High-Level Thematic Debate on Sustainable Tourism

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly

4 May 2022

His Excellency, Mr. Faisal Naseem, Vice President of the Republic of Maldives,

Her Excellency, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy-Secretary-General,

His Excellency, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization,

And all the dignitaries who have taken the effort to travel to New York to attend today’s event.

I am delighted to welcome you to today’s High-level Debate of the General Assembly on “Putting sustainable and resilient tourism at the heart of an inclusive recovery”. This event is an outcome of the discussions that I had with a few member states at the #Holhuashi morning dialogue on the theme, “Sustainable recovery through tourism”, that I had convened last December.

As we begin the long journey of recovery from COVID-19, we face a critical opportunity to not only reboot tourism – on which so many are dependent upon for jobs and livelihoods – but to transform it, to build a global tourism sector that is more sustainable, more resilient, and more responsible.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism and tourism dependent economies was unparalleled. With mobility abruptly shut down during historic, global lockdowns, the entire tourism sector ground to a halt.

Given the sector’s contribution to growth and sustainable development, this was a devastating blow to the global economy. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, tourism contributed $3.5 trillion to global GDP.

The precipitous drop during the pandemic is estimated to have cost up to 120 million jobs.

While it is easy to sum up such devastation in numbers, it is not as easy to capture the overall toll on people and communities, on the services lost as government revenues dried up. This was particularly the case for many Small Island States and Least Developed Countries who are and remain heavily reliant on tourism for government revenue.

My friends, economics aside, if we look beyond the numbers, we recognize the deeply communal, human role that tourism plays. Travel and tourism connect and unite us; it builds bridges and facilitates inter-cultural exchanges; it fosters peace and solidarity across continents and borders.

It was in recognition of the human, cultural and economic importance of this sector, that even during the darkest days of the pandemic, we devised creative methods of sustaining tourism.

Whether through the creation of “travel bubbles”, “digital tours”, “vaccine passports” or “resilient corridors”, we found a way. And in turn these efforts helped us weather the storm of the pandemic over the past two years.

I find it heartening that as the pandemic wanes, the tourism sector is rebounding. It speaks to the human need to connect, to explore, to experience.

However, as it rebounds, it is important that we reflect on its future direction.

While we can acknowledge and celebrate the economic importance of tourism across the globe, we must also contend with the challenges and harm that is inflicted on the planet as a result.

We know that our otherwise pristine oceans are brimming with plastics.

We know that travel and other tourism-related activities contribute to carbon emissions.

We know that many of the communities and historic sites around the world that are beloved by tourists are climate and disaster prone and need support to build resilience.

And we know that the ecosystems and wildlife that we immerse ourselves within are at risk-, or lost entirely, due to human activity.

According to the UN Environment’s Green Economy Report, in a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, by 2050, tourism is expected to generate an increase of 154% in energy consumption, 131% in greenhouse gas emissions, 152% in water consumption, and 251% in solid waste disposal.

We cannot allow this to continue. We must not reboot global tourism in a business-as-usual manner, we must be more ambitious than that, more responsible than that.

The current rebound of this sector that we are witnessing across the globe presents an opportunity to transform the sector, and to maximize its contribution to the realization of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the global biodiversity framework, and other internationally agreed frameworks and agreements.


Today we have an opportunity to share the best practices and lessons learned, whether in policies or practices, and ensure that our enjoyment, our celebration, and our exploration, does no harm… and always seeks to protect what we cherish.

This means addressing commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement in our efforts; it means enhancing the inclusion and empowerment of local and indigenous communities, micro-businesses, and local creative industries, particularly those that are led by women and that empower youth.

Today, I call on all stakeholders to seize every opportunity to transform the tourism sector, and to target a more sustainable, inclusive and responsible approach.

Now is the time for bold action and all ideas are welcome.

It is my hope that through our discussions today, new, practical measures can be identified, and new partnerships can emerge to strengthen our efforts at transformation, especially for tourism-dependent countries across Africa, and in Small Island Developing States, Landlocked Developing Countries, Least Developed Countries, as well as many middle-income countries.

Let us build on our momentum in reigniting the tourism sector to renew the commitment of governments, private sector partners, the international community, and all relevant stakeholders towards building a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable global tourism sector.

My friends,

Whether we are yearning for a spring of renewal, or a summer of celebration and festivities; whether we are embarking on a new adventure, or re-discovering and re-connecting with friends, family and acquaintances, let us ensure that we are doing it responsibly, for ourselves, for each other and for our planet.

I thank you.