UNWTO Regional Conference: Asia-Pacific Tourism Growth Must Be Balanced and Sustainable

The Asia-Pacific travel & tourism industry now faces the challenge of ensuring that the surge in visitor arrivals globally and specifically in the Asia-Pacific is balanced by commensurate efforts to protect the environmental and cultural heritage on which the industry depends.

Such was the message at a one-day conference on Sustainable Tourism, convened in the Andhra Pradesh capital city of Hyderabad by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). At the conference, heads of national tourism organizations and chief executives of a number of private sector organizations and associations shared a broad diversity of plans, policies and projects that set the scene for the discussion on how sustainable growth through tourism can be best sustained (designed to ensure that both quantity and quality of the tourism experience remain on par).

Hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, in collaboration with the Government of Andhra Pradesh, the UNWTO Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development was held in conjunction with the 25th Joint Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and UNWTO Commission for South Asia, UNWTO´s principal annual event in the Asia Pacific Region, and opened by Indian Tourism Minister of State Mr. K. Chiranjeevi. The Chief Guest was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Mr. Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, UNWTO Secretary-General Mr. Taleb Rifai said that while global visitor arrivals had hit record highs in 2012 -- more than one billion international arrivals and 5.5 billion domestic visitors -- such growth did not have to be a zero-sum game.

Mr. Rifai noted that growth and sustainability are part of the same equation and that more growth must mean more preservation. He emphasized that more growth should never be allowed to damage culture, economies and the fabrics of communities and that the sector must utilize its knowledge base to continually improve the sector and ensure it is developed sustainably.

In his opening comments, Indian Tourism Minister of State Mr. K. Chiranjeevi said the need of the hour is not tourism growth alone but development of tourism in sustainable manner.

He said that the South Asian region has rich and varied tourism products to attract visitors from the world over – with heritage and culture dating back to thousands of years, architectural and natural marvels, an unmatched bio-diversity and a display of almost all the world religions.

Minister Chiranjeevi also said that intra-regional and inter-regional cooperation holds the key to the growth of the sector and that the tourism industry, with its established contributions towards economic growth, employment generation and social integration, will have to be made sustainable for drawing the benefits over a longer period of time.

Another point made by the Minister was that the importance of sustainability needs to be communicated throughout the industry. For example, policy makers should establish effective communication channels for sensitizing the masses and taking the stakeholders along. Local governments, local communities and youth, he noted, can be an instrument and the force to take forward the agenda of sustainability.

Conference presentations on tourism and sustainability were made by representatives of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Lao People ́s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Thailand. Other speakers included senior executives of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), EATOF (East Asia Inter-Regional Tourism Forum) and Japan Association of Travel Agents.

In addition to the meetings, various events were organized to give the visiting delegates a glimpse of the rich culture and cuisine of the country. These included dinners and cultural programmes at the Taramati Baradari, Golconda Fort, Shilparamam and Ramoji Film City as well as a tour to the Buddhist Heritage sites at Nagarjuna Sagar and Nagarjuna Konda.

The event provided a great opportunity for the State of Andhra Pradesh and particularly the city of Hyderabad to showcase the varied attractions and facilities to the international tourism fraternity.