UN Agency

Tourism’s Voice at the

United Nations

Seizing the Opportunity to Accelerate Transformation

UNWTO works to identify the challenges standing in the way of tourism’s restart as well as the key opportunities to return stronger and better. Building on the progress made before the pandemic hit, UNWTO-led initiatives have helped to restore trust in travel while working alongside businesses and destinations to embrace the power of innovation and digital.

Investing in the Future

Big ideas require strong backing. To deliver on its enormous potential, tourism requires the appropriate levels of properly targeted investment. For this reason, UNWTO serves as the bridge between tourism and investors, making clear that the sector will deliver big dividends, both social and economic.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) joined forces with UNWTO to boost the recovery of the tourism sector across the 38 economies where the Bank invests. The EBRD committed all its activity in 2020-21 to helping its region counter the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with investments reaching close to €21 billion. The Bank targeted all sectors of the economy, including tourism and hospitality, which were particularly affected by the pandemic.

The EBRD and UNWTO continue to advance joint work on driving sustainable recovery, to accelerate the transfer of climate finance and to make green technologies more accessible for the tourism sector worldwide through the Bank’s online shopping-style platform Green Technology Selector, which can complement existing UNWTO’s online resource efficiency tools such Hotel Energy Solutions (HES) or the ambitious Nearly Zero Energy Hotels (neZEH).

Similarly delivering targeted support across a whole region, UNWTO partnered with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) partnered with UNWTO to lead a conversation on what the pandemic’s impact on global tourism means for development across the Asia-Pacific region. Held as part of the World Trade Organization’s Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking Event, the special session brought key sector representatives together to assess how the sector can be transformed to drive recovery and build sustainability.

At the same time, UNWTO and CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen their collaboration to accelerate tourism development through investments. The agreement will see the two organizations work together, with the aim of attracting, promoting and mobilizing investments in tourism across Latin America and the Caribbean. It places special emphasis on enabling access to innovative financing mechanisms and on promoting green investments that can accelerate tourism’s shift towards greater sustainability.

At the global level, UNWTO joined Tourism Ministers from the G20 nations as well as leaders from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in October 2020 to call for strong and urgent action across three fronts to sustain millions of livelihoods. Similarly, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and UNWTO are collaborating continue to work together to provide technical assistance for project focused on sustainable tourism governance and marketing and promotion.

This determination to put tourism on a new, better path meant UNWTO ensured the power of tourism was a part of the conversation of the world's largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. The UNGC event gathered 20,000 global leaders from 180 countries to discuss how business can support countries and communities around the world.

Tourism’s Voice at the United Nations

The efforts of UNWTO are being rewarded at the highest level, from Heads of State to landmark support from Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, who has underscored the sector´s ability to lead economic growth and recognizing UNWTO’s leadership stating how “tourism can be a platform for overcoming the pandemic”.

In June 2020, at a time when 96% of world destinations had imposed travel restrictions, Secretary-General Guterres sent an unprecedented message in support of tourism, highlighting the sector’s role in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in protecting the most vulnerable members of our societies.
In August of 2020, as part of the wider UN response to COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General released the “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism” Policy Brief on the impact the pandemic has had on tourism. With UNWTO as its lead author, the Policy Brief notes that women, youth, and workers in the informal economy are most at risk from job losses and business closures across the tourism sector. At the same time, destinations most reliant on tourism for jobs and economic growth, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are likely to be hardest hit, including through an anticipated fall in foreign direct investment (FDI).
In addition to calling for strong support for the sector in mitigating these massive impacts, the Brief stresses that the crisis represents an opportunity to rethink tourism, including how it contributes to the SDGs. The Policy Brief provides Five Priorities for the restart of tourism with all aimed at ensuring a more resilient, inclusive and carbon neutral sector. These priorities are: 
  • Mitigate socio-economic impacts on livelihoods, particularly women’s employment and economic security. 
  • Boost competitiveness and build resilience, including through economic diversification and encouragement of MSMEs.
  • Advance innovation and digital transformation of tourism 
  • Foster sustainability and green growth 
  • Enhanced focus on coordination, and responsible leadership

Alongside UNWTO, 11 other United Nations agencies contributed to the Policy Brief, highlighting the sector’s unique importance and outreach.

Tourism on the UN Agenda

Tourism's crucial role in the recovery of national economies and global trade has been further highlighted in the 2022 edition of the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report by the United Nations. Drawing on data from UNWTO, WESP underlines the sector’s importance for the world economy and particularly for developing economies, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

In May 2020, the United Nations General Assembly for the first time ever dedicated a session on tourism and its pivotal role in inclusive recovery and growth. As the first UNWTO Secretary-General to address the UN General Assembly, Zurab Pololikashvili stressed that “now is the time to build resilient and peaceful societies and tourism can help make this happen. Tourism is a leading provider of opportunities because it is based on people, builds bridges, and helps create a better tomorrow for people everywhere.”

Abdulla Shahid

"We face a critical opportunity to not only reboot tourism, but to transform it to make it more resilient, more sustainable and more responsible"

His Excellency Abdulla Shahid 76th President of the UN General Assembly

Working with Sister UN Agencies

UNWTO is a proud part of the United Nations and is tourism’s voice on the global stage. The partnerships and cooperation with other UN institutions, and its place within the wider UN system have never been stronger or more relevant.

From the start of 2020 onwards, UNWTO has strengthened long-standing partnerships with its sister UN agencies while also establishing new ones. From health to culture, and from gender equality to workers’ rights, UNWTO’s partnerships ensures tourism is part of work of the wider UN mission:

“No doubt tourism can be a very important part of the post pandemic recovery. The partnership between UNWTO and UNCTAD can provide many of the instruments and support that this important sector needs for this recovery to be inclusive, to be sustainable and to be dynamic.”

Rebeca Grynspan
Secretary-General, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

The World Health Organization (WHO)

UNESCO
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
International Maritime Organization (IMO)
UN Women

Advancing International Cooperation and Leadership

The 112th session of the Executive Council in Tbilisi, Georgia (September 2020) was the first major in-person event involving tourism and the United Nations held since the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. During this meeting, the Secretary-General outlined the accomplishments of the preceding 12 months. This included the provision of technical support to Members and launched the ‘Tbilisi Declaration: Actions for Sustainable Recovery’. The Declaration recognized tourism as one of the worst-affected of all sectors by the pandemic and identifies the global standstill as a chance to realign the sector towards a more sustainable and inclusive future.

Addressing Council members, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reinforced the role of tourism in protecting the planet and its biodiversity:

Antonio Guterres

“Tourism can be a force for good in our world, playing a part in protecting our planet and its biodiversity, and celebrating what makes us human, from discovering new places and cultures, to connecting with new people and experiences. This Executive Council is an important platform of collaboration to explore the way forward and to support the future of tourism on which millions of people’s livelihoods depend. The decisions you take today can help shape the future of tourism, making it more resilient and sustainable, driving green economic growth and supporting jobs”

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General