it possible to respond to man's insatiable thirst for discovery and travel without causing unacceptable and irremediable consequences. As pointed out during the Québec Summit organized in May by the WTO and UNEP, these activities bring out the best qualities of tourism: its ability to create wealth and employment in the poorest regions, where there is no other alternative that can take the place of fast-disappearing traditional livelihoods such as herding and agriculture.

A smokeless industry, tourism equals other competing activities in creating added value, but is much less destructive and disruptive to the natural and human environment as long as it is developed rationally and respects thé carrying capacity of sites. By its very nature, it weaves together wealth creation, the development of international economic exchanges, thé réduction of différences in living standards, and concern for thé environment of thé sites where it is active.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

During this "Intemationai Year of Ecotourism" declared by the United Nations, the WTO calls on this Summit to look to tourism as one of the options available to the most disadvantaged countries, to include among its conclusions the need for national sustainable development strategies to include and enhance tourism's contribution, to urge developmental aid organizations to consider tourism as one of their priority areas for assistance, and lastly, to pursue thé liberalization of international trade in tourism services in a bold yet controlled manner.

Thank you.