UNWTO Activities in Asia Pacific, World´s Fastest Tourism Growth Region

Chiang Mai, Thailand, 4 May 2012 -- The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is undertaking a broad-ranging programme of activities designed to help the Asia-Pacific region, especially its emerging destinations, cope with record increases in visitor arrivals projected for this year.

Announced at the 24th Joint Meeting of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the Commission for South Asia, UNWTO´s activities range from supporting emerging destinations such as landlocked Bhutan in updating its tourism master plan, to helping recovering destinations such as sea-locked Sri Lanka to better tap into the potential of the massive Chinese outbound market.

Said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, “in line with our Programme of Work and strategic objectives, the primary focus of our activities in Asia and the Pacific is improving competitiveness and sustainability. This is being done through a series of initiatives, including capacity building activities, research and technical assistance projects.”

With almost 130 participants from over 20 countries, the 24th Joint Meeting of the Commissions was the largest ever attended in the history of such commission meetings. Mr. Rifai noted that Asia will play a major role in helping to meet the global forecast of one billion international tourists crossing borders this year.

Over the past two years, Asia and the Pacific was the world’s strongest growth region in international arrivals (217 million international tourists in 2011). This marked a 6.1% increase in international arrivals in 2011, following a 13% increase in 2010. South-East Asia (+10.4%) and South Asia (+8.0%) especially benefited from strong intraregional demand. In 2012, UNWTO has forecast a growth in international tourist arrivals of between 4% and 6% in Asia and the Pacific.  

Mr. Rifai said there were many countries, cities and destinations in the Asia-Pacific still in need of technical and professional assistance.

In the past year, UNWTO has organized its Asia Pacific Executive Training Programme in Brunei Darussalam, a Workshop and Regional Seminar on Tourism Statistics and Capacity Building in Thailand, and a training programme on Tourism Marketing in Tianjin, China. It has also undertaken research on the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition market for the Hangzhou Tourism Commission and produced a Compendium of Best Practices and Guidelines for Ecotourism in the Asia Pacific Region.

In Japan, following the earthquake and tsunami, UNWTO organised a special international symposium on the revitalization of Japan’s tourism sector and earthquake-affected regions.

In addition to its ongoing programmes such as the annual UNWTO/PATA Forum on Tourism Trends and Outlook in Guilin, China, UNWTO is supporting Bhutan to update its tourism master plan, and helping to guide the Maldives in the formulation of their 4th Tourism Master Plan and Integrated Tourism Development Projects.

In Sri Lanka, UNWTO organised a seminar in March 2012 to assist officials to examine tourism trends and behaviour of emerging markets with special emphasis on China. The Joint Commission meeting in Chiang Mai was also preceded by the first High-Level Regional Conference on Green Tourism.

UNWTO sustainable tourism observatories have been established in China (Yangshuo Observatory (2004), Huangshan Observatory (2008) and Zhang Jiajie Observatory (2011)). UNWTO is now developing a standardized and systematic approach for managing these observatories as well as future ones.

Mr. Rifai also lauded the extensive support emanating from national leaders in the Asia-Pacific for the joint UNWTO-WTTC Global Leaders for Tourism Campaign.

Designed to help mainstream the travel & tourism industry in the global economic development agenda, the campaign involves the presentation of an Open Letter to Heads of State and governments around the world calling on them to prioritize the tourism sector higher in national policies in order to maximize its potential.

To date, 28 Heads of State and Government have received the Open Letter, nine of which are from the Asia Pacific region: Indonesia, China, Korea, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. Two more countries (Australia and Mongolia) are in the pipeline to be included in the campaign later this year.

 “We are indeed overwhelmed by the support we are receiving from Asia Pacific. Several other countries in the region have expressed interest in joining the campaign over the coming months and it is precisely such support that is driving travel & tourism growth,” said Mr. Rifai.

The next joint commission meetings are to be held in India at a date and venue yet to be confirmed.